Screen Porch

Healing Through Storytelling: How Creative Writing Connected Me to My Mexican American Heritage

By

Julian R. Vaca

As I get older, I begin to see the complexities within certain holidays. Take National Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s billed as a time to celebrate all who fall in the Latine community from September through October. There are commercial spots, special brand campaigns, artist spotlights, and more.

And then, afterward, everyone seems to move on.

Sometimes it only feels like my community is “special” and deserving of recognition during this stretch of a few weeks. That said, I do think it’s wonderful that the beautiful cultures that make up my diverse community get the love they deserve. I realize not every people group is so lucky.

Today, I’m reflecting on what National Hispanic Heritage Month means to me—as a human, as a creative writer—and I’m reminded of the unique responsibility and privilege I have as a Mexican American. You see, before I was published, I think a part of me hesitated to incorporate aspects of my heritage into my stories.

I felt a disconnect to my culture that prevented me from writing authentically.

Let me explain. As a first generation Mexican American growing up in Southern California in the late 80s and early 90s, my parents felt that we should only learn and speak English. In their minds, excelling in English would set us up for success academically. They also feared that speaking Spanish might draw unwanted attention—that it might make me and my sisters stand out, and not in a positive way.

When I was 13, we moved to a rural town in Tennessee that was predominantly white. I immediately felt like I was on the outskirts of established friend groups, and a new sense of disconnection nagged at me.

I didn’t quite fit in with my white friends, and I didn’t quite connect with my heritage because of the language barrier.

So, reading and creative writing became my therapy. I would escape into novels like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Ender’s Game and connect with characters who faced their own kind of disconnection. Slowly, my experiences began to inform my writing. Yet I continued to caution myself against including details from my heritage. I believed I wasn’t worthy of speaking to my Mexican culture because I still hadn’t learned Spanish.

Now, years later, I’ve learned this is a fallacy.

Story—the written word—is a powerful medium, and it gets its power from the writer when they choose to create in a way that’s authentic to them.

Often, I have heard people say that writing is meant to be an authentic expression of our deepest and truest selves. Just because I haven’t learned the language spoken by my parents and grandparents doesn’t somehow make me less Mexican. It just means my experience is different, and that difference should be celebrated.

That’s my responsibility. That’s my privilege. I get to bring my story to the table, let it inform my creative writing, and show up honestly and authentically wherever I go. Story—the written word—is a powerful medium, and it gets its power from the writer when they choose to create in a way that’s authentic to them. Anything less is a disservice to the author and the reader.

I am going to endeavor to celebrate my culture more bravely, not just during National Hispanic Heritage Month. And I believe one of the ways I can do that is through my stories.

—-

Sign up for Julian’s upcoming events and classes! 

Next Chapter Society’s Book Club Event

Tuesday, September 26, 2023, 6:30pm at Monday Night Preservation Co. 

Join the Next Chapter Society and Porch instructor Julian R. Vaca for a lively discussion of his thrilling YA novel, The Memory Index. Free with registration!

Latine Creative Collective Meetup

Sunday, October 1, 2023, 2-4pm at the Porch House

The Latine Creative Collective is a gathering of all writers who belong to the vibrant Latine community in the greater Nashville area. We exist to encourage, engage with, and excite Latine writers looking to grow in their craft and connect with this special community. There will be opportunities to share and workshop writing, network, and learn from one another as we all endeavor to tell meaningful stories. (Latine is a gender-neutral term to describe people of Latin American descent.) Register here!

Kickstart Your Young Adult Novel

4 weeks, starting October 16, 2023

Mondays, 6-8pm at the Porch House

Join Young Adult author Julian R. Vaca as he details the critical, foundational components to writing an impactful YA novel from start to finish. He’ll break down everything from practical steps needed to complete a first draft, to industry insights. Most importantly, you’ll gain the needed encouragement and confidence to get a completed story on the page. There will also be opportunities to workshop pages and sample chapters, receive real time critique, and more. Register here!

November Draft Chat

Thursday, November 30, 2023, 6-8pm at the Porch House

Draft Chats are for writers of fiction and creative nonfiction who are dedicated to improving their craft and celebrating the shared successes of the group. Together, we meet monthly to review each other’s work, offer feedback and guidance, and encourage each other along our individual paths to publication. Less rigorous than a workshop, Draft Chats are designed for the writer who is searching for a thoughtful community of readers and/or who simply seeks encouragement to continue their journey. Participants should bring copies of work to share; designated manuscript-reading time will be followed by constructive, facilitated discussion. We welcome you! Register here.

—-

Julian R. Vaca is a first generation Mexican American and a first generation college graduate. He is currently a staff writer on PBS’s Reconnecting Roots, a nationally broadcast show that drew in millions of viewers over its first two seasons. He is the co-writer of Pencil Test, a feature-length documentary that's being executive produced by Disney animation legend Tom Bancroft (Earnest Films, 2023). His writing has appeared in The Nerd Daily, Writer’s Digest, and more. He is a PEN/Faulkner Writers in School author, a member of the SCBWI, and a Hey! Young Writer mentor. Julian also has an extensive background in acting, earning a principal role in CMT's Still the King for two seasons. He also stars as the host of Lifeway’s “Gospel Project for Kids,” and dozens of other projects. His debut Young Adult series The Memory Index (HarperCollins) is available wherever books are sold. Julian is repped by Natalie Kimber of The Rights Factory.

–––––––

The Best Spots for Writing Goods in Nashville

An interview with Heather Hasselle

A Conversation on Autofiction with Heather Hasselle

What Is a Writing Residency—And Should I Apply For One?

Reflections on Words & Music, a collaboration between The Porch and the Nashville Philharmonic Orchestra

How Classical Music Can Unlock the Creative Writer’s Brain

POPULAR THIS WEEK