The "Memorias del Silencio: Footprints of the Borderland" book series is an annual collection of poetry and prose from local migrant workers and their families. The seventh, and latest, volume of the book was released Oct. 21.
"The idea was to get stories from migrant workers and have them published in their own words," said Minerva Laveaga, a teacher at the workshops and member of BorderSenses, a local publishing and literary organizations. "Everybody writes about the migrant condition, but not the migrants themselves. We want these stories to be told by people crossing and actually working in the fields, not just academics."
As a part of EPCC's Community Education Program - an adult education program for those seeking GEDs and other various certifications - writing workshops are held in Spanish to teach literature and writing. The idea for the books came hand-in-hand with the workshops, in collaboration with members of BorderSenses.
The title of the collection, "Memorias del Silencio," fits the project well, Laveaga said.
"These are stories that are, for the most part, kept in silence," she said. "And if people do talk about them, it is only in the context of immigration reform or some kind of political debate. And it's never the voices of the people actually involved."
Monica Ayers, the wife of a migrant farmer, wrote the poem "Río Grande" for the latest edition.
"(The book) is important because we all have a story - the life we have lived," she said. "It's not just a fiction story. It's a real story, and I liked that we got to write about our story."
"First, I crossed the river without documents," she recalled. "It was like an adventure, but it was also scary because if we got caught, we could get in trouble and they could take us to jail. But we had to do it to better ourselves. I came from Delicias, Chihuahua, and I went to Juarez, and from there I came to the U.S. (Clint, Texas). I was with my brother, my dad when we crossed."
After coming back and forth from Mexico for a few years, she met a man who became her husband and decided to live here permanently.
"I met my daughter's father who only spoke English, and then we communicated with a dictionary for months because I didn't understand English and he didn't speak Spanish," she said. "Love has no language, barriers or color. My husband encouraged me to go back to school to better myself. I went to English classes and then he passed away and then I noticed the GED classes and that's the reason that I went, because he had always encouraged me to continue my education. I kept studying and when these bad things happened to me, it drove me more to continue fighting to get an education."
Her pursuit of her GED led her to the workshops and eventually led to her being a published author. Her poem, "Río Grande," was inspired by the numerous people that cross the landmark river.
"We don't always have the same luck, and some have bad luck and can't realize their dreams," she said. "(Immigrants) also always have thoughts and aspirations about what we want to achieve in the U.S. while we are crossing the Rio Grande. It's very hard when you cross and you don't have documents, and a lot of immigrants get to achieve their goals, and I admire them. Every person has dreams and illusions and every person wants to better themselves when they migrate to the U.S."
The books have found success outside of sales. Professors at the University of Sacramento and UTEP are using previous editions as a part of their classes, Laveaga said.
Aside from sales and their use in curriculum, the books have impacted communities and students.
"When the stories go back into print to the community, they have an impact on the people that are a part of those communities and that know the authors," Laveaga said. "I think it does inspire a lot of people in our communities to continue their education."
"Through this project, we allow them a way to master the dominant discourse," said Community Education Director Andres Muro. "Not only do their stories count, but they may be more valuable than those people that they may consider superior. I don't know how many suburban middle-class parents are published in a book. Now the authors' kids can go to school and say, ‘Look, my mom is a published author. How about you?'"
From the book:
Río Grande, full of illusions
You know everything, and keep this knowledge to yourself
On the surface, your silent waters,
Under, run fierce currents.
- Monica Ayers