Professor reflects on her beginnings

By Danielle Samaniego, Mustang Daily Staff Writer

When Gloria Velasquez graduated from Roosevelt High School in Colorado, she cried.

Unlike other students who were shedding tears of joy, however, she wept at the thought of the future.

"I remember crying because my family had no money," she said. "I was one of the three 'smartest' Chicano kids in our school, and I remember crying because I thought, 'I'll never get there.'"

"There" was college, where Velasquez longed to go. Unfortunately, no one ever told her of loans or grants or even how to acquire them. So she worked.

"I worked as a motel maid; I worked stacking transformers; I worked in the fields," she said. "I married; I had my daughter. I mean, you name it and I did all kinds of jobs, always wanting to go to school."

Now, as a Cal Poly Modern Languages and Literatures professor for the last 15 years, Velasquez attends classes to teach.

After graduating from the University of Colorado, she went on to earn her Ph.D. at Stanford University in 1985. She was inducted into Colorado's Hall of Fame in 1989.

"I'm very proud to say that I'm the first Chicana and the only Chicana thus far to be in the Hall of Fame, along with James Michner, among others," Velasquez said.

Archives are also being compiled at Stanford, which will be known as the "Gloria Velasquez files" to highlight her accomplishments while at the university.

Velasquez is an accomplished poet with two poetry books published to date, including "I Used to be a Superwoman" and the upcoming "Xicana on the Run." The first novel is now being used as a biographical/poetical account of her life by several universities throughout the United States.

"I always get asked, 'When did you write your first poem?' and I date it back to my first guitar when I was 7 or 8 years old," she said. "I started playing it and started writing my own songs."

Though Velasquez was actively involved in writing poetry at a young age, it wasn't until she became involved with the Chicano literary movement of the '70s that she becan to spread her word, along with other writers and artists such as José Antiono Burciaga and José Montoya.

"I remember that no one much liked (Burciaga's and my) poetry, because we were so oral," she said. "We were kind of on the edge or something, and were virtually unknown."

Burciaga went on to become one of the most prominent figures of Chicano literature before his death in 1996. He also was important in the art world with his murals (including the "Last Supper of Chicano Heroes" at Stanford) and books (including "Drink Cultura: Chicanismo"). Some of Burciaga's original artwork is in Velasquez's "Superwoman" book.

Velasquez also wrote short stories, and eventually created and wrote her own young adult novels, titled "The Roosevelt High School Series," which are being used in grammar schools to eduate students. The novels focus on the lives of young Mexican-American youths dealing with the trials and tribulations of growing up.

Velasquez's novel, "Tommy Stands Alone," created national headlines after being banned in Colorado for its content. The story deals with Tommy's troubles after being chastised in school for being gay. It is based on Velasquez's cousin Steve who struggled with his own homosexuality within his Mexican-American family. She continues to recognize Steve in her songs like "Going Home," as well as in her written work.

Stepping away from controversy for now, Velasquez has been extremely busy. She is now writing her sixth installment for the Roosevelt Series (the fifth will be out in Fall). She is also working on her soon-to-be-released "Superwoman" CD (which will include eight original songs she's written), teaching courses and traveling to gigs all across the United States.

When asked how she deals with everything, Velasquez replies, "I'm barely doing it!"

She gives credit to her mother and father as inspirations.

"I think of my mother because of her incredible strength," she said. "To be a woman of color during that time period and survive poverty, racism, sexism..."

She also pays homage to her aunt Dora and cousin Steve through her work.

As a self-described "rebel poet and rebel Chicana from Colorado," Velasquez wants to keep striving forward creatively and to continue to make a difference.

"I was born a humanitarian. I was raised in poverty, racism... I was raised with nothing, absolutely nothing, and when I look at my life today, I think a 'milagro,' a dream come true. But I think that when you're born with nothing, you have everything and that has allowed me to give."