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Velásquez (-Treviño), Gloria (Louise) 1949-

VELÁSQUEZ (-TREVIÑO), Gloria (Louise) 1949-

PERSONAL: Born December 21, 1949, in Loveland, CO; daughter of John E. (a migrant farm worker) and Frances (a migrant farm worker) Velásquez; married Kirk Velásquez Vriend, September 16, 1988; children: Brandi Lynn Treviño, Robert John Velásquez Treviño. Ethnicity: "Hispanic." Education: University of Northern Colorado—Greeley, B.A. (Chicano and Spanish studies), 1978; Stanford University, M.A., 1980, Ph.D. (Spanish literature), 1985.


ADDRESSES: Home—980 San Adriano Court, San Luis Obispo, CA, 93405. E-mail—[email protected] com.


CAREER: Author and educator. Hewlett Packard, secretary, 1966-67; California Polytechnic State University, Pomona, professor, 1985—. Member, Canto Al Pueblo board, 1979, Koger Kamp Foundation, 1992-93. UNC Ambassador, 1992—.

AWARDS, HONORS: Stanford University, Premiere, Prix in Poetry, 1979; Stanford University, Deu Xieue Prix in Poetry, 1979; University of Northern Colorado—Greeley, honored alumni, 1987, inducted into Hall of Fame, 1989; Chicano Literary Prize for short story, University of California—Irvine, 1985; named among 100 History-Making Ethnic Women, 2004; honored by Texas House of Representatives for outstanding contributions in literature.


WRITINGS:

Juanita Fights the School Board, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 1994.

Maya's Divided World, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 1995.

Tommy Stands Alone, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 1995.

I Used to Be a Superwoman (poetry), Arte Público Press (Houston, TX), 1997.

Rina's Family Secret, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 1998.

Ankiza, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 2000.

Teen Angel, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 2003.


Also author Tyrone's Journey, 2005, and of unpublished novella Toy Soldiers and Dolls; author of Superwoman Chicana (CD containing poetry and music), 2000.


Author's works have been translated into French.


Velásquez's papers are held at Stanford University.


ADAPTATIONS: Velásquez's "Son in Vietnam" was performed as part of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary Soldados: Chicanos in Vietnam, 2003.


SIDELIGHTS: In her work, Latino poet and novelist Gloria Velásquez has often touched on the themes that have influenced her life. Born to parents who were migrant farm workers, Velásquez spent a good deal of her childhood traveling between Colorado and Texas. Like many other Latino Americans, the family lived in poverty, knowing little stability in the search to make ends meet. Much of her poetry reflects this reality and shows a deep yearning to change an environment that allows such widespread disparity. She also expresses a strong feminist viewpoint, rebelling against the domination of the Chicano in modern-day society. Though much of her early work was poetry, Velásquez has recently written seven young-adult novels that make up the "Roosevelt High School" series, beginning with 1994's Juanita Fights the School Board. Each of these novels incorporates the topics that the author feels most strongly about, as well as emphasizing Latino characters, something rare in the young-adult genre.

Velásquez was born in 1949, in Loveland, Colorado, where she attended her first years of school. Her family moved from one place to another, finally settling in Johnstown, Colorado. In Johnstown, Velásquez's parents were able to find work outside of the farm industry, and it was here that she graduated from Roosevelt High School, a place that would become the model for the young-adult series that she would write much later in her life. After high school Velásquez worked as a secretary for Hewlett-Packard and attended night classes at a local college. It was during this time that the future author wrote poems and published an underground newspaper that featured poetry for her friends. She showed so much promise that she won a fellowship from the University of Northern Colorado, where she was able to study full-time, double majoring in Chicano and Spanish studies. After earning her B.A. at the University of Northern Colorado, Velásquez moved on to Stanford University where she won several literary awards and ultimately attained a Ph.D. in Spanish literature. During her postgraduate work she wrote a dissertation titled "Cultural Ambivalence in Early Chicana Prose Fiction," a work that concentrated on the writings of female Latino-American authors of the twentieth-century, as well as setting the tone for the themes that were to become prevalent in her prose. Also while at Stanford, she published many of her adult fictional pieces, such as the story "Fugitives," which eventually appeared in her unpublished novella Toy Soldiers and Dolls.


With the "Roosevelt High School" series, Velásquez has written about many of the issues that have plagued the Latino-American community for years. Alcoholism, single mothers and divorce, lack of self identity, and violence are just some of the themes that she tackles in a manner with which young readers will be able identify. One of the reasons the series is so notable is because Velásquez writes about Chicano characters, a rarity in the American publishing industry, as well as multi-ethnic groups of characters. In addition to Juanita Fights the School Board, the series also includes Maya's Divided World, Tommy Stands Alone, Rina's Family Secret, Ankiza, and Teen Angel. The series features several recurring characters, the most prominent of which is Sandra Martinez, a guidance counselor at Roosevelt. Throughout the series, Ms. Martinez gives assistance to the teens, helping them cope with their problems and providing a listening ear whenever they need to talk. Velásquez also uses Martinez to develop subplots in some of the stories. In Maya's Divided World, for instance, Martinez's life has many parallels with that of Maya, the book's main character.


Maya's Divided World is the tale of a girl whose seemingly charmed life comes unraveled because of problems at home. When the story begins, Maya is introduced as the perfect student who is good-looking, has wealthy parents, and is the envy of her classmates. Then one day Maya's parents separate and file for a divorce. The breakup is a tremendous blow to Maya. Her school work begins to suffer, and she isolates herself from all of her best friends, unable to face them for fear that they will find out about the divorce. Finally, Maya's best friend persuades her to talk with Ms. Martinez, who helps the girl cope with her problems. Velásquez uses multiple first-person narratives throughout the book, providing multi-faceted viewpoints of Maya's predicament. Jeanne Triner of Booklist enthused about the use of Chicano characters and felt that Velásquez did "a nice job of giving readers a window into the culture and providing some positive role models."


Tommy Stands Alone, the next book in the series, also deals with a sensitive issue. The main character in the story, Tommy, who is also a Chicano student at Roosevelt, is a homosexual. To all of his friends and classmates, Tommy, a friend of Maya's, seems just like everybody else. He desperately tries to conceal his sexual identity. But when a friend discovers a note in his pocket that was written by a well-known gay boy, everyone soon knows Tommy's secret. Alienated and hurt, Tommy turns to alcohol and even attempts suicide in the hopes that it will ease his pain. Ms. Martinez again intercedes and counsels the young man. Critic Merri Monks of Booklist called Tommy Stands Alone an "engaging story."


The fourth volume of the series, Rina's Family Secret, features a girl named Rina whose father is an alcoholic and is physically abusive, both to her mother and to her and her siblings. When Rina's father, in a night of rage, stabs her mother with a knife, Rina decides that she can no longer tolerate her father's abusive ways, nor her mother's passivity to it, and moves in with her grandmother. Ms. Martinez, who shares a common past with Rina, again plays a large role in helping the Puerto Rican student with her dilemma. Rina's Family Secret was warmly received by some critics. Debbie Carton of Booklist called it "a believable portrait of a multiethnic high-school community" that "realistically captures the emotions and actions of the teenagers who are part of it."

Teen Angel once again returns readers to Roosevelt High, this time focusing on fifteen-year-old Latina Celia, who has become pregnant. Celia must make some important decisions about her future, her feelings over being used and abandoned by the baby's father, Nicky, the reaction of her own friends, and how deal with the upheaval in her family as a result of her condition. Learning of Celia's plight from older sister Juanita, who is concerned when the sisters' parents kick Celia out of the family's home, Ms. Martinez attempts to help the troubled teen while also coping with a similar problem: a miscarriage that has cast a pall on her own marriage. Writing that the dual story lines would make the book interesting to a young teen readership as well as to adults learning to read the English language, Kliatt contributor Francisca Goldsmith cited Velásquez' characteristic "topically driven [plot], with realistic but simplified characters who speak . . . colloquially." While noting that the characters and situations are somewhat overused, School Library Journal reviewer Linda L. Plevak nonetheless praised Teen Angel as "laudable" for its author's effort to "portray positive social events in Hispanic culture."

Velásquez is also the author of a 1997 collection of poetry titled I Used to Be a Superwoman. The collection, which includes such poems as "Advice," "America," "Chicana," "Days Gone By in Orange County," and "From Good Morning, Vietnam to Good Morning, Mom," treats such themes as the Chicano movement in America, calling for an end to poverty and discrimination, and urging readers to take up the fight for justice. She has also produced a companion CD titled Superwoman Chicana, which features guitar performances of her songs.

Velásquez told CA: "Raised in the midst of poverty during a time of intense racism and sexism, from the time I was a young girl I always told myself that 'I, Gloria Velásquez, would be somebody.' I refused to stay in the fields like my parents—to be invisible, uneducated. My writing is my life, my soul, and it represents my desire for social change not only for myself but for society, for others like my parents or my only brother, who dropped out of the seventh grade only to go and die in Vietnam. The issues I write about reflect my humanitarian beliefs as a poet, novelist, guitarist, mother, as a human being who deeply cares about social equality and justice for all beings.


"I'm frequently asked who has been my greatest inspiration. I always answer, 'Francisca Molinar Velásquez,' my mother who, despite being born in the United States, only attended school for one year. Yet, she is the most brilliant, proud woman I have ever known, and has taught me all of the values I have acquired, those which I attempt to reflect in my writing and share with young people. Also, my brother, 'Fini,' is my muse, and his life I have immortalized in my writing. Though he dropped out of school, my brother inspires me to tell his story to young people so they don't make the same mistake.


"As a teenager who loved reading in high school, but had no one to encourage her, I was inspired by Shakespeare in my English classes. I must say, it is ironic that I became a writer since we were so poor I never had access to books, my own books, until I arrived at Roosevelt High in Johnstown in the ninth grade, where we finally lived in a house that had an indoor toilet, plumbing, etc. It was then that I can remember buying used books such as Heidi, Tom Sawyer, and Madame Bovary. Libraries were a foreign place for me and my family since we were the 'invisible' ones and no one ever encouraged 'dirty Mexicans' at that time to go to school, let alone the library.


"My inspiration for my writing comes from real life, and from the Great Spirit. If I'm not writing a novel, I'm writing a poem or a song. I love to write poems and turn them into songs, such as those on my Superwoman Chicana CD. I was inspired to write the "Roosevelt High School" series after watching a television interview with Judy Blume in 1994. I was horrified that none of her characters were Xicanos, African Americans, etc., and at that very moment I decided to create my own series, sketching out the first few books and including teens of all ethnic backgrounds. Juanita Fights the School Board, as with many of the novels in the series, is based on actual incidents and people, though the names have been changed.

"Often, I am criticized for writing about serious topics in my series, but I do not apologize, but instead remind audiences that I am a humanitarian. And, as someone once told me, 'poets are the eyes of God.' Therefore, because I have lived my entire life caring about humanity, this is how I will one day pass on to the Spirit world with my Dine ancestors. And I am so very proud to have immortalized my father, Juan, my mother, Francisca, and my brother, John, along with myself, in my literature, songs, and poetry."


BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Day, Frances Ann, Latina and Latino Voices in Literature, revised edition, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2003.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 122: Chicano Writers, Second Series, edited by Francisco A. Lomeli and Carl R. Shirley, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.


PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 1, 1995, p. 1236; October 15, 1995, p. 397; August, 1998, p. 1992.

Kliatt, January, 2004, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Teen Angel, p. 20.

School Library Journal, April, 1995, p. 158; November, 1995, p. 124; October, 1998, p. 147; August, 2003, Linda L. Plevak, review of Teen Angel, p. 168.

Wilson Library Bulletin, April, 1995, p. 114.


ONLINE

NewPages Online,http://www.newpages.com/ (February 12, 2004), Devon Ellington, review of Teen Angel.*

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