Speech: MFA Capstone Reading

UMD’s MFA Program Capstone Reading was held Friday, 5/07 at 5pm EST. The reading included 7 graduates and introductions by thesis advisors.

Hannah Beilenson introduced by Michael Collier
Maiasia Grimes introduced by Maud Casey
Alannah Hensley introduced by Elizabeth Arnold
Max Lasky introduced by Joshua Weiner
Beth Nonemaker introduced by Maud Casey
Hunter Parsons introduced by Elizabeth Arnold
Claudia Rojas introduced by Michael Collier

Below is the text to my speech:

I want to begin by sharing how monumental it is that I’m completing the MFA program.

I want to thank my workshop peers for reading my poems and my MFA committee for the wonderful conversation around my thesis. In particular I want to thank Michael, who supported me during difficult times.

I’ll read two poems and then share some words with you all. [“On-Campus” & “Better Wishes”]

To continue, I want to share about me: I was born in El Salvador to a mother who lived through the entirety of the Salvadoran Civil war. I have lived in the U.S. through a humanitarian program (Temporary Protected Status/TPS)–which enables an immigrant to work legally in the U.S.

To be at UMD is a story of bravery & community. When I applied to grad schools, I didn’t know if I would be able to complete the program. I didn’t know if UMD would be able to fund me. My work permit was set to terminate on September 9, 2019. I am a first generation college student, so when I was accepted with tuition remission, I didn’t understand. So, I asked to speak with Lindsay over the phone who defined this for me.

When I was accepted to UMD, my acceptance letter asked about my work permit. This has been the pattern of my life, in most workplaces and all the colleges I attended: I am told, we accept you, conditionally. When September 2019 came around, I felt such a relief to still be in the program. Not completing the program scared me. My work permit was set to expire next on January 2021. When I said yes to UMD, I said yes to the possibility of completing and not completing the program.

I write poetry because in poetry I can write myself human. I can take up space. In poetry I can write about the people that don’t make mainstream news. For decades, TPS has been absent from the speeches of U.S. Presidents. It took racist language around designated TPS countries for TPS to be noticed. Language matters. 

Quiero dar gracias a mi madre y mi hermano, thank you for showing me courage/corazón. Thank you, Kenrry, my boyfriend, for making me smile on the good and hard days. Thank you to Sally Keith, Jennifer Atkinson, and Jonathan B. Tucker, who believed in me enough to write recommendations on my behalf. I am especially grateful to Sally and Jonthan for caring so much. 

I want to thank the friends who knew me before I was an adult, and those friends who I met at Simon’s Rock, NOVA, and GMU. I am grateful to my Baha’i friends, who knock on doors in my community with the vision of a humane future. 

I would not be present in the US if it were not thanks to the work of immigrant and human rights activists. I am grateful to the many lawsuits, and the people behind the cases, that are keeping the TPS community present in the U.S. I am thankful for William Martinez, for his leadership within the TPS youth community. 

I am grateful to UMD’s Immigrant and Undocumented Student Life Program. I am grateful to Laura Bohórquez García, who was formerly the program’s coordinator. I am grateful to Rocío Fregoso-Mota, who is the current program coordinator, for her courage and care during this pandemic year. I am grateful to the student activists on campus and in Maryland, around the U.S., and around the world who make it possible for undocumented students to dream bigger. 

I am grateful to the students who entered my classroom, especially my first group of students, who I taught Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8am. 

Maya Angelou once said that when she walks into a room, she brings everyone who has ever loved her into that space. This is something I am learning to do. Thank you to everyone who has ever loved me. Gracias a todos quien que me han amado.

May 7, 2021

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