All posts by Amy Letter

Anie Salgado Full Text

2016 Drake Undergrad Payton Prize Winner
Posted here by permission of the author.

Anie Salgado pic

The Urban Dictionary Definition that Saved Me
by Anie Salgado

I am what you might call a vaguely caramel-colored person. Racially ambiguous to say the least. At various points throughout my life I have been visually categorized as Hispanic, Mexican (which is the same thing depending on what level of racist you ask), Native American, Indian (no, the other kind of Indian), Italian, Persian, and just a white girl with a killer tan. And all the internal speculation in the world won’t stop the barista behind the counter from asking, “so, like, what are you?”

Um?

The short answer is that I am Mexican American. Or at least, that’s the answer everyone is looking for. My mother’s side is white American. Like, really white American (we can trace our family tree back 700 years through Wales, Scotland, and Germany). My dad on the other hand, is Mexican, with the classic indigenous dark skin and darker hair, complete with an accent and a Cruz Azul Soccer League t-shirt. And lo and behold, my sister and I are right in the middle, vacillating between being my father’s daughters or my mother’s daughters depending on how much sun we’ve gotten recently.

The real answer is something more like “inarticulate mumbling followed by a shoulder shrug” because even though Mexican American is my lineage, it doesn’t really answer the question “what are you.”

In spite of my parent’s best efforts to instill in me pride my heritage, I have spent my life idolizing the Ashleys and Courtneys and Jordans. I went to white schools that only half-heartedly taught language and where the very few Hispanic kids were really Hispanic. They were also, coincidentally, looked down upon as the problem students: loud, promiscuous, poor, and ill-behaved—Wheaton North’s designated high school drop-outs. And while of course I know these stereotypes to be poisonous, as a sixteen year old honors student surrounded by some of the richest and whitest kids in the country, let alone the school, Hispanic was not the thing to be.

My poor parents. They really did try. But my early insistence that I wanted to be just like all the other Courtneys, Ashleys, and Jordans put a stop to any hope I might have had at being the sort of ethnic girl you expect when faced with a caramel-colored, what-are-you-worthy other.

Even my roommates, who know me embarrassingly well, who study sociology and law, who marched for Michael Brown and voted for Obama, fall prey to the evident Venus Fly Trap that is my racial ambiguity. Lounging around on Buzzfeed one afternoon they decided that while Jordan (her actual name—kill me) was Aurora because she liked to sleep a lot, and Lauren was Belle because she liked to read, if I was a Disney princess I would be Jasmine, because I’m brown.

And the confusing part is that while white people can only see my brown-ness, brown people can only see my whiteness.

Sitting in an art class in high school, chatting with my tablemates, Mario, an outgoing (if not occasionally obnoxious) actual Hispanic kid told me that I couldn’t pull off the big hoop earrings that I was wearing because it looked like I was trying too hard to be Latina. “And you’re not Latina,” he laughed. It’s not my fault certain things (like big hoops, fake nails, and long skirts worn with strappy heels reminiscent of a Salsa dancer) emphasize my ethnicity more than conservative studs might. But what could I say? I wasn’t and I’m not Latina. Not enough, as Mario said, to casually wear it and not get special attention for it.

So there’s my limbo: not Hispanic, not white. Stuck in identity purgatory.

I don’t know who that bothers more: me, or the barista squinting at me behind the French press, gathering up the courage to ask that fateful question. Because everyone has an opinion and ambiguity is not okay, and anyone who tells you otherwise has never been asked what species of person they are.

The name “Anie” doesn’t help. Pronounced like “Annie,” it’s an old lady name. Specifically a name for long dead old white ladies and regularly dead old Black ladies. And clearly I am neither.

The dropped N confuses people. My legal name is Ana Gabriela Salgado. It’s pretty when you say it out loud, go ahead, try it. I like my name, but I always feel a bit pretentious when I say it the way it’s meant to be said, sort of like one of those people who say Par-ee instead of just staying Paris. My parents must have felt the same way, because I’m only ever “Ana” on the first day of class or in the Customs and Immigration line (and even then it’s usually “Anna”).

I, like many non-white people with non-white names living in a very white society, have a very colored history with my name. And I have only ever been validated in that discomfort. If you look up “Anie” under Urban Dictionary you’ll find:

A cute word for anus. Often used in conjunction with other cute words; eg. penie, giney

“May I put my penie in your anie? Please?”

In a world where Ana is defined as

A beautiful girl, she’s never sure of what she wants hates commitments. There [isn’t] a person in the world that doesn’t enjoy talking to her. Guys are the main thing In her life, she gets attached easily but can get over a guy in a few weeks. She doesn’t like having an “owner” she flies her own way.
Her smile can brighten your day anytime, she is always laughing, and is easily pleased. She always wants what she can’t get. She has big expectations, and always expects the unexpected.

Anna as

The name for the most awesome person ever, It is impossible to fit so much awesome into any other person.

“You think your as awesome as Anna? well you cant be because Anna is so amazingly awesome”

 and Annie as

the coolest and baddest motherfuckin bitch alive. she is known for being fierce and independent, she will kick your ass.

“that girl is an annie.”

I’m stuck with “cute anus.” But I’m not Anna, or Annie, or even Ana, I’m not white, or Latina, and I’m certainly not Princess Jasmine.

And I shouldn’t have to be.

So, on a day much like any other day (but especially like October 7th, 2012), I added a definition.

Anie

A nickname for “Ana,” the Spanish equivalent to “Anna,” or “Anita”

“Hi, I’m Ana, but you can call me Anie.”

 It has since been up voted 11 times (and down voted twice, which confuses me), but that was never really the point. Seeing it there, hovering quietly under cute anus, forever, was validating. Because suddenly I had a real definition. And somehow that meant I was just as legit and normal as the Annies and Annas and Anas.

So what am I?

“Hi, I’m Ana, but you can call me Anie.”

*

Anie Salgado is a Writing, Sociology, and Gender Studies student in her fourth and final year at Drake University. You might spot her procrastinating at the local movie theater or coffee shop or in Periphery’s table of contents. She believes in ghosts, the unrivaled goodness of dogs, and the oxford comma.

2nd Annual Payton Prize Awards Reading

Thanks to everyone who attended the second annual Payton Prize Awards Reading! It was a fantastic event, with an absolutely extraordinary talk on weathering rejection by Stephanie Anderson in addition to her reading her stunning essay “Greyhound,” and followed by a brilliant reading of her “Urban Dictionary Definition that Saved Me,” by Drake University Superstar Anie Salgado.

Introductory Remarks, delivered by Amy Letter:

Thank you Nancy Reincke, director of the Writers and Critics series, the Drake University Center for the Humanities, the Department of English at Drake, and most importantly, the Freeman Family, Debbie and Rob, who are also my sister and my brother-in-law, who are generously supporting this national contest in the name of their son Payton, who lived five years before Spinal Muscular Atrophy (or SMA) took his life.

We tell our stories and we try to find the heart in them, we try to find the ocean, we try to find the gold and fire and the taste of sweet summer fruit. We look for those elemental things that hold us to our mythic past, those deep universals that reveal our shared blood and struggle. But how do we tell the tale of gold and fire and thirst and the hunt when our stories include such things, such things so central and terrible to their plots, with names like “spinal muscular atrophy”?

Debbie Freeman, Payton’s mom, developed an interest in nonfiction when she got active in the search for a treatment and a cure for SMA, when she began fundraising for research scientists and for groups who bought the equipment that eased the lives of these children. To do this work, she had to become an advocate, she had to tell her story, she had to tell her son’s story, she had to tell the SMA story.

The job of the storyteller has always been hard. The job of language, some argue, is impossible. And yet somehow, with alarming regularity, humble earth-bound mortals combine words in just such a way that they create magic in the minds of others. The author transcends the boundaries of a single life; the reader does too. It’s an experience that leaves us not just knowing more but being more.

For five years Debbie Freeman struggled to tell these stories, and in the end, when Payton died, so many people came to his funeral they did not fit in the church. It was a grand space, but people crammed the pews and stood lined up against the walls and crouched in the aisles and overflowed into the front hall and into the drive and the hedges and the street. Passersby probably thought a famous person had died, or some community leader. But the child who died, though bright and curious, had been deprived by a paralyzing disease of the ability to even smile, let alone speak. Nonetheless thousands knew him, and loved him, through story – through the power of his mother’s words.

With a love for the good that true stories can do, and a respect for the hard-writing storytellers who compose them, the Freeman family brings you our two storytellers tonight.

Anie Salgado is a senior majoring in Writing, Sociology, and Gender Studies here at Drake whom I have had the privilege of knowing since First Year Seminar.

Of the essay she will read tonight, the author Papatya Bucak wrote:

<<In “The Urban Dictionary Definition That Saved Me,” Ana Gabriela Salgado (“call her Anie”) reminds us that no-one should be defined by the color of their skin, the sound of their name, or even the size of their earrings.  In this essay, Salgado defines herself with humor and intelligence. She is frustrated by the behavior of those who can’t seem to absorb her mixed-race identity, but she also comprehends her own savvy use of situational identities. What appears to be a light-hearted complaint runs very deep indeed. By the end of her essay, Salgado has proven that words can define us quite well, as long as we have the skills to wield them—and wield them she does.>>

You can read “The Urban Dictionary Definition That Saved Me” in its entirety at this link.

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Stephanie Anderson is the winner of this year’s national essay contest, judged by Emily Rapp. Her essay “Greyhound” has been published in The Rumpus.

She writes works of literary journalism, narrative nonfiction, and literary fiction. Her writing often focuses on agriculture, food, the environment, the farmer identity, personal relationships, and animals. Having grown up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota, Stephanie is particularly interested in the prairie and rural life.

Stephanie’s work has appeared in Devil’s Lake, The Chronicle Review, Farm and Ranch Living, Coastlines, and SCOPE. Her short story “The Wickedest Thing They Ever Saw” was a finalist for the 2014 Devil’s Lake Annual Driftless Prize in Fiction. Her essay “Winter” won the 2013 Aisling Award in Nonfiction from Coastlines.

Stephanie holds a MFA in creative nonfiction from Florida Atlantic University. She teaches memoir and poetry classes for lifelong learners, and she has taught undergraduate creative writing and academic composition. Prior to attending graduate school, she worked as a writer and photographer for a humanitarian aid organization, traveling to developing countries to gather personal stories from aid recipients. Stephanie also served as special sections editor for an agricultural newspaper in South Dakota. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Augustana College in Sioux Falls.

Of her winning essay, Emily Rapp wrote:

<<“Greyhound,” is a beautiful, haunting essay about the different kinds of love, and what we do to keep and hold those we love, even if they hurt us. Ultimately, it’s a story about a complicated survival and a willingness to carry on, to learn, to continue to be curious and loving, even when people disappoint you, often wildly. I was impressed by the amount of material this essay was able to hold: it was so compact, and yet it moved out in so many unexpected directions, and the author’s ability to juxtapose terror and tenderness without a hint of sentimentality, or without becoming overwrought, was impressive.”>>

Stephanie’s Anderson’s essay, “Greyhound,” may be read in its entirety at The Rumpus.

The Susan Glaspell Writers and Critics Reading Series brings writers and critics to Drake University to speak to students and give readings of their work and ideas.

All of our events are free and open to the public.

Leslie Jamison at Drake

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The Susan Glaspell Writers and Critics Reading Series brings writers and critics to Drake University to speak to students and give readings of their work and ideas.

All of our events are free and open to the public.

Alison Bechdel at Drake

So far, Alison Bechdel has provided our culture with three impressive works: Dykes to Watch Out For, Fun Home, and Are You My Mother.

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First she wrote the long-running comic Dykes to Watch Out For, which ran bi-weekly in alternative publications across the US for 25 years — from 1983 to 2008. DTWOF chronicled the changing lives of a group of friends — as they dated, danced, marched on Washington, as they moved on from graduate school to their careers, as their careers were swept out from under them, as they raised children, bought property, said goodbye to parents, as they confronted closed minded neighbors and teachers. The characters aged realistically, the new questions, challenges, and complications of the latest stage in their lives always reflected in the next storyline.

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At the same time, DTWOF served as a platform upon which the characters would debate the news of the day. The newspapers in their hands and the voice from the nearby TV would broadcast terrifying tales of war and descrimination. They lived through and felt judicial decisions and tragic events — two of them traveled to Vermont for a civil union, the lawyer among them fell into a deep depression after the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore, they held their breaths on 9/11, they felt the pinch of credit card debt in their own pockets and the anxiety of antidepressants in their friends’.

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In short, DTWOF is a 25-year-long marriage of the personal and the political that chronicles a slice of History as seen by a close-knit group of (mostly) lesbian friends living in a small city in the United States.

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In 2006 at the height of her comics excellence, Alison Bechdel published Fun Home, the best-selling, award-winning absolutely astounding comic memoir that like MAUS or Persepolis before it redefined the genre and seemed to open readers’ eyes to just what a graphic narrative could be. With Fun Home she focused her eye on herself and her father’s story, prying him open like a reluctant bud, petal by petal, to discover the intersection of the personal, political, historical, literary, the places where we live out our metaphors and the places where metaphors live in the world. She frames her work with a sophisticated narration, one that draws us close with asides and admissions even as it lays forth the larger story — including references to Proust, Joyce, Camus, and Fitzgerald —  sprawled out in the (typically in comics wordless) “gutter”: yes, Bechdel asks us to literally “read between the panels.”

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Bechdel’s work is unflinchingly visceral and unflinchingly intellectual. Fun Home is as much about how literature affects and reflects our lives as it is an affecting reflection of Bechdel’s childhood. It is as much about the crisis of the memoirist — who must face her own gaps of memory, her own doubts about her recollections and conclusions — as it is the tale of an unusual family wrapped in a web of strange coincidences living out a slow-motion tragedy.

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This book has proved so affecting and so popular that it was adapted into a musical which has been playing off-Broadway and opens on Broadway this month.

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In 2012 Bechdel published Are You My Mother? — a companion to Fun Home in that Fun Home focused on her relationship with her father, and this book on her relationship with her mother. The books are wildly different, though, from their core conceits to the finer structures of the narrative. Are You My Mother covers a vaster span of time, including during the writing of this book, and is structured around dream interpretation and the work of psychologists including Sigmund Freud and Donald Winnicott. It is a more mature work more focused on the process of becoming well and reconciliation.

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In 2014 Bechdel was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” Several of us here at Drake teach her work, and many of us regarded her as a “genius” long before the MacArthur foundation laid that weighty title upon her. Individually, different professors’ angle of interest in Bechdel’s work varies — based on our focus on formal concerns, graphic narrative or memoir as genres, feminist political thought, and so on — and her comics prove endlessly rewarding because they are so rich in personal truth, skillful portrayal, critical inquiry, theory-based analysis and virtually every other realm of the literary.

 

The Susan Glaspell Writers and Critics Reading Series brings writers and critics to Drake University to speak to students and give readings of their work and ideas.

All of our events are free and open to the public.

Ana Menendez at Drake

Introductory remarks by Amy Letter: I don’t usually introduce our talks with stories of my own, but this is an exception. Because Ana’s work is very dear to my heart.

In 2003 I was forced to move to San Francisco. As fates go, this one was not so bad. But my family was far away in Florida, and I missed them, and the ocean was on the wrong side. Also, I’d moved there to be with someone else, because he was the love of my life. It was the right decision, but it was hard, because he had reasons to be there – a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford. He had “institutional affiliation” and “fellows” (we actually called them “steg-folk”) and he also had “invitations” – and I only had him.

I made the best of it. I got a job at a brewery that let me take home a case of beer every week. San Francisco was expensive, so that free case was pretty much all the entertainment I could afford. But the beer was good, and I was in love, and though it was always cold and damp and dreary I kept myself warm with dreams of home.

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One day I found myself walking down Valencia Street, visiting the little bookshops there. It was gray: gray sky, gray street. I’m sure some of the buildings must have been aqua marine, but I was kind of down in those days, homesick and full of longing, so what I remember is the gray. And I looked in the window of one of the bookstores and I saw this shock of a yellow book, with palm trees and a bright bird that reminded me of home. And best of all its title: In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd.

Perhaps in part because I grew up in South Florida and have known a few Cubans, I understood the joke before I read that title story. When I was there, I was a big deal – strong and sleek, you couldn’t ignore me. Here, I’m just some yippy little thing. Now it’s probably inappropriate to compare a few years longing for home and family to the loss of property, freedom, life, and livelihood that characterizes the Cuban diaspora, but I was still in my 20s, and my sister’s son was very sick, and I was missing the majority of his short life.

This book was like sunlight warming a soul chilled by northern rain and fog – it transported me as only a book can do. And it wasn’t just that it was mostly set in Florida, that it painted pictures of home – it was also about exile, as a universal concept… that separation and heartache and homesickness, that slow motion sense of loss that never falls completely into the past tense, that never quite resolves from “losing” to “having lost.”

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And then I found out she had a second book! Loving Che: with its explorations into the past that turns up as much of fantasy as history – I so adored this book that when I returned to Florida and started teaching at a university there, it was among the first books I taught to my students. When her third book, The Last War, came out, I sought her out and interviewed her for The Rumpus. I was incredibly flattered when Harper Collins included that interview in the book’s paperback edition.

But then I received an advanced copy of Adios, Happy Homeland! And it was like the sky opened up. All of her books are incredibly different from one another, but this was a book apart even granting that – experimental, clever, challenging, even sort of interactive — both a book and a game.

Adios, Happy Homeland! has taken its place as one of my favorite books of all time. As I hope it has done or will do for you. But I know that Ana is working on book #5, and so I am bracing myself to once again have my mind blown.

It is with nothing short of joy that I introduce to you Ana Menendez.

 

The Susan Glaspell Writers and Critics Reading Series brings writers and critics to Drake University to speak to students and give readings of their work and ideas.

All of our events are free and open to the public.

1st Annual Payton Prize Reading

Thanks to everyone who came out on a snowy Thursday afternoon to support and celebrate the work of two amazing writers, Tammy Delatorre and Erin Mercurio. 2-25-15 Payton Prize Awards Reading 023

Tammy Delatorre read her essay “Out of the Swollen Sea,” which was selected by Cheryl Strayed as the winner of the national competition, and which is now published in The Rumpus.2-25-15 Payton Prize Awards Reading 018

Erin Mercurio read “Inference to the Best Explanation: Muons, Electron Beams, and Circuit Construction,” which was selected by William Bradley.

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It was my honor to introduce these two fantastic writers, and to participate in this reading held in memory of Payton James Freeman.

– Posted by Amy Letter

 

The Susan Glaspell Writers and Critics Reading Series brings writers and critics to Drake University to speak to students and give readings of their work and ideas.

All of our events are free and open to the public.