Author of CMC’s Common Reader speaks Wednesday in Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Colorado Chicano history has experienced continuous cultural erasure since before Colorado became a state, but one young novelist is aiming to make her history heard.
“My family, we have the saying: ‘We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us,’” said Kali Fajardo-Anstine, the author of the novel “Woman of Light.”
In her novel, she combines stories she heard from her elders while growing up Chicana in Denver with vast historical research of the West in the early 1900s to immerse readers in a fictional world that is accurate to the time.
“I would not call this like a memoir, autobiographical in a way,” shee said. “It’s very much an invention, but the characters are completely based on my ancestors, and a lot of them are even named after certain ancestors in my family.”
“Woman of Light” was chosen this year as the Colorado Mountain College Common Reader. Fajardo-Anstine will be visiting Glenwood Springs for a book talk at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Morgridge Commons, located above the Glenwood Springs Library.
Her novel traces five generations of a Chicano and Chicana family.
The story follows the heroine Luz Lopez as she traces her family’s history in this multigenerational Western saga, meeting fantastical and memorable characters along the way as her Indigenous ancestors emerge, a release from CMC states.
“I have a really big family, and so there were a lot of elders around, including my great-grandparents, and my great-grandparent’s sister; so the book is dedicated to my great-grandma Esther and my great-Auntie Lucy,” Fajardo-Anstine said.
She said she would hear stories of her relatives coming north from southern Colorado when she was little, and she knew she wanted to capture some version of the stories by the time she was a teenager.
“Stories by people from my community, by and large, have not been represented in American literature before,” she said.
For the novel, she did extensive research for about a decade, she said.
“I visited libraries and archives across the American Southwest, from Durango, Colorado, to Wyoming, digging through any family records and digging through different oral history tapes,” she said. “When I visit the campuses, I will talk about the process of research that I did in order to make the details not only feel authentic, but make sure that I am accurately portraying this time in American history.”
Fajardo-Anstine said she would also be talking about her non-traditional route into higher education, from dropping out of high school before receiving her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Wyoming.
“I really didn’t have an easy path toward publication,” she said. “There were a lot of years of rejection, and so I will talk about the resiliency it took to write this novel, but also sort of talk about my family history, about Chicanos from Denver and people who come from indigenous descent.”
She was also influenced from growing up in mixed cultures, like having a great-grandfather from the Philippines, and her father, who is white from Nebraska.
“So I’ll talk a lot about how all of this inspired not only ‘Woman of Light,’ but my first book as well,” she said. “And I will talk a lot about my experiences in the educational system and not seeing my family represented in the historical record.”
Cultural erasure of Chicano Coloradans, along with other surrounding Western states, has caused decades of hardship for cultural identity, which still feels the ripple effects to this day.
“I’m very aware of the fact that we’ve been erased and basically made invisible,” she said. “I don’t speak Spanish, and that’s something I’m very open about because of the forced assimilation and racism and violence that happened to my family members for speaking Spanish.”
This same erasure of culture still happens today in many communities, even Colorado and Glenwood Springs, she said.
“We’re all part of a larger colonization pattern, and my ancestors’ stories are also part of what it means to be Latinx, and what it means to be Latina and Latino, in the American Southwest; and that if anything, I want my story to inspire other people to tell their own stories,” Fajardo-Anstine said. “One of the things I do want to emphasize is that we are vastly different, but we are the same.”
While her story might be very different from the experience from someone who is Latinx, it is crucial to make sure there is a seat and recorded history for every member of any community.
“That’s why it’s important that as many people as possible are getting their voice out there and are learning about their family history and trying to maintain what the story is of who we are,” she said.
“Woman of Light” is offered for sale in both English and Spanish, along with her other book, “Sabrina & Corina.”
What: Book talk with Kali Fajardo-Anstine, the author of the novel “Woman of Light”
When: 7 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Morgridge Commons, second floor above the Glenwood Springs Library, 815 Cooper Ave.
How much: Free to the public
Post Independent reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at email@example.com or 970-384-9131.