Beathard: A sense of place

Jill Beathard
Editor’s Note

Hearing Sandra Cisneros speak at Winter Words was sort of a coming full circle for me.

She was there to talk about her new collection of works, “A House of My Own,” something that, as her friend Blanca O’Leary pointed out, has somewhat eluded Cisneros as she just pulled up her roots in San Antonio and relocated to her ancestral homeland of Mexico.

I first heard Sandra Cisneros speak when I was a freshman in a Fort Worth high school. She was feisty, spirited and humorous, and made bold statements and jokes that sent ripples through my peer group of very conservative Catholic school kids.

Hearing her speak at the Aspen Meadows campus last week, she was just as energized and on point as she was then. She discussed race in America — how we need to shift the conversation from “black” or “white” to encompass the mix of ethnicities that most people really represent — and how the civil rights battles that were fought in her youth are far from over.

“You don’t know it, but you are doing an act of peace in violent times,” she told the crowd who had gathered to hear her speak, a mix of Aspen locals as well as students from downvalley and as far as Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

It took me back to that first encounter I had with Cisneros 12 years ago. Back then, her views were so distinct from those I had grown up around that it was surprising, unsettling and significant. I read her then-new book, “Caramelo,” after that lecture, one of many books I would read in high school that would open my eyes to modern literature and to an experience different than my own.

A lot has changed since then. I went on to study English in college; I actualized a dream of writing for a living; and just last month, I “came out” to my family as a Democrat. (Like most coming outs, this one was no secret, but it was more important than one would think to be able to just say it.)

I got to thinking about these things while waiting to have my book signed after the session. All of that is way too much to tell someone in a brief meeting, but the longer I waited, the more I thought about it, and when it was my turn it all came bubbling out of me.

“Hi Sandra, I first met you when I was a freshman in high school in Texas and I read your book ‘Caramelo’ and …”

“What high school in Texas?” she chimed in.

I told her, and when she couldn’t remember (who remembers that kind of thing anyway?!), I explained we had field tripped to another school to see her.

“Oh that makes sense. … Do you still get back to Texas?”

Keep it simple, stupid. Forget the rest; we had connected on that most simple and yet important of levels: place.

Sandra Cisneros signed my book: “Para la Jill from Texas — come on in!”

Jill Beathard is the editor of the Snowmass Sun. Email her at