The Latin American and Latino Studies Department at DePaul University held an official welcome for the 2019-2020 Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Chair, Erika Sánchez, on Wednesday, November 6, at Cortelyou Commons. Sánchez, the author of The New York Times bestseller I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, did a reading of her work and was interviewed by Maria Zamudio of WBEZ. About 75 DePaul students attended the event.
Sánchez, who succeeds journalist and founder of Futuro Media Maria Hinojosa, said she admires Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz because “she was unafraid and rebellious.”
This means everything to me because I love teaching and have revered Sor Juana’s rebellious spirit for many years now. What an honor. All my dreams continue to manifest. I really can’t believe this life sometimes.
— Erika L. Sánchez (@ErikaLSanchez) August 29, 2019
Inés de la Cruz was a nun in colonial Mexico during the 1600s. Born Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramirez de Santillana, she was recognized for being a scholar and a nun at a time when education for women was not a priority. Inés de la Cruz became a nun so that she could avoid being married and instead spent her time studying. While in the convent, she made celebrated work about feminism, love and religion. She also taught other young women poetry.
Similarly, Sánchez’s poetry, essays and novels center around feminist themes and Latinx culture. Her popular novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, depicts the life of 15-year-old Mexican American Julia from the South Side of Chicago. Sánchez herself is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and is from Cicero.
Sánchez said part of the reason she writes is to connect with young Latina women. She said she looks forward to doing that by being a professor at DePaul and connecting with her students. At the undergrad level, she will be teaching Latinx Poets where their work will be analyzed and at the graduate level, she will be teaching Young Adult Literature where students will examine the work of Latinx Authors.
Next quarter @DePaulU I will be teaching an undergrad course titled Latinx Poets and a graduate creative writing workshop titled Young Adult Literature. I love, love, love being Professor Sánchez. What a lucky life I have.
— Erika L. Sánchez (@ErikaLSanchez) September 26, 2019
At the end of the event on Wednesday, Sánchez held a book signing and photo opportunity for the attendees who were willing to wait. Sophomores Janet Rueda and Jasmine Cato came to the event not knowing who Sánchez was or having read her work before, yet they stuck around to get their programs signed by her.
Rueda said the poetry Sánchez read felt “really real and raw,” allowing her to identify closely with Sánchez because of their shared Latina identity. Moved by the program, both Rueda and Cato said they will be buying her novel and poetry book.
Billy Johnson Gonzalez, the director of the Center for Latino Research at DePaul, said he was interested in bringing in Sánchez through the English Department’s Visiting Authors Committee. He said he and the department leaders got to know her when she did a reading of her novel and poetry at DePaul in the spring of 2019. They then informed Sánchez of the open chair position and encouraged her to apply.
It was at this talk that DePaul senior Diego Camacho first heard of Sánchez and her work. Camacho, a literature major, said he felt a connection to her poetry that, to him, came from a different perspective than what was being taught to him.
“The poetry I was taught to read growing up was like Shakespeare or Walt Whitman— mainly older white poets,” said Camacho.
Camacho said he was able to connect with Sánchez’s work because of their shared Latinx identity but that he was especially intrigued because Sánchez’s work delves into the complexities of female Latinx identity which is not something he’s been taught too much about. “I have only been taught the male perspective (of poetry),” he said. “And told that it was the most important and only perspective I should listen to.”
Camacho additionally said he felt connected to Sánchez because she knows what it’s like to feel uncomfortable in predominantly white spaces where your own perspective isn’t taken seriously. He said in places like those, “other people try and tell you what experience has been.”
Because of this, he and other Latinx students feel like Sánchez will not only represent them but will take their perspectives and experiences seriously.