Today we’d like to introduce you to Mireya Vela.
Mireya, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist and writer. I think more so because everything told me I had to pick a practical job. And later because I was told I couldn’t be BOTH an artist and writer.
I became a single mom at 21 years of age. I was a junior at Whittier College at the time and was determined to finish my education–which I did. But it took me two years. Having my son changed all of my decisions. He has autism. So, I stayed in a practical career—teaching. When that didn’t work for me, I took up research. In research, I looked at inequities around California.
Raising a son with special needs was really hard. I had to make a living, but I also had to be available for all the additional help he needed and all the school meetings it took to make this happen. I opted not to do a 9-5 job. Instead, I took on many part time jobs. I’d always wanted to get a master’s degree. When my son turned 23, I went back to school. I completed a degree in Creative Non-Fiction at Antioch University and published my first book March 2019. My book Vestiges of Courage was published by The Nasiona. The book is a collection of essays where I talk about what it is like surviving abuse, having a parent with mental illness and parenting a special needs son. At the same time, of course, I was also dealing with my own issues.
I wrote the book, because I grew up in a very abusive environment. I wanted other people to understand that violence and abuse is built on a system that accepts it. Abuse happens because one way or another, the people in that family–and often the surrounding community has decided it’s acceptable. I’m an incest survivor. Many of the women in the family knew that some of the girls were being sexually abused. I think everyone was either so paralyzed or deeply ashamed of what was happening. So, no one did anything about it. My book Vestiges of Courage discusses these important systemic issues. I know that abuse is a difficult topic to deal with and discuss. But one of the most important aspects for children is stability and love in the home.
Between the trauma and the pain, I had these really important ways to express myself. I started writing when I was 15. And I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember. Both art and writing are a practice in being present and honest. They both help me heal.
I’m a multi-media artist. I love spending hours drawing and painting. My work was featured in Shifting Narratives: The Strength of Women Survivors in 2019. This exhibit was sponsored by the Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women.
A few months ago, I had another exhibit featuring local artists from the Highland Park area. It felt so good to be seen. But more importantly, I felt very proud to have my daughter next to me discussing my work.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It’s been a very rough road for many reasons. I don’t think that California has good systems in place to help artists do their work and thrive. I’m able to do this work because when I took a break from research, I had savings and a very loving husband who could support my passion.
Growing up, I never got the sense that being an artist was important or valuable. My family was very religious–so many of the things I wanted to paint were unacceptable. There’s also, of course, the guilt I would get from indulging in painting or drawing. I got the message growing up that I should have better things to do, like washing the dishes or ironing or cleaning the bathroom. This guilt of making art followed me through adulthood. I was supposed to be a mom and had responsibilities. I can’t tell you how frequently I was told, “Who do you think you are? You’re not special.”
When I look at this now, I realize how lucky I am. My family lived in poverty. The fact that I got to choose what do to with my life—had consequences, but it was also a road others couldn’t take.
As a society, we need to change how we support artists. Music, art, and books enrich our lives. But somehow, we don’t give it and the pursuit of it, the importance it deserves.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m a writer who writes with a social justice bend. I talk a lot about inequities and how racist the situation is for Latinx folks and their ancestors. My parents really struggled in the United States. I believe that the systems in place are often rigged against our success–and that is just one of the forms of bigotry we experience.
I’ve spoken on panels to uphold the challenges of Latinx writers in a very White publishing world. I have also spoken to uphold the importance of women telling their stories. I believe that one women telling her story can be revolutionary. It’s a political act. By speaking up, we are telling others that this country doesn’t have only one narrative.
I write with as much honesty as possible. I do the same with my art. But with art, I let myself daydream more. I get a chance to imagine all the different women I wish I was. And I get to sit there for hours believing in myself. A minority woman believing in herself is, in itself a revolutionary act.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I work really hard. And being a creative of any kind can be lonely.
I think that most artists strive towards honesty. When I work, I ask myself over and over the same thing, “Is this as honest as it can be?” The only thing that I have to offer the art and writing world that is different from anything anyone else has offered is me.
- Website: mireyasvela.com
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: mireyasvela
- Twitter: @mireyasvela