BY MONIQUE QUINTANA
"This is how bright we glow in the face of winter, of fog, of assimilation." -Mia Barraza Martinez
Mireyda "Mia" Barraza Martinez was a poet, activist, scholar, teacher, daughter, sister, and friend. She shared her poetry with her community and saw her voice as a courier for progress. She was chosen to work in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordlist Studio at California State University Fresno, where she helped cultivate a space for students to create art. She was one semester away from graduating with her MFA in Creative Writing. She received an award for her poetry once, but she didn’t show up to the ceremony to receive it because she was downtown marching for immigrants’ rights, her sister and partner beside her. Mia died in a car accident on November 20th, 2016. She was twenty-nine years old.
I knew Mia for three years. We were students in the same creative writing program, we ran the Chicanx Writers and Artists Association together, we both tutored at the Fresno State Writing Center, and we were in the same cohort when we began teaching as graduate students. And we were friends. We talked a lot, laughed a lot, ate a lot, disagreed with each other, commiserated, drank together, traveled together, and always respected each other. She was always present in the many intersections that have made up the most important time of my adult life. When I first met her, I knew that she would affect me is a significant way. I didn’t really know how, but I knew that much. I’ve always felt very intensely about her and I always will.
After learning of Mia’s death, I spent the following days passing between shock and crying. I’ve talked to close friends in the different phases of this. I’ve read through numerous social media posts and newspaper articles about her death. I’ve thought about her family and her partner and the immense pain that they will feel the rest of their lives, a pain that I cannot fully comprehend. I’ve read through the last text messages I sent her and hope they were full enough. I’ve realized that I only told her I loved her once, in an MFA group listserv. I’ve wished it wasn’t only once. I’ve wished it wasn’t like that. I still find myself waking up in the middle of the night, scrolling through her social media posts. Those pictures and little videos tell a story. In them, her mother and father are made mythic and her sisters are sacred. There are flowers sprouting out of her hands, out of the fog and the bright valley sunshine that wrapped around her beloved hometown of Porterville, which lies along the majestic nature of the foothills of the Sierras. There is the reckless beauty she found on the walls and sidewalks of Fresno, where she had been living for nearly twelve years before her passing.
You can read some of Mia'a poetry here:
I know now that I find death painful because I am mourning the physical, the loss of the body, the things that I can no longer see. I suppose I’m afraid that the visceral memory of Mia will begin to slip away from me. I’m afraid I’ll forget the wavy texture of her hair, or the way her eyes slanted into half moons when she smiled, or the way she wrung her hands with lotion in the morning before she went to work with her students, or the way she fervently wrote in a tiny notebook when someone said something she thought was helpful or interesting or beautiful. That’s the thing that I’ll remember the most about her. She always looked for beauty. She looked for beauty everywhere.
I wanted to make a tiny altar for Mia because it was something she loved to do. Before I activated the altar, I burned sage to cleanse my heart and my space and my thoughts. I also asked my friend, Jackie Huertaz to share her energy as well. She remembers this about Mia, “What I liked about Mia’s style is that her outfits were always a reflection of where she came from. Most people that live in the Central Valley won’t readily admit that they live in Fresno, Goshen, or Visalia. But not Mia. She was proud to be from Porterville, or “Porros,” if you’re Chicana and a little bit hood. In our creative writing program where students are trying to out hipster each other, Mia kept it real with her huaraches and umbrella skirts. She was so proud to be from the Central Valley that she customized a sterling silver necklace with our “559” area code. Mia was a person who could build communities in any space she entered. She brought unlikely people together for the better good. I don’t know anyone who repped the 559 as hard as Mia.”
This tiny altar is in remembrance of Mia’s beautiful essence and the presence she had here on earth. It’s to honor the things she wore, the things she loved to look at, and the things she loved to create. It’s to honor her heart and her mind, which never wavered from her convictions. I am going to keep it in place for twenty-nine days because she was twenty-nine years old when she left this earth. I place these things with the love and the respect that we had for her as a friend and woman and a poet.
Plaited red ribbon, in remembrance of the braids in your hair.
Huaraches, in remembrance of your parade down Blackstone.
Silver hoop earrings, in remembrance of your cosmic conversation.
Sunflowers, in remembrance of your morning bicycle rides to school.
A skull bracelet, in remembrance of our walk to 7-11.
Purple grapes, in remembrance of your campesina arte.
Pom-poms, in remembrance of the earrings you wore to First Avenue Night Club.
The books you read, in remembrance of your sharp intellect and resistance.
A pincushion, in remembrance of the things your mother made you.
Red lipstick, in remembrance of your parade down Blackstone.
A mosaic textile, in remembrance of your stone skirt.
A jar of gold glitter, in remembrance of the time you dyed your hair blonde.
A succulent, in remembrance of the three weeks you watered my plants.
Black eyeliner, in remembrance of your parade down Blackstone.
Red roses, in remembrance of the garden Jairo gave you.
A leather purse, in remembrance of your Sinaloa.
Three sticks of copal, in remembrance of our ancestors.
Monique Quintana is the Editor-in-Chief of the literary blogazine, Razorhouse and the Beauty Editor at Luna Luna Magazine. She holds an MFA from CSU Fresno and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Huizache, Bordersenses, and The Acentos Review, among others. She is a Pocha/Chicana identified mother, daughter, sister, lover, and english teacher from California's Central Valley.