Barrio Writers: Our Voice is Our Weapon

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Mindful, passionate, unfiltered, outspoken, cultured, artists. These are words a group of young students used to describe themselves after attending Barrio Writers, a one-week creative writing workshop hosted by the Antonio E. Garcia Arts & Education Center and facilitated by faculty from the College of Education and Human Development and the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Each Barrio Writer, as the youth are known, was encouraged to write in any style, form, or genre, while faculty advisors led the group through writing and reading exercises to model ways youth can share their voice through personal poetry, flash fiction, narratives, and more.

“Barrio Writers is a safe place where the youth can discuss and write down what they are thinking and feeling, give voice to their views on the world, and learn techniques for communicating in a way that will inspire others to really listen to what they have to say,” said Dr. Robin Johnson, assistant professor of Curriculum, Instruction, and Learning Sciences and Barrio Writers’ Program Director. “For the first couple of days, some of the youth do not want to share what they have written, but after getting to know each other and hearing that their words are appreciated and celebrated, they feel more confident. They begin to believe their stories are valued and need to be told.” 

Other writing advisors included Cameron Moreno, Tom Murphy, Dr. Carmen Tejeda-Delgado, and Dr. Wendy Walker.

During one day of camp, the young authors visited KSpace Contemporary to hear from artist Jimmy Pena, whose exhibit #onehundredportraits #inoneyear is featured at the community art space. On another day, John Meza, a local spoken word poet, writer, and community advocate spoke with the youth about accessing memories as writing prompts. Also, Wilisha Scaife, an author and community advocate from Muncie, Indiana, joined the group online to talk about her writing process.

On the last day of Barrio Writers, students invited their family and friends to the Garcia Center for a live community reading of their written works. The pieces not only made the audience laugh and cry, but also made them think.

Sophie Johnson, a 13-year-old from Rockport, wrote “Squeak of Sketchers,” where she detailed her remembrance of third grade and the sounds and smells from her elementary school, while Ariela Florentino-Saldana, an incoming sophomore at Collegiate High School, read from her poem called “Covers.”

“My family’s story can be read in a book with no words,” read Ariela. “Engulfed is where I want to be; inside of my father’s arms. Take me back to when family meant you and me. Don’t let our pages spark and burn.”

Sixteen-year-old Riley Morin penned a poem called “Letting Go,” in which the first line begins, “I burned the poems with the metaphors that kept us alive.”

Elizabeth Whitmire wrote two pieces inspired by Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” that made the audience think about what it means for society to try and stifle the creativity of the youth and place them in traditional gender roles.

Ashley Gonzalez, a Bishop High School graduate, shared her short story titled “Who are you people!” that surprised the audience with its ending.

Talei Key read her piece called “Stone Face” that left the audience contemplating its truth.

“A statue will not care if you kiss it, nor if you kick it,” said Key. “It will just stare off to elsewhere, unbothered, leaving you feeling foolish.”

The goal of Barrio Writers, founded by Sarah Rafael Garcia, is to empower youth and provide opportunities to share their voices in their community. All of the youth’s writing from the week will be published in The Barrio Writers Anthology, tenth edition, available in 2019. Visit or to learn more about the program.