Vanessa Angélica Villarreal was born in the Rio Grande Valley borderlands to formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants. Her work has recently appeared in Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, Buzzfeed, Epiphany, Southern Indiana Review, Apogee, Poor Claudia, PBS Newshour and elsewhere. She is the author of the collection Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series, 2017) and is currently pursuing her doctorate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles while raising her son with the help of a loyal dog.
It has been the aim of my life to excavate the record of how we got here. There are significant gaps in the narratives about how my family arrived to the United States. All I know is that the women in my life are survivors of brutal gender and intimate violence, who fled to the U.S. pursuing safety and autonomy for themselves and their children. My grandmother Angélica and her story is central to all of my work—her survival, strength, and resilience are gifts I have inherited that I choose to honor through my writing. She died at 50 years old of preventable cervical cancer—yet another consequence of race, gender, immigration status, and class oppression which created insurmountable barriers to regular women’s health and medical care.
This loss, and this occluded history, has caused me to spend all of my academic and scholarly research on colonial trauma and transnational feminisms, with a special focus on the many ways violence arrives to women of color in the US, and enacts and re-enacts itself in intimate as well as institutional contexts. My first book, Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series, 2017), explores the early racism, sexism, forced assimilation, and institutional discipline I endured during childhood and adolescence, along with the challenges of violence, trauma, economic struggle, and mental illness on the immigrant family unit.
This has led to an exploration of state and institutional violences the women in my family have endured. The project I am interested in building upon now is examining why my grandmother died of a highly common and fully preventable form of cervical cancer, how this kind of cancer disproportionately affects women in the Texas borderlands, and how specifically Black, Native, and Latina women suffered non-disclosed sterilization between 1922-1972. I have begun telling this story through various media—poetry, image, spoken word performance, and video.