Vanessa Angélica Villarreal was born in the Rio Grande Valley borderlands to formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants. She is the author of Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, 2017), a recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award, a 2018 Texas Institute of Letters Poetry Prize, and was a 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist. Her work has been featured in The Paris Review, BuzzFeed, the Academy of American Poets, The Boston Review, The Rumpus, The Los Angeles Times, NBC News, and elsewhere. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she is raising her son with the help of a loyal shelter 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.