Fresno’s poetry community is in mourning after news of the death of Mireyda “Mia” Barraza Martinez, 29, in a traffic accident Sunday.
Already an accomplished poet, Ms. Barraza Martinez was enrolled in Fresno State’s MFA creative writing program. She also taught poetry classes and worked as a graduate assistant in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordlist Studio with U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.
The daughter of farmworkers and a proud Xicana (a female Mexican-American), Ms. Barraza Martinez, was on track to graduate in the spring, according to the university. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Fresno State in May 2014.
In an excerpt from her poem “i am a sixth sun xicana,” she wrote:
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i’ve devoured pesticidal grapes
and hidden my family behind my heart
i’ve used so much ink on men
and eaten so much of white america’s toxic dinners
and was the last one dancing
and was the only one listening
and the only one saying good morning to the tree outside my window
She is survived by her parents, Miguel Barraza and Maria de Lourdes Martinez, of Porterville; and her sisters, Marlen Barraza Martinez of Porterville and Neli Barraza Martinez of Fresno.
A rosary service and viewing will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 28 at Myers Funeral Service, 248 North E St. in Porterville. Mass is scheduled at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at St. Anne’s Parish Church, 378 North F St. in Porterville, with burial to follow at Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery, 1013 E. Olive Ave. in Porterville.
Update: Mia’s boyfriend, Jairo Lozano, organized a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for her services.
Here’s a roundup of reaction.
I reached out to Lee Herrick, Fresno’s poet laureate and a mentor of Ms. Barraza Martinez during her time at Fresno City College. A month ago she’d asked him to be on her MFA thesis committee.
Q: Tell us a little about Mia as a person: her background, life outlook, personality.
A: Mia was a strong, gentle, fiercely compassionate person. She was very proud of her farm worker parents and knew how meaningful her education was. She was a brave visionary who inspired me and so many others through her social justice advocacy, compassion for others, and her ability to bring people together. She was one of best and brightest. She was incredibly humble, but I believe she knew she had been called to change lives, and she did. She inspired us all.
Q: Is there a memory you’d like to share?
A: I remember her as a freshman in college, probably 18 years old in my poetry class. Her immense talent was instantly apparent, but I also remember the soulful light that resonated around her. She visited my office often, and I loved our conversations about poetry and life. She had a great fire about her, a deep spark that fueled her powerful poems.
Q: What did she bring to her poetry?
A: I still have her chapbook that she made for the class, and I plan to give it to her family. Mia wrote in the tradition of some great Fresno poets, including Andrés Montoya. Her poems were brilliant and bold, often like incantations for a revolution.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: There was greatness in her. She did more to improve the world than most people do in a lifetime. I am devastated and heartbroken that she is gone, but her life, her spirit, and her poems will always be with us. I send my most heartfelt condolences and prayers to her family.
More reactions from the Fresno State campus, compiled in a university press release:
Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. poet laureate: “This is a very tragic, painful loss, and I send my condolences to her family, friends and colleagues,” said Herrera, who was at a poetry reading in Texas Tuesday. “A Xicana and daughter of farmworkers, Mia was inspiring, creative and full of ideas. She embodied the spirit of the Laureate Lab and the many projects she was working to launch.”
Herrera has established “Mireyda’s Remembrance Poetry Wreathe” as a tribute to Ms. Barraza Martinez. “I would like to call on you all to send poems, any size and style, your heart-words, in memory of Mia Barraza Martinez. One step of compassion is 1,000 miles of peace and healing.” (If you’re not one of Juan Felipe’s Facebook friends, you can email your contribution to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Dr. Lisa Weston, English department chair: “Mia was a shining star in our Master of Fine Arts program. She was a smart, strong and good-hearted person and a gifted poet, and she was incredibly giving of her time, energy and creativity. Her colleagues, friends and students in the English Department will deeply miss her.”
Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities: “Mia’s gift of poetry pierced through the ordinary. Her sense of self and family was evident in the myriad ways she became involved with the English Department and the MFA Program – she strived to make a difference, to leave a positive mark, and to forge a sense of dynamic imagination. We all mourn at the loss of such a bright and kind poet, and are thankful to have experienced the warmth of her creative life.”
Finally: Jefferson Beavers, communications specialist for the Fresno State MFA program, offered some ways to read Ms. Barraza Martinez’s poetry:
▪ Several of Mia’s earliest published poems are here, from Fresno City College publication The Ram’s Tale:
▪ A recent prose poem in Razorhouse is here.
▪ A recent poem in Bozalta is here.
▪ A recent poem in the zine Kvet is here.
And here’s Beavers’ favorite poem by Barraza Martinez, from the Spring 2016 issue of the San Joaquín Review: