A ‘brilliant poet’ and student, she had a bright future until it was tragically cut short

Mireyda “Mia” Barraza Martinez
Mireyda “Mia” Barraza Martinez California State University, Fresno

A graduate student at Fresno State who was making her mark as a poet and advocate for social justice will be laid to rest Tuesday in her hometown of Porterville.

Mireyda “Mia” Barraza Martinez, 29, died in a car accident on rain-soaked Highway 99 in Fresno on Nov. 20.

Her death rocked the English department, where she was in her third year in the Master of Fine Arts creative writing program and was on track to graduate in the spring. She also worked as a teaching associate in poetry writing. The university announced that campus flags would be posted at half-staff in her memory from sunrise to sunset Tuesday.

“She was a smart, strong and good-hearted person and a gifted poet, and she was incredibly giving of her time, energy and creativity,” said Lisa Weston, chair of the English department.

Juan Felipe Herrera, the U.S. poet laureate, described her as “a soulful, intelligent, brilliant poet.”

She was doing impressive work by weaving Chicano identity from the 1970s and 1980s with feminist thought while using the latest in video and Instagram techniques, he said.

“She was forging and bringing together all these currents,” he said. “She did extremely well. She was a new generational leader. She would have opened up this whole branch of writing.”

Ms. Barraza Martinez was one of two graduate assistants hired to staff the experimental Laureate Lab at Fresno State, where poets experiment with art to express poetry, a project that Herrera is involved in.

“She was very serious, that’s the first thing I noticed,” he said. “She was ready to sit down, take notes and start working.”

She was a new generational leader. She would have opened up this whole branch of writing.

Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. poet laureate

Martinez grew up as the daughter of farmworkers. Her father and mother worked in grape vineyards, and in high school in the summer she worked in the fields with her parents, her family said.

When she was 2 years old, her family moved from Mexico to the Porterville area. She grew up speaking Spanish in the home and was fully bilingual, said her sister Marlen Barraza Martinez.

She was a 2005 graduate of Granite Hills High School in Porterville.

“She was very active and got very good grades,” her sister said. “She’s always been very bright. She’s always been an excellent writer.”

But she was no stranger to adversity. She went to Fresno State after high school but “she struggled a bit to find her path, her calling,” her sister said.

At Fresno City College, she found her voice as a writer. “She was self-publishing little poetry books, and winning first place and second place in all these contests at Fresno City,” her sister said.

She was a political activist who cared about undocumented students, her sister said. “She was always fighting for the underdog ... She stood up for what was right.”

She wore a piece of jewelry depicting “559,” the region’s area code. “She was very proud of being from the Valley, and proud of growing up a very strong Chicana woman,” her sister said.

Two years ago, she graduated from Fresno State with a bachelor’s degree in English.

“Within the past few years, she flew and excelled,” her sister said. It’s likely she would have pursued a career as a college professor, she said.

She was president of the Chicanx Writers and Artists Association and served on the organizing committee of the Undergraduate Conference on Multiethnic Literatures of the Americas, according to a statement issued by Fresno State.

In tribute, Herrera established “Mireyda’s Remembrance Poetry Wreathe” where people are invited to write their thoughts. Submissions may be sent to juanh@csufresno.edu.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

Mireyda “Mia” Barraza Martinez

Born: Feb. 7, 1987

Died: Nov. 20, 2016

Occupation: Teaching associate, graduate assistant at California State University, Fresno

Education: Bachelor’s degree, California State University, Fresno

Family: Father, Miguel Barraza; mother, Maria de Lourdes Martinez, sisters, Marlen and Neli Barraza.

Services: 9 a.m. Tuesday, St. Anne’s Parish, 378 N. F St., Porterville.