Writing workshop empowers teens to defy stereotypes

Every year, Sarah Rafael Garcia, founder of the Barrio Writers youth writing workshop, begins a class by asking students what words they think represent teenagers or youth in our society. The descriptions they provide in response are “always negative,” she said.

Garcia began the Barrio Writers program in 2009 with small workshops at El Centro Cultural de Mexico in Santa Ana, Ca., to give teenagers a chance to counter those stereotypes in writing. The program has created week-long, intensive programs on university campuses in several other states, including Arizona and Texas, as well as several published anthologies.

Student writers in the workshops write poetry and prose in whatever language they prefer on issues they normally would not address in a classroom, she said. The students collaborate to give each other feedback and improve their storytelling throughout the week.

The workshop is meant to empower young people to speak out about their experiences, bringing new voices into the world of literature, Garcia said. “Your voice is your weapon. This is how you have a voice in society, by communicating your ideas,” she said.

Video produced by Galia Farber, Joe Rocha and Eve Tarlo for KLRU’s Arts in Context. Local Beat is an ongoing series on Art Beat that features arts and culture stories from PBS member stations around the nation.