By S.E. Fleenor
Leti “Darlina” is a visual artist, poet, and screenwriter. She regularly participates in Reach Studio, the Card Project, and Hard Times Writers Workshop (page 16). This spring, in recognition of her writing, she was awarded a fellowship with Lighthouse Writers Workshop to enroll in a weeklong intensive workshop for her screenplay. Her work was so positively received in the workshop that she and her family were asked to perform a live reading of her screenplay, Daughters of Aztlán.
“I almost cried when the audience gave us a standing ovation,” said Darlina. The audience responded viscerally to the main character, Lupe, and her family’s story of traveling from Juarez, Mexico, to Denver through the desert. The screenplay sheds light on the threat of deportation, border policing, and other injustices faced by immigrants.
Many of her characters are based in part on people she has met or upon her own life experiences. “Some of the people have died or don’t have the opportunity to speak, so I see it like an obligation to share [their stories] publicly through art or writing when I can.” These voices and stories have been incorporated into her poetry and her screenplay.
One particularly vivid moment from Darlina’s life has also been included in the screenplay. When Darlina attended a vigil in honor of those who lost their lives crossing the desert, she was confronted by onlookers yelling at her. “Some of the comments made were really racist. They were like, ‘Just go back to Mexico, f-ing wetback.’” Darlina uses these experiences as fodder to create art, all in the hopes of making the world a better place. “[Making] art and writing is a way to share each other’s stories and hopefully make some kind of difference.”
Darlina’s life isn’t all sunshine and roses. Recently, she lost her place to live, but she knows she can count on spaces like The Gathering Place, RedLine, and Lighthouse Writers Workshop to be a constant in her life. “I know I can always come [to The Gathering Place] and feel safe, and I could also do my artwork, which is to me, just as important as food to live.”
Her relationship to her creative pursuits is as complicated as any artist’s: “I feel like I have a love and hate relationship with art because it’s trial by error. So is writing, but for some reason, I have mostly love for it.” The hardest thing about being creative, according to Darlina, is “drawing out reflections of our own light or darkness. Sometimes it’s hard to find this courage as we create.”
Darlina wants others who are homeless and considering attending these programs to know, “Creating art and writing speaks your truth.” Her next goal as an artist is to go to school to learn illustration so she can illustrate her own books.
Despite her setbacks and challenges, Darlina has her focus firmly on the future. ■