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By Sabrina Del Piano

December 11, 2018

It was the day after the 2016 presidential election. English major Candice M. Lopez ’19  and her father, an immigrant from El Salvador, were getting breakfast a local deli in downtown New Brunswick. As she often did, Lopez acted as a translator for her father. “I would always try to correct his grammar and pronunciation.” While Lopez was conversing with her father in Spanish, a woman at the next table spoke up. “This is America," she said. "Speak English."  Lopez and her father stayed silent, unsure about how to respond.

In another instance, Lopez remembers arriving at campus in the midst of a very loud,  pro-Trump rally. She did the best she could to avoid running into participants before attending her Young Adult Fiction class with Writers House Instructor Alex Dawson. Once she was inside the classroom, Dawson closed the windows to shut out the sound of rally members and told everyone that this was a safe place. “I cried happy tears in the bathroom,” Lopez recalls.

It was in this same class that Lopez learned to embrace who she was as a person and as a writer. Throughout her life, Lopez had been stuck in between cultures, unsure of where she fit in as a Latina-American. “It’s always been a constant battle. I have native speakers telling me, ‘you’re Latina, speak Spanish,’ versus non-Latinos telling me to speak English,” Lopez says. But with a little encouragement from her creative writing instructor, Lopez decided to embrace what she always wanted to do—write a story half in English, and half in Spanish.

It wasn’t an easy feat to embrace in the current social and political climate. “In one of my other creative writing classes, my classmates would say ‘can’t you just write it in English? You wouldn’t be alienating your audience so much,” Lopez remembers. And so, when Dawson told Lopez that it was okay to incorporate two languages into her writing, Lopez felt an overwhelming sense of relief and emotion.

“The moment he told me not to be afraid, I walked out of class crying—again,” Lopez says. “He assured me that even if half your audience doesn't know what you're saying, your intended audience will understand.” After that encounter, Lopez says the writing just poured out of her, and it didn’t stop. Dawson soon began to refer to Lopez as “Pablo Neruda,” Lopez recalls. 

Lopez says that her love of writing stems from her time spent in the local library as a child. Being constantly surrounded by books inspired Lopez to write her own mini-novels, or what she refers to as "scribbles," in those classic marble composition notebooks. "The lady at the dollar store--where I buy the notebooks--loves me," she says. 

She believes that without reading and writing, her life would be completely different. “We moved around a lot when I was a kid,"  Lopez says. "Books and writing helped me keep myself grounded, even though a lot was going on around me.”Lopez's writing routine remains consistent. "I sit by the window, have coffee, play some 80's tunes and just write. Even if it's just a word, sentence or paragraph. I always thank myself later for it," she says. What she puts on the page, however, changes day-to-day.  “One day, I’ll write a about family of witches or another day I’ll experiment with what I call neon-retro futurism where everything is neon, at night time, kind of like Blade Runner.” Lopez says. 

Now in her senior year, Lopez says she feels all of the experiences she’s had, growing up as the child of immigrants, being unsure of how to navigate her identity, and now finally embracing her voice through writing have shaped her for the better."Honestly, when they say it gets better - it really does! Even when I thought about quitting, I just put my head down and kept going," she says.

Lopez hopes to break into the publishing realm and also someday be known as a successful writer from El Salvador, “I promised myself that,” Lopez says. But her main goal, the one that’s been driving her since she was a child is simple: make her parents proud.

“My parents have always talked about how thankful they are to be living in the United States so my brother and I can get an education,” Lopez says. “They had to flee El Salvador for their own safety. That’s always in the back of my head whenever I think about skipping a class. I have to keep going—for them.”

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If you or anyone you know would like to share their journey within Rutgers English, please contact Sabrina Del Piano at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

 

By Sabrina Del Piano 

November 6, 2018

For Syeda Saad ’19, doing the bare minimum is just not an option. “I like to have my hand in everything,” Saad says. As an English and Journalism double major and a creative writing and women’s and gender studies double minor— writing is a major part of her life. When you add her position as editor-in-chief of The Daily Targum, it’s clear that the writing world is not just a small part of Saad's life; it is an essential part of it.

“When I was younger, my elementary school teachers would tell me to stop writing such long stories, but I couldn’t help it,” Saad says. “I just loved the idea of creating something—these are my words on the paper. They are helping me to make sense of the world, and I can see from the pages that I am doing something.”

 
These days, Saad’s preferred genre is poetry. "During sophomore and junior year, whenever I had a thought at 3 a.m., I would write it down and I kept going from there.” Saad says poetry also helped her work through harder times. “I draw more inspiration from sadder things. Making sad things sounds beautiful takes real talent.” 

Like other English majors, Saad’s love of reading influenced her passion for writing. Poets like Tyler Knott Gregson and authors like Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Sue Monk Kidd are among the many voices who sparked Saad’s curiosity to write and also to learn about feminism and intersectionality. 

“It's important that we learn about each other's struggles,” Saad says. “Take Zora Neale Hurston—she writes from a black woman’s perspective, but there are multiple layers to the story. She writes about race, but she shows that identity shouldn’t only be defined by oppression.”

“As a young Muslim woman, I felt inspired and reassured to know that other women are struggling and yet choosing to move forward,” Saad says. Motivated by these stories, Saad also decided to take action, and so she interned at AmeriCorps Vista through the Jersey City Youth Works program for two years. 

Jersey City Youth Works is a college prep program that focuses on high school juniors from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, allowing students to intern at Fortune 500 companies like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. “Jersey City has large under-resourced population, so it was great to be a part of an organization intent on building opportunities to succeed,” Saad says.

Now in her senior year, Saad, like other senior English majors approaching their last semester, is attempting to combine all of her interests into one career path. “Right now, I am in a really weird place where I don't know where I’ll end up,” Saad says. 

Confident in the skills she has been able to hone as a newspaper editor managing a daily newspaper and as a college student with a challenging course load in Rutgers English, Saad says that she isn't worried about her future.  “No matter what career you go into, you need to know how to communicate with people,” Saad says. “I believe that regardless of your field or discipline, if you can get your thoughts on paper in a clear manner, you can  succeed.”

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If you or anyone you know would like to share their journey within Rutgers English, please contact Sabrina Del Piano at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

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