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.”