Ofelia Faz-Garza, Semillitas Literary Initiative
Semillitas Literary Initiative (SLI) was founded by Ofelia Faz-Garza. Semillitas means “little seeds”, and their work is focused on planting seeds that will grow lifelong readers and writers. Their purpose is to help develop good reading habits, reinforce the idea that reading can be fun and engaging, and provide a comfortable place to discuss ideas and opinions. What started as a simple story time in 2006 has grown into ever expanding, creative, and exciting ways to empower young people’s voices.
Where – in what community – do you primarily do your work?
We serve the North Texas area, working mostly in Dallas' southern sector. The reality is we can't afford rent in the city so we turned to small local businesses and neighborhood events for space. They provide a physical location for our pop-up activities in different communities and we promote the businesses and help grow their customer base. Necessity helped us move into what's turned out to be a pretty successful approach to reaching the community.
What gets you going each day and inspires your current work?
A love for books and the desire to connect others with the written word drives me.
When you work in your community, what are the most valuable assets of the community that you experience aside from real estate and money?
We have a beautiful network of community artists, small businesses, and cultural workers working cooperatively to bring change to our communities. The combination of ganas (drive) and corazon (heart) driving this grassroots work outshines all the mirrored buildings in the Dallas skyline and is creating a wave of awareness that is I haven't seen. Being a witness to this chipping away of the superficialities the city projects is a testament to the resilience and courage of Dallasites.
How does your artistic practice inform and/or is integrated into your enterprise?
I’ve been painting worlds with my words since childhood. Back then it was love poems to my mom; short and sugary sweet sentences that mimicked the words on fancy drugstore cards. Sharing my writing then was easy because I knew it would be received adoringly. As I got older and began to experience the world around me I realized voices like mine that spoke in broken English and with an accent didn’t belong; not in the stores, not in class, and especially not in books so writing became a secret world for me.
Something changed after turning 40. I began to call myself a writer and started to use the literary and cultural arts as a way to engage community and build bridges. This was also when it clicked for me that while libraries, museums and galleries can be amazing places to experience the arts not everyone is comfortable there and that something should be done to both challenge the narrative about what art is and where it belongs. Everything I do now is rooted in these ideas.
What is the impact of your work on your community? Today? Over a long period of time?
This project began as a story-time at a Dallas community center over 12 years ago when my oldest was a toddler and has grown organically with my children. Seeing their literacy and literary interests change over the years made me realize growing lifelong readers is a constant process and is why our initiative has grown over the years to include the development of a book club model, public reading nooks and book exchanges, and literary-centered experiential activities and workshops. To date we've given away thousands of books and helped families see that reading is fun and something to do in community
In the future we want to replicate our initiative components outside of the North Texas area. We look forward to seeing a network of Semillitas children's book clubs and reading nooks across the country along with a host of new components tailored to the communities being served. Starting a publishing company is also on our to-do list long-term. We want to be able to bring more voices to the community in both traditional print and in more innovative ways utilizing technology along with grassroots mediums and genres that continue to push the boundaries of what the written word looks like.