We interviewed local author and professor, Dr. Rossy Lima de Padilla, on her relationship with language and how her own migration story led to sharing her words with others.
Kylie Cooper: How did you first become interested in the art of writing, and more specifically writing poetry?
Dr. Rossy Lima de Padilla: I was raised in the oral tradition, which meant my mom would recite long poems and elegies by memory; my grandfather would compose songs that he never wrote on paper and play them using his harmonica. We didn’t have anything else but our stories, our songs, our traditions. I like to think that putting words on paper was the privilege of going to school. When I arrived to the United States, the inclination to write became an urge, the only way I could experience absolute freedom. I followed my instinct, and it has taken me on an unimaginable path.
KC: Your work largely explores the themes of migration and the duality that comes with that experience. What is it about poetry’s relationship to language that made you turn to it to capture your story of migration?
DRLP: Let me be honest: When I first started writing, I had no idea I was writing poetry. Writing, for me, was a vehicle to explore my surroundings, my reality, and myself. It took me a while to recognize that I was writing poetry. Poetry was my home before I really knew about her. Yes, poetry is a woman in my head; it’s my older sister, my protector. With poetry, I can delineate every corner of my spirit, the hard times are sheltered by words of solace, and the good times can be honored with every line break.
KC: What specifically about your own migration story do you hope to translate to others through your published works?
DRLP: I started writing at a time in my life when I was in “survival mode,” trying to find myself in a new land, navigating a world that was completely new to me. I wrote for me. Until one day, when I shared something I wrote with my best friend. After I finished reading, I remember she took a long pause, she looked at me with crystal eyes and said, “That’s exactly how I feel, but I never had the words to say it.” Was this a miraculous coincidence? The more I’ve shared my poetry, the more I find kind souls that tell me they have felt the same in one way or another. Being an immigrant can often make us feel alone. What I wish to do by sharing my poetry is tell whoever reads or listens to my work that I am there, with them, and for the duration of the poem, we are one.
KC: Could you talk a little bit about your writing process? Do you have any rituals, particulars, or personal procedures of writing you’d care to share?
DRLP: To me, the writing process is like standing in front of a mirror. Have you ever done that? You start feeling uncomfortable after a little while; you start discovering things you didn’t know were there, but there is a moment when you can rejoice at the realization that what’s in front of you is unapologetically you. That is what writing poetry feels like to me. Many times I get a feeling or a thought, and I “sit with it.” When my grandfather died in my native Veracruz, and I was unable to say goodbye, the pain wouldn’t let me get close to my memories. It was a struggle. Confronting our emotions is extremely hard, but it is worth it. I wrote 54 poems to honor my grandfather’s life, his imprint in my soul and upbringing. Reading these poems out loud makes me feel in communion with his spirit. This is my procedure: I face my emotions, those tangled, sweet or sour, and mold them with pen and paper.
KC: What do you look to for inspiration when you’re starting a new piece or experience writer’s block?
DRLP: I am a nature person, and I look for inspiration there. One of the things that I love about the Coastal Bend is that I turn the corner and find nature reserves, parks, the beach, and the bay. I like sitting with nature and doing breathing exercises. When I experience writer’s block, I document my dreams, an ancient tradition that women in my family have carried out for many generations. When you listen to your dreams, they speak louder. Waking up and writing or recording them usually gives me a lot of inspiration. Many of my poems have initially been dreams.
KC: What else do you love about working and living in the Coastal Bend?
DRLP: I’ve always said that the sea is my motherland. I was born in a state also caressed by the Gulf of Mexico. I love the smell of the sea in the mornings. I’ve lived here for a year now; not a week has passed when I don’t visit the bay, the beach, or another body of water. My second book of poetry was titled Whaterpath, and it is serendipitous that I am again sheltered in the waters that watched me grow from the other side of the border. I am also fortunate to be working at TAMUCC, directing the Translation Certificate and teaching future translators how to serve our Spanish monolingual communities. These students will be providing the type of help my family and I often needed when we first came to this country. I feel proud and grateful for them already.
KC: Are there any projects you’re currently working on that you can share with us?
DRLP: I have two books that have already been accepted for publication—one of them is Tiger’s Hand, about my grandfather and his legacy. I am also working on several children’s book translations, and I couldn’t be more excited about them.