Diaz, 22, is one of 85 students whose writing was selected for Challenges to the Dream: The Best of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Writing Awards, an October release from Carnegie Mellon University Press. Since 1999, the university has held the writing award program, assigning students the task to write "honestly and creatively about race.'' Diaz's winning essay was "Being Mexican-American Post Election.''
Diaz is a new graduate of Carnegie-Mellon and hails from East Los Angeles. Currently, she is a Fulbright Scholar teaching in Spain. We recently caught up with her via Skype from her apartment in Calahorra.
What's on your nightstand?
It's a book I meant to read before I got to Spain, Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Secret Past by Giles Tremlett. It's about Spain's civil war and what has happened since. It's a bit difficult. It has helped me understand both history as well as what's going on now.
Is it one of those books you think about as you move through your day in Spain?
It definitely makes me think about political issues. A lot of Spaniards are talking about what's going on in Catalonia, and since I am from far away, I needed more understanding. One interesting thing is I've realized the people here are still not over that war. I don't think they are healed, and it's reminiscent of what we see in the U.S., with all that's going on with racial issues. We are not completely healed from ours either.
Let's be in a fantasy world for a minute. If there were no required guidelines to follow as an English teacher, what book would you have your students read?
Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. His style and the way he uses language pulls you in.
English is not always necessarily beautiful, but Diaz's words are. I love how he looks at the parts of the Latin identity. He takes apart the idea of the traditional, stereotypical Latin man, and I love artists that speak from a place that is raw.
Concerning your essay and unrest between different races, what book would you recommend for people to become more empathetic?
Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me. He is telling his son about his life and experience in America, and he writes on race in America. Of course, I came from a Mexican-American community, and his experience, the black experience, isn't mine, but his words are (universal). I'd encourage reading authors writing about their own communities. When that voice is from that community it is more vulnerable, and (the reader) understands more about that place and the people there that way, so empathy can come from that.
Contact Piper Castillo at email@example.com.