By By Sarah Rafael García
This year is rapidly ending. And as we take a moment to reflect, we realize how much our community of artists, readers, scholars, activists, healers, thinkers, librarians, partners, leaders, mentors, and supporters have carried us along the way. LibroMobile Arts Cooperative will be eight years old in 2024. Although Barrio Writers in OC has been in hiatus for the last two summers, it continues to exist in Tejas. So technically, LMAC has existed for nearly 15 years with Crear Studio entering its third year. Muchas gracias for the on-going support.
The LibroMobile bookstore has been managed by the dedication of the cooperative. Countless volunteers, local artists and City of Santa Ana youth workers have kept the doors open and hustled books into people’s hands. Booksale profits and California Arts Council grants have given us the opportunity to expand our creative reach. Our free literary arts programming and event manager Marilynn Montano, at times in collaboration with the Bristol Swap Mall & Food Court, have served as loyal hosts for our monthly open mics with local poet Kunthon Meas, a multitude of local and guest writers of color and even a memorial for a local artist lost too soon. We also published a couple of community zines in collaboration with Sarah Bennett at Place Long Beach and got two murals up by Jose Lozano and Roger Eyes R. — go check out Lotería Cards 1 & 2 in front of the Bristol Food Court!
At Crear Studio, we have been training local youth to become the next arts administrators of color in the region while also elevating visibility for local artists like Jesus Cortez, Nancy D. Alcalá and Roger Eyes R. Can you believe we’ve hosted 13 exhibitions of BIPOC artists from the region since we opened in August 2021 with Albert Lopez, Jr.? And we have quite a line up for 2024, more information will be released early in the year. Additionally, I plan to publish a biennial Crear Studio catalog in 2024, which will feature all the exhibitions as digital archives.
The LMAC Digital Humanities initiatives continue to enhance our multi-tier mentorship model by delivering incredible training and opportunities through our CSUF, UCI, and Santa Ana College partnerships. Dynamic organizations like VAALA, SAAS and CSO-OC have reminded us to keep true to our mission and we appreciate their collaboration over the last year.
We are in the midst of planning our 6th Anniversary LibroMobile Literary Arts Festival on March 3rd, 2024 at a new location AGAIN — and with our new community partner, the Fullerton Museum (shout out to Elvia and her crew). Why a new location? Because as you know, we keep in solidarity with community and Jamie Hiber is our comadre en la lucha, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate her, doesn’t appreciate us. We redirected our partnership with Jamie through the OC Archives Bazaar, I virtually visit with her and other amazing board members in planning their annual event.
All these efforts have helped us remain in our community — and remember we started with a pushcart in Downtown Santa Ana back in 2016! Three locations later, we are expanding and in a much better space in Santa Ana and our aspirations too. In 2023, we proudly contracted folks like our Crear Studio gallery coordinator Anaid Hernandez and Bookstore Managers In-Training Mayrelyn Aguilar and Danna Ortiz. LMAC coop members Erin Rubin, Melanie Romero and Yuri Velasco continue to keep our website up to date with book reviews, Arts & Culture features and special social media content.
I know, I know, you all wonder about me. But I am no longer the face of these initiatives. That was never my intention. All of this belongs to the you, la comunidad, most importantly our youth. Although, I’m happy to hear people still walk into LibroMobile and Crear Studio hoping to find me, but you should know, I leave you in better hands. Our youth may not have all the answers today, but they offer much more than I can. They provide hope and help heal my past frustrations. There’s plenty of chisme about me for you to know of my angst. But here’s some better chisme to spread: In 2023, I was honored as a Woman of Distinction by State Senator Tom J. Umberg and a Kickass Woman by Orange Coast Magazine.
As a Chicana multimedia artist, I have learned to address what it means to be a child Spanish speaker, a teen trauma survivor, a nontraditional M.F.A graduate in the American School System — and now an arts leader dedicated to building equity and visibility for our BIPOC community in Orange County. Currently, I split my time establishing collaborative arts programming through the digital humanities, which includes community-based partnerships, with UCI Libraries & Special Collections and the Digital Ethnic Futures Consortium at CSUF. Most recently, I was announced as the CSUF Chicana/o Studies Department & Latinx Lab Visiting Professor of Creative Writing through Spring 2025. So, yes, I’m busy, and extremely proud too.
Since I’ve told you que aqui estamos, now I get to tell you que no nos vamos.
Through the many community-based partnerships and collaborations over the last seven years, we’ve been able to plant books as seeds and watch them grow from mobile book cart to store front. We intersect values found in the literary and contemporary arts with community engagement and social practice. As nourishment, we currently have three spaces: LibroMobile, Crear Studio and a hybrid Barrio Writers program for youth. The next step in our growth and movement is to enhance our presence in the region by obtaining a space to nurture and establish as a brick-and mortar museum and cultural center for-and-by the BIPOC community in Orange County. With your support, we are here to stay.
In tradition with the last letter I wrote in 2022:
Sarah Rafael García is an award-winning author and multimedia artist, community educator, curator, and performance ethnographer born in Brownsville, Tejas and raised in Santa Ana, California. She has over 15 years of experience as an Arts Leader and is founder of Barrio Writers, LibroMobile, and Crear Studio — all art programs initiated as a response to build cultural relevance and equity for BIPOC folks in Orange County.
Starting February 2023, #OffThePage is featuring Melanie Romero as our monthly columnist. Our Arts & Culture column was initially founded by local journalist Gabriel San Román in May 2020. Since then we have collaboratively featured over 25 stories and paid nearly 10 contributors from our community. Pitch Melanie a story or email us for more information!