There are a lot of people who can write with beauty and grace, but there are few who can emit that beauty, grace, and kindness through spoken word to a large crowd so much so that their speech stays with you for hours afterwards. Alex Espinoza, an author, professor, activist, and all-around lovely human being is one of those people. I had the chance to listen to Alex speak at one of my school’s writing events, and I couldn’t get his beautiful writing out of my head. That prompted me to reactivate my decaying Twitter account and reach out to him. I didn’t expect a reply, but by some miracle, he responded and I was able to set up a phone interview.
Alex Espinoza is the youngest of eleven siblings and grew up in Los Angeles. During his speech, he spoke about how in the three-bedroom house where his parents and his siblings all lived together, he didn’t have a “room of one’s own,” referencing a line of Virginia Woolf’s that every writer should have a room of their own in which to write.
“Writers of color like myself, we need rooms of our own. But oftentimes our environment doesn’t permit that for whatever reason. So instead, what I had to turn to was literature and writing, and that became my salvation. That became my room of the imagination. I had to carve my own space… through my imagination.”
Espinoza is a gay, disabled Mexican-American author, three obstacles that seem to corner him to the very margins of the marginalized. When I asked him about those hardships he faced as not only a Latin American, but as a gay and a disabled writer, he responded with this video of James Baldwin, in which an interviewer asks Baldwin about his upbringing as an impoverished, gay black male, and Baldwin replies, “I thought I won a jackpot.” Alex says that he thinks about this quote and its strikingly similarities to his own upbringing a lot.
“When you have so many strikes coming out against you from the womb, there is really nothing else to do except to pick yourself up and try.”
Alex Espinoza, much like James Baldwin, didn’t have to answer this question in the way he did, or even at all—yet much like Baldwin, Alex conveyed the unspoken hardships he had faced with a slight chuckle and a beautiful, simple answer. And without even meaning to, Alex circled back to literature and its influence on his life.
“There was really nothing else for me to do. I couldn’t play sports. I couldn’t do anything that my educational system pushed me into. We were all poor, we were all brown, and everything that was expected of us was vocational. And I couldn’t do any of it due to my disability. And I was left to figure things [out] on my own, and I was always in between. That is what a writer has to do: we are always on the periphery, we are always on the sidelines, we are always watching. It was a happy accident, I guess, that I acquired a skill early on to observe the world without anyone realizing I’m there, watching... In a way, my disability was something that ended up saving me from taking a dead-end job somewhere.”
“I am here because of writing and literature. Those opened up possibilities of another world. They showed me other [people] out there who had the same thoughts and feelings I had. And they were half a world away. Literature and writing showed me that I could create those worlds and make those imaginations real.”
Espinoza has written two books and is currently working on a third novel. He is a professor at California State University, Los Angeles and a director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Arts. You can reach out to him through his website.