Cover image for How to be a Chicana role model
How to be a Chicana role model
Serros, Michele M.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Riverhead Books, 2000.
Physical Description:
xiii, 222 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


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Michele Serros's work has been called "wonderfully comical and wise" (San Francisco Chronicle) and "pulsating with the exuberance of an unmistakably original poetic talent" (Entertainment Weekly). How to be a Chicana Role Model is the fiercely funny tale of a Chicana writer who's trying to find a way to embrace two very different cultures--without losing touch with who she is."One of the most distinctive and accomplished Latina voices in literature today." --Estylo

Author Notes

Michele Serros was born in Oxnard, California on February 10, 1966. She started her career as a Los Angeles-based spoken word artist, who in 1994 was chosen as one of 12 poets to tour with Lollapalooza. Her first book, Chicana Falsa and Other Stories of Death, Identity and Oxnard, was published in 1994 while she was a community college student. Her other books include How to Be a Chicana Role Model, Honey Blonde Chica, and ¡Scandalosa! She spent a year as a staff writer on The George Lopez Show and was a regular commentary contributor for National Public Radio. She died from a rare form of oral cancer on January 4, 2015 at the age of 48.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

The wisecracking, bicultural/bilingual, self-deprecating, post-Valley Girl author of Chicana Falsa once again serves up a slice of her own life, this time focusing on the lessons she has learned about being a writer and de facto role model. Chronicling the experiences and responsibilities of semisuccessful Chicana poet and writer "Michele Serros," the book is divided into a series of The House on Mango Street-style vignettes, each titled with a numbered "role model rule," like "Seek Support from Sistas" and "Honor Thy Late-Night Phone Calls from Abuelita." Sandwiched between these stories are thematic riffsÄan ongoing debate with a conference organizer over an honorarium that was never paid, or correspondence with teacher fans who want to correct the fictional Serros's English or her Spanish. "Let's Go Mexico," one of the longer stories, is a humorous take on immersion language classes set in a tourist town outside of Mexico City. For all of Serros's witÄand she can be absolutely hilariousÄthere is a darker side to her humor. The fictional Serros moves from menial job to menial job. She recognizes that like her father (a "brown ghost" to his Anglo co-workers), she is too often either invisible or assumed to be a maid, and that Latinos can be as prejudiced as whites. She takes several swipes at academics and critics who assume that one Latina writer is much like another. She comes down especially hard on anyone who doubts her talent: "To my family, writing was not important. Writing was somewhat selfish. Writing was just plain rude." Though this outing lacks some of the fizz of Chicana Falsa, Serros turns out a funny yet poignant defense of her craft. 4-city author tour. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Never Give Up an Opportunity to Eat for Free I kept the poems in a Pee-Chee folder. Three poems written on college rule paper 'cause that way they looked longer. One of them I wrote in math lab, the other in the quad during my lunch hour and the third one I wrote when Paul R. broke up with me and I had nothing else to do that Friday night. Okay, so I wasn't no Jewel and my parents worked too hard to keep me from living in any ol' van, but I was pretty proud of the poems. I read them during open mike at every little bookstore and in any little coffeehouse around town and Marl and Angela were always in the audience and they said they were good poems. But I often wondered, did anyone else get anything out of them?     So naturally, I was excited when I got the phone call. The woman on the other end was from my college and said she got my number from a classmate. She said she was organizing a writers' conference, a Chicana writers' conference. She emphasized Chicana .     "We're having writers," she told me. " Chicana writers fly in from all over the Southwest, it'll be two days of readings, workshops, and lectures, here on campus. Can I count on your participation?"     Did she even have to ask?     Mari and Angela were happy for me, but surprised.     "How is it she called you?" Mari questioned. "I mean, don't take it wrong or anything and I like your poems and everything, but how did this organizer of this big ol' writers' conference connect with your work?"     "It's a Chicana writers' conference," I gloated. "And I guess good word gets around."     The conference was over a month away but already I was practicing. I read my poems in front of the hallway mirror. I typed them up on flat white paper and put them in a new Pee-Chee folder, one that had no scribble on it. I found a cute tank top at ClothesTime to match my lime-green skirt. I thought about shaving my legs above my knees.     A week before the event I get a call from the woman.     "I know this is last minute," she said. "But it looks like we'd like you both days. Are you available?"     "Oh, of course," I assured her. Dang, three little poems and already I was in demand!     "Great," I heard her exhale, and shuffle papers. "So ..." She spoke slowly as if she was writing while she talked. "We have Michele ... available ... both Saturday and Sunday ... to serve brunch."     What? Did I hear right? Brunch? To serve food? My heart dropped.     "Oh ..." I started. "I thought, I thought you wanted me to read, to share my poems."     "Oh, no." The woman chuckled uncomfortably, "We've had our writers, our Chicana writers, selected for months." Then her tone suddenly changed. "I'm sorry about any confusion. I thought I was clear when I first called you. I guess, I guess I'm so overwhelmed by the conference and all. Wait, let me see ..." I could hear her shuffle more papers. "You know on Sunday, we're having an open mike. Are you familiar with those? You're more than welcome to share your poems then."     When people say, "You're more than welcome to ..." what they really mean is "Look, not only was your name not on our original list, but we never even really thought of you. But to alleviate this feeling of guilt, the guilt for not thinking of you in the first place, we'll throw this last-minute invite your way." There's nothing more offensive than being told, "You're more than welcome to ..." The whole gesture is really a slap in the face. So I'm sure the woman was surprised by my response.     "Sure," I told her. "I'll be there. Both days. Oh, one last question. Do I have to bring my own hair net?" That night I complained to Angela.     "Quit being such a big baby," she said as she put up a new cleaning schedule on the fridge. "At least you'll get to eat for free and then later you can read your poems. I mean, there'll be more people at this conference than at any of those ol' fake coffeehouse readings you do. So--what kind of food you think they'll have?"     On Saturday morning a week later I found myself at the conference, donning a regulation name badge, meeting and greeting dozens of Chicana writers, essayists, and poets from all over the Southwest, and posing the imperative question.     "Scone or croissant?"     "What, you don't have any pan duke?" A woman in a shoulder scarf looked over the pastry platter.     "No, all the kitchen help polished them off this morning with their champurrado," I answered. "I'm afraid you're stuck with either a scone or a croissant."     "Well ... I'll take a croissant."     The woman behind her then asked me something in Spanish.     I answered her back and continued to scoop fruit salad onto her paper plate. She didn't move forward but instead looked at her friend in the shoulder scarf, rolled her eyes, and remarked in Spanish, "I thought this was a Chicana writers' conference and this one here can't even speak Spanish!"     I looked up at her. What was that about? What had I said wrong? Did I use "muy" instead of "mucho"? Rs not rolled out long enough? Oooh, I can get so sloppy with those. Should I have asked her? A Chicana help another Chicana with her Spanish? I don't think so.     I scooped more fruit salad onto her friend's plate and my face just burned. First I was this so-called writer trying to push my poems on supposedly other fellow writers and now I was this wannabe Chicana trying to horn in on a conference, their conference. I wasn't even worthy of serving Cinnamon Crispas. I complained to Angela again. We were in my room watching TV that same evening.     "I'm not going back," I told her. "I ain't gonna spend my Sunday morning dishing out mango crepes to uppity Mexicans."     "I thought they were Chicana ."     "Whatever."     "So you're not gonna go," she said as a statement rather than a question. "And now you're not gonna read your poems at open mike? Man, you're sure giving this woman who dissed your Spanish a lot of power."     "I ain't giving her no power." I changed the channel. "What do you mean, power ?"     "I mean, you were so psyched about this conference and even though you were just gonna serve food, you were all looking forward to meeting all these writers, your fellow Chicana writers and you were gonna read your poems and now, because of this woman, you're not gonna do any of it."     "But, Angela, she totally cut me down, in front of her friend. In front of other people. I don't have to take her shit."     "You know," Angela said, "why don't you write a poem or something about how you Mexicans treat other Mexicans who don't speak Spanish?"     "But I can speak Spanish!" I reminded her. "And I don't make fun of other people's Spanish."     "Yeah right." She changed the channel. "So anyway, how 'bout write something about Mexicans who don't speak Spanish well . That's something you can write about. Besides, I'm getting tired of those three old poems of yours."     "Nah, I don't even care," I told her. "I'm not gonna waste my Saturday night worrying about that woman or this whole Woman of the Corn Nuts Conference. I'm just gonna relax."     I grabbed the remote and changed the channel back. "And what do you mean, you're tired of my three old poems?" After Angela left my room, I worked on a new poem. A poem 'bout how Latinos treat other Latinos who don't speak Spanish well. My skin is brown, just like theirs, but now I'm unworthy of the color 'cause I don't speak Spanish the way I should.     Great idea huh? The next morning I gathered my three "old" poems and my brand spankin' new one and stuck them in the new Pee-Chee. I was armed. I was ready. The open mike was held in the college's multipurpose room. I could see the woman, in the fourth row, two aisles ahead of me. She was going through her purse and checking her airline tickets. Man, all I could think was that she'd better pay attention when it was my turn to read.     Thirty minutes later my name was read from the sign-up sheet and I walked to the stage. From the podium I could see her more clearly. I quickly read my three poems, saving the new one for last. Then I saw the woman laughing with that friend of hers. Oh, she must've just heard someone speaking Spanish and caught a grammatical error, grammaticas wrongos . I cleared my throat and started reading my new poem. I looked up from my paper and saw that she was going through her day planner with her friend. She was checking off dates and her friend was comparing them against her own pocket calendar. They weren't even paying attention to me! I raised my voice and directed my voice toward her. My fingers clenched the sides of the podium and I was balancing all my weight on the tip of my toes. She still wasn't paying attention. I found myself not taking the time to exhale, not swallowing my saliva, things I learned in Mr. Bower's speech class that were very important to do when speaking in public. But all I could think about was getting the words out, reaching this witch of a woman and demanding she learn a lesson from me. But unfortunately, it looked hopeless. I read the last lines of my new poem and thirty short seconds later, I was done. The woman was now offering her friend a mint.     I walked away from the podium feeling so defeated, the last thing I wanted was idle chitchat from anyone. But then this man, in a tie and glasses, approached me. He looked the boring business type, the kind to pull out standard business cards straight out of Kinko's from his wallet.     "Well, that was different." He clapped his hands together. "Boy, you sure have a lot of anger in your work!"     "Oh, yeah ... thanks." Was that supposed to be a compliment? Why was I even thanking him? My poems, angry? He obviously knew nothing about poetry.     My eyes stayed on the woman as the man yakked on. She was now getting up from her seat. I needed an excuse to confront her, something direct. Obviously, my poem hadn't worked. If only I could've gotten rid of the man, but he just kept talking and talking. Men, they can be so chitchatty.     "You know, a lot of writers don't use Spanish like you do."     Oh great. Here we go again. And now my first critic was getting away.     "Are you working on a manuscript?"     "A what?" I wasn't really paying attention. I looked over his shoulder. The woman was leaving through a side door.     "A manuscript?" he asked again. "Do you have one?"     "No, not at all," I answered curtly. Was he making fun of me?     "Well, I'm a publisher." He pulled a card out from his wallet. "I have a press, it's a small one, but if you don't have a manuscript ..."     "Oh." I took his card. It was stiff, beige, and basic with only his name and the word "Publisher" printed underneath in black block letters. I thought of my three, I mean, four poems. I thought of how I didn't even have a computer and how I used the typewriter at school to type them up. I thought about this man, a publisher, who was interested in publishing poetry. My poetry. Did people still do that anymore? If I had a book, I could sell it after my readings at the coffeehouses, I could give it to my friends as a little gift. If I had a book then maybe next year I'd be invited to read poems, rather than be asked to serve food.     "Actually," I told him, "I do have a manuscript. I mean, I thought you meant on me. It's actually on floppy, at home." Floppy? That was the right term, right?     He looked over his shoulder to see what I had been looking at before. "Do you need to leave? Is someone waiting for you?" he asked.     I looked after the woman. I worried that I'd never be strong enough to question someone's intent or actions, no matter how much they hurt me. Would I always think about what I should've said and then write about it later? How could I ever get my messages across in life?     "No," I told him as I saw the woman leave with her friend. I opened my Pee-Chee folder. "So, here are a few poems. What do you think?" Copyright © 2000 Michele Serros. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Special Assemblyp. 1
Role Model Rule Number 1 Never Give Up an Opportunity to Eat for Freep. 5
Senior Picture Dayp. 13
Role Model Rule Number 2 Seek Support from Sistasp. 21
First Callp. 33
Role Model Rule Number 3 Remember, Commerce Begins at Homep. 35
Passport to Cross Overlandp. 41
Second Callp. 47
Role Model Rule Number 4 Discard Discontinued Textp. 49
The Big Dealp. 59
Role Model Rule Number 5 Respect the 1 Percentp. 69
Third Callp. 73
Role Model Rule Number 6 Live Better, Work Unionp. 75
Tenth Callp. 85
Breaking the Major Rulep. 87
Role Model Rule Number 7 Buy Americanp. 93
Let's Go Mexico!p. 101
Role Model Rule Number 8 Reclaim Your Rights As a Citizen of Here, Herep. 123
I Know What You Did Last Summerp. 129
Role Model Rule Number 9 Any Press Is Good Pressp. 139
Counter Actp. 147
Twelfth Callp. 159
Role Model Rule Number 10 Distinguish the Difference Between a Great Contact and a Good Connectionp. 161
Twentieth-Something Callp. 169
Fourth Thursday in Aprilp. 171
Role Model Rule Number 11 Honor Thy Late-Night Phone Calls from Abuelitap. 175
Good Parkingp. 189
Role Model Rule Number 12 Mind Your Table Mannersp. 195
The Plaintiff, the Poetp. 205
Role Model Rule Number 13 Answer All Fan Mailp. 207
Special Assembly, Part 2p. 211