Age: 18Houston, TX
Project Title: Ebb and Flow: Translating Lives and Transition
In today’s increasingly diverse America, we cannot afford to live a life untranslated. No longer can we sit in our separate neighborhoods, schools, and churches and say that we tolerate each other; if we are to thrive, we must take active steps to understand one another. My body of work is a study in translation. My work implores people to reach across distances, break down barriers of any kind. Translation does not just apply to language; every time we explain an scientific concept, write something down, try to explain vast abstractions like love and grief, we are translating.
Maria "Irene" Vazquez is an an afro-mexicana writer from Houston, Texas. She is a rising freshman at Yale University. Being named a Davidson Fellow is a tremendous honor for her. She says it allows her the financial flexibility to pursue her education and fulfill her artistic and career goals.
Vazquez's project is a writing portfolio centered around the theme of translation. As a mixed-race, bilingual writer, She has used her art to bring seemingly disparate people and ideas together in an attempt to understand both sides better. Everything she creates is a synthesis of the varying cultures and places that she calls home. This process begins even before she decides what words go onto a page. She seeks to push form to its limits. She questions the myriad meanings and connotations of each and every word.
Irene's work implores people to reach across distances, break down barriers of any kind — temporal, geographic, linguistic. Translation does not just apply to language; every time we explain an scientific concept, write something down, try to explain vast abstractions like love and grief, we are translating. In order to appreciate our stories, we must look at them like a foreigner would, strange, delicate, and full of possibility. Taking each word into our hands. Feeling its weight. Molding it, shaping it, until something beautiful and new is born.
Irene says she was prompted to create this project because of her multi-racial, bilingual background.She spent her childhood as everyone’s personal translator, and writing became a way to translate her experience into the universal.
From first poem to last, Vazquez spent a total of two and a half years on the works in this portfolio. A number of the poems were written during her two summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts, a place which became her home-away-from-home, and one of the places where she is at her most creative. As a writer, her biggest enemy is time. For this reason, the majority of her literary work gets done in the summer at Interlochen, but she also took great English classes at St. John’s (notably Creative Writing I and II as well as AP English Language in her junior year) that provided her with excellent skills and two invaluable mentors and advocates.
As someone who grew up as a voracious reader (and still is one, though she says she has less time to read these days), Irene thinks her work has important implications for future generations of readers who look like her and have stories like hers. So many children in this country are growing up in bilingual worlds, whether they speak Spanish, Vietnamese, or Somali. She thinks it’s important that we expose young immigrant and minority children to writers that look like them and reflect the worlds that they live in.
Vazquez attended St. John’s School (a K-12 private school in Houston) since the 6th grade. She skipped 6th grade math and pursued an accelerated math track throughout her time there, ending with Linear Algebra in her senior year. She says St. John’s was an excellent school, and her mother always encouraged her to do her best, supplementing with extra problem sets and tutoring from her mother when she thought Irene needed it. Vazquez took honors and advanced placement classes throughout high school (notably her junior year when she took two extra classes in addition to a normal course load of 5 honors/AP classes). As for the future, Irene will be attending Yale in the fall. She is deciding (at the moment) between majoring in English or Political Science. She would love to pursue a career in the arts (as a playwright or poet), but she is also keeping her options open towards politics. Irene is interning this summer with Lizzie Fletcher for US Congressional District 7, and she enjoys the work and find it very fulfilling.
In high school, she was the co-editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Review, drum corps captain, and served on the boards of her school's African-American and Latinx affinity groups as well as its gay-straight alliance, PRISM. She was a project leader for a tutoring program at a local environmental science elementary magnet school for three summers. She also took voice and acting lessons to supplement her theatre work (she likes to write plays, and she performed in many plays at school, her favorite being Black Comedy). She was a National Merit Scholar, and also received National Hispanic Recognition. She was an honorable mention in the 2015 Princeton High School Poetry contest, a 2017 Regional Gold Key winner in the Scholastic Writing Awards for poetry, and the runner-up in the 2016 Glass Mountain Poetry Contest.
When she's not working, she likes to read, bike, attend the local poetry slam (Write About Now), and watch The West Wing.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully seeing my first play produced Off-Broadway!
If you could be on any TV game show or talk show, which one would it be?
I was actually on Teen Jeopardy when I was in the 8th grade. 'Twas a blast.
What is one of your favorite quotes?
"I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable; I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world." - Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
In the News10/17/17 - Huffington Post: Meet Maria "Irene" Vazquez, winner of a $25,000 Davidson Fellows Scholarship who is breaking down the barriers that divide Americans
HOUSTON TEEN AWARDED $25,000 FOR CREATIVE WRITING PORTFOLIO
Maria “Irene” Vazquez to be Named a 2017 Davidson Fellow
Click the links below to see hi-res photos of Irene:
Started in 1999, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development is a 501(c)3 private operating foundation. Our mission is to recognize, nurture and support profoundly intelligent young people ages 18 and under, and to provide opportunities for them to develop their talents to make a positive difference.
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