Vanessa Angélica Villarreal is a first-generation U.S. citizen and the eldest daughter of working-class Mexican immigrants. She was born in McAllen, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley and raised in Houston, Texas. Her work is engaged with decolonial feminist ecopoetics, documentary poetics, institutional critique, geographies of power, state violence, critical race, intimate violence, memory studies, generational trauma, and the archive.
It has been the aim of my life to excavate the record of how we got here. There are significant gaps in my family’s memory, from our history as indigenous laborers on Spanish-owned cotton ranchos in Northern Mexico, to the intimate and colonial violence that forced our migration to the United States. These narratives are filled with absences and silences, the fragments of survivor-memory I aim to repair by interrogating documents, photos, artifacts, and objects. My grandmother Angélica is a central figure in my work—she died at 50 years old of preventable cervical cancer—yet another consequence of race, gender, immigration status, and class oppression which created insurmountable barriers to regular women’s health and medical care. Her survival, strength, and resilience are gifts I have inherited that I choose to honor through my writing.
This loss, and this occluded history, has caused me to spend all of my academic and scholarly research on intimate colonial violence, generational trauma, and transnational feminisms, with a special focus on the many ways violence arrives to women of color in the US, and enacts and re-enacts itself in intimate as well as institutional contexts. My first book, Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series, 2017), explores the early racism, sexism, forced assimilation, and institutional discipline I endured during childhood and adolescence, along with the challenges of violence, trauma, economic struggle, and mental illness on the immigrant family unit.
This has led to an exploration of state and institutional violences the women in my family have endured. The project I am interested in building upon now is examining why my grandmother died of a highly common and fully preventable form of cervical cancer, how this kind of cancer disproportionately affects women in the Texas borderlands, and the involuntary sterilization of Black, indigenous, and Latina women between 1922-1972. I have begun telling this story through various media—poetry, archival and documentary appropriation, performance, and video.