Authors Speak: Baca says history, identity linked

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By Kelly LeVan

It began when she was 9 years old and received a cherry-red journal with a lock and key from her sister for Valentine’s Day.

“I wrote in that journal constantly, never missing a day, and then I got another one and another one and filled several volumes,” said Ana Baca, now a published author and next up in Mesa Public Library’s Authors Speak Series. “Through junior high, high school and college, I always loved my English classes most and I was lucky enough to have a few wonderful teachers who encouraged my creativity and who instilled a love of stories.”

However, she said it wasn’t until her father passed away that she discovered writing was more than a way to entertain herself.

“There were stories to be told that could honor his legacy, the legacy of my ancestors, and even help to preserve a cultural heritage,” she said. “I found purpose in my life again through writing … Beginning the novel gave me focus, a sense of grounding and a sense of renewal after my dad’s passing, though it wasn’t published until 17 years later.”

After beginning her novel, “Mama Fela’s Girls,” Baca also wrote three children’s titles, two of which were published before her novel.

“When I was writing my master’s thesis, I found an entry in the journal I kept when I was 11: ‘When I grow up, I want to be a writer of children’s books.’ That blew me away,” she said. “It was a huge revelation and it propelled me to try to pursue my dream. Now that I think about it, I also got my first typewriter when I was 6.”

Despite her great passion for her craft, writing is hardly Baca’s only outlet. In addition to gardening and baking, she works as marketing, PR and communications manager for Bueno Foods – a job she finds suits her very well.

“Both my family business and my writing are about seeking to preserve heritage and culture, history and language,” Baca said. “What better way to safeguard and celebrate these than through food and story. It’s all about celebrating that which sustains us and nourishes our souls.”

It’s also all about defining our individual identities and what Baca called “our collective soul.”

In her novel, she explained, “I subconsciously explored issues of identity with my characters. As I wrote the novel, I wondered, ‘Is it possible to progress while holding on to your culture? How do you teach your children to be bilingual in a world of discrimination and is it even possible? How do you reconcile who you are and who you are to become? My hope is that readers will come away with the notion that yes, it is possible to seek a future full of possibility without totally relinquishing your past. In fact, embracing who you were will help you navigate the future and will help carry you forward.”

Baca earned her undergraduate degree from Stanford University and her master’s at the University of New Mexico, both in English literature. Her books include “Mama Fela's Girls” and three children’s picture books: “Benito's Bizcochitos,” “Chiles for Benito” and “Benito's Sopaipillas.”

She won the New Mexico Book Award for “Best Historical Fiction” in 2007, the same year she was first runner up for the Zia Book Award given by New Mexico Press Women.

Baca will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mesa Public Library in the upstairs rotunda. The presentation is part of the library’s Authors Speak Series, funded by the Friends of the Library.