Photos of Michelle Serros throughout her life

By Kim Lamb Gregory

Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies Jennie Luna was busy on Valentine’s Day, making sure all the exhibits in the John Spoor Broome Library Gallery were ready for the opening of a show honoring the late Chicana/o poet/author/activist Michele Serros.

Before her death in January of 2015 at the age of 48, Serros arranged for CSUCI to receive her original manuscripts, notes, last-printed copies of her books, skateboards, personal effects and, most importantly, her desk, which she writes about in her 1993 publication, “Chicana Falsa.”

The opening of the exhibit of the Serros collection was held on Valentine’s Day, which fell right after Serros’s February 10 birthday. “She loved Valentine’s Day cards and sent them to everyone,” Luna said. “It was her favorite holiday.”

This opening was like no other for Luna, as she and Serros had been friends since they were neighbors together in New York about 20 years ago. “She and I go way back,” Luna said. “I was there with her weeks before she died and we had lots of conversations. I knew she had such valuable documents and that we would be the best place to house them. This is her hometown. CSUCI is where folks from Oxnard come and she wanted to support the Chicana/o Studies program.”

From left to right: Renay Garcia, Professor Jennie Luna, Rebecca Marquez, and Antonio Magaña

Serros was survived by her husband, Antonio Magaña, also born and raised in Oxnard. When he walked into the Broome Gallery on the night of the opening, his eyes filled with tears. “I was overwhelmed,” he said. Then, he walked over to Luna and pressed a book in her hand. Serros’s very first diary, the one that started her on her journey as a renowned writer. Luna was momentarily at a loss for words.

“I can’t believe it,” Luna said. “This diary is what started it all.” She pressed the diary to her heart, then hugged Magaña. “It was one of the last things I had of hers,” Magaña said. “I wanted Jennie to have it.”

Serros grew up in the El Rio area, attending Rio Mesa High School. When Serros was 11, her parents separated, leaving Serros overwhelmed with fear and confusion, so she wrote to Judy Blume, an author for young adults. Blume wrote back and suggested Serros express herself in a diary, and that diary launched her literary career. Blume’s letter is part of the collection.

The show was filled to capacity that night, guests spilling out into the hallway. On display was a wealth of her writing, her signature skateboard, photos, a script she wrote for comedian George Lopez, T-shirts and her art collection, to name a few of the items.

The author’s beloved writing deskThe reception included the screening of a short film called “Cielo or Bust: Honoring the Life and Work of Michele Serros and her Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard” by director/producer Julio Alcala.

Luna was featured in the film as well as Chicana/o Studies student Rebecca Marquez, who spent the last year archiving the Serros collection. The project inspired her to pursue a graduate degree in Library Science.

“It was a very emotional process,” Marquez said. “It was like her whole life was in these boxes. I got to see her ups and downs, her successes, her failures. I saw things from her perspective and felt a deep connection to her.”

Serros’ prized possessions

Serros left her personal library and the rights and royalties to her books to CSUCI. Any monetary gain from reprints will go toward CSUCI’s Chicana/o Studies program, and support for the Michele Serros Multicultural Living-Learning Community, one of several living-learning communities at CSUCI in which students with a common academic focus are housed together to help provide an immersive living-learning experience.

Magaña believed Serros would have loved the tribute to her and her work. “This was a great homecoming for her,” he said.

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© Spring 2019 / Volume 23 /Number 01 / Bi-annual

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