García figured life in Santa Ana—where she grew up during the 1980s—would’ve gotten better for teenagers when she returned in 2008. She had just released her first novel, Las Niñas, a memoir of growing up in one of the most Latino cities in the United States, after trying the corporate life for a good decade and hating every moment of it. (See www.sarahrafaelgarcia.com for more info.) But when she took the stage at Willard Intermediate School to read, García realized nothing had changed—in fact, things were worse. “I was filled with pride thinking I would change young lives with my book,” García says. “But the resources for the kids were so limited. The library where I spoke was small and overcrowded. Language was no longer the only issue that kept them down—it was also immigration status. The teachers didn’t seem to care—you could tell the students wanted to learn, but no one was listening to them.”
García wanted to help change that. She remembered what a social worker gave her at 15, when García’s father passed away: a journal, plus some words of advice (“There’s nothing I can say right now that can make you understand what happened to your dad, so I’m giving you a journal to write your feelings in”). The young García filled that notebook fast. “Writing gives youth an opportunity to have a voice without anyone judging them,” she says. So in 2009, García decided to start Barrio Writers, a summer reading-and-writing workshop for Santa Ana teens.
Starting with 25 students, the session culminated with a live reading attended by hundreds and the publication of a book containing the students’ work. Its success quickly spawned a spinoff: Barrio Actors’ Guild, which teamed with Breath of Fire Latina Theater this summer to offer free acting workshops for teens. The second Barrio Writers just concluded, with its second book scheduled for a March 2011 release. “I still want to write my second book,” García declares with a laugh. But she has put her career on hold, trying to secure funding to expand Barrio Writers to communities outside Santa Ana—even outside Orange County. And she’s insistent that each Barrio Writers session end with a published book, as costly as it is. “People are quicker to pick up a book and read someone’s life story because they were published,” she says, “than to listen to them asking for help.”
1. Buy a Frida Kahlo T-Shirt.
“Calacas offers great resources for the community, like cheap workshops and funny T-shirts,” García says. “And they also host a lot of fund-raisers, like ones for Barrio Writers and the Orange County Dream Team.” 324 W. Fourth St., Ste. B, Santa Ana, (714) 662-2002; www.calacasinc.com.
2. Eat a Pizza.
“The happy-hour menu at The Crosby has $5 pizzas! And not just small pizzas—they’re big enough to feed three!” 400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 543-3543; www.thisisthecrosby.com.
3. Or a Sandwich.
“Hollingshead’s Delicatessen has a diverse sandwich menu. I can’t find liverwurst anywhere else, and they have a good one.” 368 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 978-9467; www.hollingsheadsdeli.com.
4. Or Some Non-Traditional Comida.
“Anepalco’s Cafe’s fusion Mexican food is affordable,” García says, recommending the crepes de caramel, made with cajeta and green apples. 415 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 771-2333; www.anepalcoscafe.com.
5. Or Some Fancier Fare.
“Avanti Café has gourmet food at cheap value, plus diverse tea drinks. Great cookies for cheap—and organic. I like gourmet food at cheap prices!” 259 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 548-2224; www.avantinatural.com.
6. Kill Your Car.
García doesn’t drive, preferring her bike. “Bicycle Tree set up tents in random spots and service your bike for free—it doesn’t matter what’s the problem! They ask for a donation, but when you try to give them even a buck, they’ll say no. Great guys.” thebicycletree.org.
7. Commune With Nature.
“Santiago Park has a nature-preserve area and a lot of parkland. When I cycle to Orange, I use its bike path, even though it takes longer, because it’s so pretty.” 900 E. Memory Lane, Santa Ana, (714) 571-4200; www.santiagocreek.org.
8. Get Some Cultura.
Centro Cultural de México hosts Barrio Writers. “These people are just amazing with the different opportunities they provide to la comunidad—workshops from art to music to writing, and they’re almost always free.” 310 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 543-0095; www.el-centro.org.
9. Maybe Buy Some Cultura.
“Nomadic Image Fine Art Gallery is a co-op art gallery that provides different themes every two months, and it opens its space to anyone who wants it for a cheap price. Good art.” 207 N. Broadway, Ste. B-7A, Santa Ana, (714) 667-5060; www.nomadicimage.com.
10. Dare to Dream.
García has partnered up many times with the Orange County Dream Team, which represents undocumented college students. “It’s student-run, yet they help out other students for free and provide pipelines to higher education for our community.” www.istillhaveadream.org.