Sarah Rafael García is known as a writer, traveler, bookstore founder, and community educator, but if given the opportunity, she would gladly work as a college professor all day.
“I would rather be teaching over anything else…To me, teaching is important because it is the first base in our lives where we find relevant role models outside of our household. And as people of color, children of immigrants, that’s extremely important.”
García believes that, “teaching folks, especially young students of color, to take a deep dive into their history, builds empathy in others.” Each semester in her class Ethnofiction Through Contemporary Narratives she asks her students to create a virtual timeline, a project that allows them to chart an area of history via a free online software program. One noteworthy project is that of senior Natalia Ventura (Peace Studies) titled “Chap-tivism,” which marks the history of activism and social injustice on the Chapman University campus dating back to its opening in 1861. Natalia’s project was featured in a Panther article, and is now being used in at least one other class on campus. For this, García takes very little credit.
“Professors make you feel like you’re indebted to them, but really, we’re indebted to you,” she said. “You expose people to available resources that are free—I think that’s the key, they don’t have to buy the software—and then you give them someone who can teach them, and give them a reason to use it. The sky’s the limit after that.”
Guiding people to available resources and creating new ones is central to everything García does. García is well-known in Santa Ana for creating Libro Mobile, the literary arts and co-op bookstore whose shelves are lined with low-cost Latino, bilingual and feminist volumes, as well as academic social justice and ethnic studies texts—all sold for less than half their list price. On the Libro Mobile website, viewers will find a section entitled “LM Voices” which is a review journal that publishes and pays for reviews of books, movies, zines, and scholarly articles from writers, the local community, and students.
LM Voices exists to “create a platform for folks who are minoritized, not just in the US, but in Literature,” García said. In her own life prior to her twenties García had not been exposed to much writing by non-white authors. “Because I did not have teachers of color, I did not read writers of color,” García explained. LM voices is a place where emerging and independent writers of color who may be overlooked by mainstream publications can have their work highlighted and reviewed by someone who understands their culture and experience.
García places great importance on “decolonizing” the ways in which scholarly information is provided. She does not require her students to cite their sources in an established format, and she uses a “living syllabus,” that allows her to tailor her course content to each new class. While she claims it is important to “know the rules before you break them,” she wants her students to create their own way to back up their ideas and words.
“I tell my students every semester that I learn just as much from them as they learn from me,” García said. “It makes me a better professor, a better resident of this country, and a better global citizen because I am learning from the next generation about our history, and how it impacted them.”
In the onset of the pandemic, Garcia kept from losing touch with their community by bolstering Libro Mobile’s presence online and on social media. She was awarded a $5,000 grant from the COVID-19 Small Business Incentive Program, and has used some of that funding to continue offering stipends to those who are published in LM voices. In the month of December, all submissions accepted to LM Voices will receive double the usual payment. García encouraged Wilkinson students to submit, even if they aren’t experienced writers.
An essay by García about her disentanglement from the cultural identity given to her in the US, liberation from sexuality, and travelling on her own in China, is included in the newly released book “Feminist Pilgrimage,” edited by Santa Ana writer and librarian Stacy Russo. She was recently featured in a KCET article, and interviewed in an MPR News podcast entitled “Booksellers of Color Lift Up Diverse Voices.”
García welcomes students to take her class. “Come with ideas and know that you will be encouraged to follow your own opinions,” she said. “As long as students continue to sign up, I will continue to teach it.”