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Joy Is Not a Luxury

For millions of American Latines, Maria Hinojosa’s name was the first name in the bylines of a major news network that sounded like theirs; and her voice, the first to speak on a national scale of the experiences that make up these Americans’ lives. With her edgy humor and down-to-earth warmth, Maria engaged in a community conversation at the On Being Gathering on the question of which voices we invite into the room — in the media, in political discourse, and beyond. This has been her life’s work: pointing to unacknowledged perspectives that get overshadowed by the conflicts and caricatures that make headlines.

To navigate this nation as any minority is to feel unseen, endangered, feared, frustrated, enraged, and often all of this at once. And on top of this, to have to fight for the dignity of being heard profoundly drains your energy and spirit. But in her work, Maria has held to this wisdom:

“We can’t be in anger and sadness forever.”

Rage and despair are exhausting, unsustainable — however generative their fierce energy can be. To nourish the lifelong work of building a community in which all are dignified, we need not daily rage, but daily joy.

At the heart of this gathering is the idea that poetry is not a luxury — it does spiritual work and is essential for our deepest growth.

Maria insists that joy isn’t a luxury either. Not blind, naïve happiness in spite of painful realities, but an orientation to the world and one’s work in it, an insistent and consistent practice of meeting triumph and despair with hope, curiosity, and, as often as possible, with laughter. And it will not always be possible, Maria acknowledges.

But it is a practice. It is something that we work at. The point is that we try.

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