I had the pleasure of meeting Yesika Salgado, and the experience was inspiring, especially as a woman of color writer.
A little bit about her first for those who are unfamiliar. Salgado is a Los Angeles based, Salvadoran poet and body positive activist. Her works include themes of her culture, her home, her family, her body, and love. She has self-published zines for her poetry and her first book Corazón. She is also the co-founder of Latina feminist collective, Chingona Fire, with poet, Angela Aguirre.
Salgado briefly touched on what it is like being a professional artist. “What does being a professional poet look like? I don’t know. It’s a really messy, complicated, interesting job,” she stated at an event held at Virginia Commonwealth University on November 8, 2017. “For the Latinx community, and for most folks of color, art isn’t [seen] as a viable career, right? We’re told that we’re supposed to be professionals. As if being an artist isn’t professional. Or being a writer isn’t professional.”
Personally, I am striving to be a creative writer–an author specifically. When I tell people my plans, whether it be family members or Lyft drivers, I am usually informed, whether implicitly or explicitly, that having that kind of career is not enough, that being a professional artist is not enough. Or it is not fulfilling. Or it should be a side job while my career should be in a better paying field. And there comes a point where I, and others with similar passions in art, should be asking why?
Why are careers in art labeled as less professional, especially for people of color?
“I didn’t do the college thing,” Salgado further explains. “I didn’t have an institution to give me the stamp of approval as a writer. So it became a really tricky thing when having conversations with people. I would tell my white, male Uber drivers that I was a writer and started taking tallies of how many would ask me what degree I had. As if me just saying that I am a writer wasn’t enough. It was just like, ‘Who do you write for and what’s your degree? And when I tell them I’m a poet, it’s just like it’s this kind of disappointment, kind of writing me off. But if you think about all the celebrated poets, it’s mostly white men.'”
And with that, there is clearly some kind of double standard. Even in the writing industry, men dominate–whether as authors, publishers, or consumers. Women, especially women of color, are constantly having to prove themselves and their careers are worth something even if they are a professional, as Salgado is.
Careers in art forms should be taken as seriously as careers in other fields and always seen as professional, viable careers to have.
You can order her zines on her website and her first book, Corazón, here.