Mentoring Program | 2017 | Maria Canela

For the Mentoring Program, by Molmol Kuo

at Queens Museum, 2017

It is a four months long  program, designed to support local residents and artists of Queens Borough to continue their exploration in art and media.

  Meet the Mentees of 2017 Program


Focus interview : Maria Canela

Maria is a long time New New Yorker member, and a previous  volunteer at the Queens Museum education department (2014-2016).  She was originally from Dominican Republic, and a first generation immigrant, who had been living in New York since 2008.    The main reason why she moved to New York was also because of the free to public classes offered at New NewYorker education department held at Queens Museum, she needed to learn digital photography and then started taking different art class and English classes. She learned to speak,  read and write English from coming to these museum workshops.

Since this program started, I had began to meet with Maria near her work, during both of our lunch breaks. We sometimes packed our own lunch and sat in the park, sometimes we sat down in a cafe. During the last couple meetings, we spend about three hours on the phone and in person and we began to record and discuss her life as an immigrant, her inspirations, and her project at the mentoring program this year.

Maria studied Advertisement and Public Relations in her own country.  Since she moved to New York, she had worked jobs such as traveling sales women for beauty product, she was a babysitter, she worked on  food processing at the airport, worked at restaurants, radio stations, political campaigns.  Through her reputations as a hard worker,  companies and agencies began to call her on her personal phone and ask her to come and work for them.  She later work as an organizer for Make the Road NY and helped negotiations between union workers and its employers. Eventually that job itself led to another job as housing organizer at North West Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC),  working on housing rights for senior, immigrants, and minority residents in New York City.    Because of her extensive experience working with different organizations and communities,  Maria is now working as a community coordinator at Department of Cultural Affairs.  She joked that one of her good friend called her a “culture driver”, she works both as a driver for the commissioner, as well as supporting a current project under the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs : the Artist in Residence —  Cyclenews with Mujeres en Movimiento and Tania Bruguera.

Maria has been writing stories for as long as she can remember. She has been documenting the stories of her friends with paintings, drawings, and writings in form of short stories.   Maria’s goal is to finish and publish her first book for the Spanish immigrants community in United States, which she thought maybe an under-served readers in American literatures.  It is a book that she has been writing for many years — a collection of short stories about women who became domestic violence survivors.  The names of her friends that she had knew or interviewed were changed in her book for privacy and safety reasons. Her characters are mostly Spanish, her writing is also in Spanish. There are a lot of consideration and efforts putting into verbalizing the collective experience as Spanish immigrant women in modern world.

in 2013,  Maria was awarded an order of protection against her ex-husband, and custody of both of her children.  For her, writing is a tool to process her thoughts, her memories and emotions, and to make sense of the world.

For this project which she had been working on for many years on her own,  I had asked her to give herself a deadline, and complete her writing. We also looked into self-publishing tools to help her familiarize the printing and formatting of a book.  (Useful link: And we are discussing a crowd funding campaign at the end of the 2017 mentoring program to raise some money towards her self-publishing goals.

I had asked Maria to read one of her short stories for me. Here’s a short video clip of her readings: 

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