HomeNews & EventsArts Midwest visits the St. Croix Valley: Part IV

Arts Midwest visits the St. Croix Valley: Part IV

On a Thursday earlier this May, four Arts Midwest staff members joined NEA Big Read grantee ArtReach St. Croix in welcoming acclaimed Mexican-American writer Luís Alberto Urrea to the St. Croix Valley for a public conversation with Krista Tippett, host of the popular podcast “On Being”. In this four-part series, they each share their individual takeaways from that evening.

Luke Rivard, Program Associate for International Initiatives

“That evening, Urrea gestured across the room to everyone in the audience, not to accuse, but rather to ask, ‘How are you using your voice?’”

(delayed flight)

(sudden arrival)

(quick hellos)

(rushed dinner)

(beautiful story)

(short walk)

And all of a sudden, Luís Alberto Urrea onstage at Trinity Church, deep in conversation with Krista Tippett. As with all the conversations that Tippett hosts on her Peabody Award-winning radio show and podcast, On Being, the dialogue wove in and out of personal details and stories, moments of vulnerability and growth, through his experiences as an imperfect, exploring, note-taking, Mexican, American, deeply empathetic human being.

In trying times, it’s common for fingers to point across the room, tensions to rise, and doors to shut; for vulgar words, loud voices, and upset souls to be unleashed against each other in a justifiable, yet failed, attempt to find solace. That evening, Urrea gestured across the room to everyone in the audience, not to accuse, but rather to ask, “How are you using your voice?”, and to announce and affirm, “I love you” over and over again: an excerpt of the last stanza of the poem “You Who Seek Grace from a Distracted God” from his collection Tijuana Book of the Dead.


Luís Alberto Urrea and Krista Tippett onstage at Trinity Church. Photo taken by Heather Rutledge.

Throughout the ninety-minute conversation, it became clear that Urrea himself embodied an open invitation to build bridges, not borders. He breathes hope and chooses empathy. Using words as tools of compassion, Urrea fearlessly uses his voice to promote interactive, communal well-being, no matter the consequences. The audience of the church left feeling inspired and motivated.

After all, Urrea is just like any one of us; if he can do it, we surely can as well.

(standing ovation)

(crowded doors)

(leave church)

(enthusiastic reflecting)

(drive home)

(now what?)

For more in this series:

Julie Zhou, NEA Big Read Program Assistant

Emma Bohmann, Arts Midwest Development Manager

Joshua Feist, NEA Big Read Program Director

To listen to the On Being episode:

Luis Alberto Urrea: What Borders Are Really About, and What We Do With Them