Auto - Bio: The Long Short Of It (1954 - 74)
(to be continued. This is in response to the recent letter I received from a student is who doing a "report" on me and wanted me to "Tell [me] something about your life." My life requires making soup before typing the rest of this 15+ page "Auto - Bio". Cheers! If you're in Denver, catch me this friday at Cafe Cultura where I'll be the feature and you can feature your own voice on the open mike. For details, go to my home blog - but you must be 18 years old to visit. Or, visit the cool poets at Cafe Cultura.
Lorna "Doone" Cervantes was born in the Mission District in San Francisco in 1954. In the fall of 1959 her parents divorced and her mother, who had named her after a Scottish novel, moved her and older brother, the musician, Stephen Cervantes, to her grandmother's house in downtown San José's Gardner neighborhood near the corner of San Carlos and Bird Ave. She would describe her early upbringing as "welfare class" and "like living a dime-store novel."
Lorna Dee Cervantes wrote her first poem in the bath tub to the tune of "Green Sleeves" about Christmas in July: "The world, world/ is bitter and cold/ but inside they're warm, not cold/ they saw the baby Jesus." She is often quoted as saying that she can not remember a time when poetry wasn't at the center of her life.
In high school, Lorna Dee was active in the drama club and had several leading and character roles. She was a member of the "Cosmopolites" club which took regular trips to San Francisco's cultural venues: art museums, opera, concerts, plays. She saw the opening night of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and later, returned six more times that week. She was once lost for hours in front of a fine-line drawing hatched by a "mental patient" at the Palace of Fine Arts. She was the youngest (unofficial) member of N.O.W. and attended meetings at San Jose State regularly as well as traveled throughout the state with a debate team made up of women from the local chapter. She was awarded several Quill & Scroll Awards for Feature Writing, as Feature Editor and for a weekly column she co-wrote entitled "The Iconoclast." She was interested in politics, philosophy and the early ecology movement and, besides the "Women's Liberation Movement", she was active in the Farm Workers Movement, the Chicano Moratorium, the anti-war effort, the American Indian Movement and the anti-nuclear peace movement from the age of 15. Interests which never failed to ground her for the rest of her life. At age 16 she was a regular member of the San Jose and Stanford poetry community. She attended poetry readings and workshops where she first heard the poetry of Diana Di Prima (Loba), Elías Hruska-Cortez, Victor Hernandez Cruz (Snaps), Sonia Sanchez, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Anne Waldman. She studied Abnormal Psychology, Anatomy and Physiology and expected to found a school for "Disturbed Children" when she grew up. She volunteered all during high school for several "Special Schools" and institutions for "Severely Retarded" and "Severely Handicapped" children.
Her father was the noted "Visionary" artist, Luis Cervantes who opened a fine arts gallery in the Mission that year which successfully featured the work of early abstract, avant and conceptual artists. In the mid-60's he met the Texas muralist and fellow "Visionary" artist, Susan Kelk, at the San Francisco Art Institute. An early member of the Muralistas Mujeres, together Susan and Luis founded the Precita Eyes Muralists in 1973 while both volunteered at the Mission Arts Center.
That year, after Lorna Dee graduated in 1972, instead of applying to Yale, her first choice, she followed the advice of her vocational counselor and enrolled in San Jose Community College, formerly San Jose City College. She was active in a volunteer cross-cultural tutorial agency where she held a work-study position for several years, Operation: SHARE where among other duties, she edited its newsletter; she was an active member of a Chicano cultural group, Somos Raza, and edited the college literary magazine where several of her early poems first appeared. She graduated with high honors with an AS in Liberal Arts with an emphasis in Comparative Literature. That year, 1973, she begins a relationship with a man she later marries.
In the summer of 1974, Lorna Dee travels for the first time to Mexico with a college Chicano Teatro group under the direction of Adrian Vargas, founder of El Teatro de la Gente de San Jose. The IV International TENAZ Festival in Mexico City, Tenochtilan, Vera Cruz and Calexico would be a life-changing experience on many levels for Lorna Dee. Already active as a poet, having presented her poetry at San Jose State and on radio while a 16 year old high school student, was asked to present her poems between the group's two one-act plays. Her group, Teatro Conciente, presented with Luis Valdez's Teatro Campesino to two sold-out shows in Mexico City, DF.