Susan Elbe photoAraceli Esparza

Araceli is a poet and teacher of the Urban Art Series, which explores art, writing and healing. She was born and raised in Madison, WI, and her parents were migrant farm workers from Guanajuato, Mexico, from whom she still gathers her strength. She studied at the University of Minnesota, and is active in the domestic violence movement.

Her writing fluxes from observation (prose) to hip hop (spoken word) to cultural translations (blog essays) where she translates beyond language; she translates the new American culture. She has been published in Madison Magazine, Verse Wisconsin, and HUES Magazine.

Araceli, along with Fabu Phillis Carter, Rakina Muhammed, and Nydia Rojas, founded The Hibiscus Collective: a writers group for women. Araceli teaches and blogs at She volunteers her time teaching English as a Second Language and works to connect poetry to everyday people through presentations and readings. Her e-mail address is

My state worker

When I drive down University Avenue and see the masses and some protest signs I think of all my women of color friends who work for the state, my own mom and abuelita have worked the state for over 55 years collectivity.

The state was their bread n butter when our men left. They were given a chance on a job and with that job she bought a house put us kids through school.

The union is a necessary protection for when we make mistakes. Because second chances are deserved when one puts in their time, in a job.

WI women of color, who are or have been state workers, are a special breed.

They volunteer their time for working overtime when no else will and they break the barriers with the very action of their work.

Their dedication is what stories are made of. I remember hearing them as a child of how the humanities students of the ’70s followed my grandma and took pictures of her. I’m smiling because she thought it was funny too and just brushed it off as one of the common causality one takes working for the state.

When I would ask her why they did that she would say “oh, you know those humanities students”

State worker you are appreciated! Women worker of color you are appreciated.

They have families; they budget because even with work it’s not enough. They bus, car pool, shuffle kids, care for their elders and maneuver in a work place where they are the one and only women of color or person of color. They take the looks, the snide comments with a smile, with grace because they love their job. Even faced with sexual harassment, sexism, racism they still go back and do their job, even if they are the OEO/AA officials of their department or are part of the custodial team. They go back each and every day.

To work.

To be part of something bigger than themselves.

State worker you are appreciated! Women worker of color you are appreciated.

WI State women workers of color give annually to charities like United Way because we know we might need them later. We promote from within, we tell our friends and family about job openings. We cover our walls, corners, cubes with pictures not of vacations but of family.

We’re the ones who bring all that good soul food to the pot lucks. We share sick time.

We listen to our co-workers when it’s not part of our job. They’re the ones who encourage you when you want to quit.

State worker you are appreciated! Women worker of color you are appreciated

They bring collaborations between different department and agencies.

They support 3x or 5x as many people as their counterparts.

We are honest; we are professional even in the most menial jobs. We are stylin! We work in every part of the state government, universities, Colleges, Schools, City and County if I missed an area my greatest apologies—

You are mother of each generation of women of color worker. We are envied by the private sector.

We carry an air of accomplishment, awe to our dedication and mystery of “how can she do all that and still look good!”

State worker you are appreciated! Women worker of color you are appreciated. We are Wisconsin!

She is the reason I protest, she is Wisconsin.

First printed in HUES Magazine and in Verse online, in honor of Poetry month and Wisconsin Women of Color Workers

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Small time living in Mad Town

Will my feet be enough to sustain me?
Will I write again? Like I do now? Probably, less about heartache.
It’s funny how much pain I’ve witnessed here in this unsuspecting city..
A sleepy city that’s for sure, full of its own secretes, and pockets, holes, waters, and rivers,
where oddities like me survive.
Juxtaposed cultures riveted with contradictions.

And yet drive out to a lake of your choice-remember we have 4 of them,
or even by accident, you happen to drive by one, it’s been a shitty day- and- it, the lake,
swallows your pain, and you learn to breathe again or you get really fuck’d up and get arrested
and you say “I fuckin’ hate Madison! When I get out I’m leaving.”

Sad thing is, when you get out you don’t leave. You just end up doing it all over again.

I remember this Chicano professional (or so-called professional) guy tellin’ me
“Oh, you mean you’re tired of going around the Beltline” at the same time he rolled his hips like
he was hoola-hooping. I laughed cuz it was true.

Been around and drove around this city too many times to count. Like a million or billion if you
count the time before I learned to count.

I remember driving down S. Park Street on way home. I’m like 7 or 9 years old, we lived on West Wash and I would pretend the light posts were angels sendin’ me beams of good luck and if I collected enough beams, then the evil of violence would not follow me home and the two adults in the front seats wouldn’t change into violent intimidating creatures.

Not quite human.