Interview with Author Andrew Zaragoza

Today we have the honor of interviewing Andrew Joseph Zaragoza Jr., author of XI: A Collection of Poetry on Being Human!


  1. Tell us a little bit about your background.

Well, a lot to share. I will begin with birth. Just kidding. Born and raised in Greater Los Angeles Gateway Cities, I had become a product of the Los Angeles mixing pot. I’ve love our culture so much when it comes to embracing cultural as well as neural diversity. I, among many, are living example of the rich history that this city contains.

In addition to that, most of my background stems from learning through adversity. I had moved around frequently because of family financial circumstances which landed me into some very precarious experiences. With each of them, positive and negative, I’ve embraced change and adapting to it. Call it resilience, healing ancestral and generation trauma, or anything else. It’s a work in progress but I have my strong connection to my family to help me and support me when I come across those paths. From the rich Mexican heritage that was instilled in me while also living in America and coming to terms with an Irish bloodline that I’ve learned more closely about, experiencing multiculturalism was a staple in my upbringing.

To accent that with my college career at California State University, Dominguez Hills and Cerritos College, my experience in the work field has only increased from being involved in education, arts, entertainment, food services, as well as my current involvement in the community mental health field. So, yea, that’s a little about me. 

  1. Could you tell us a little bit about how your grandmother inspired and encouraged your artistic development?

I have to say that my grandmother, Marian, really had a profound impact on my upbringing. Stories from my parents told me that I had trouble speaking when I was coming up in the toddler game. They became very worried when I hit three years old and couldn’t utter a word. My grandmother told them, “Don’t worry, he’ll speak when he’s ready.” It was safe to say I didn’t shut up after that. But it took work. My parents a huge inspiration when it came after my grandmother’s lead, given that I would stay with her while my parents worked to support me and my sisters. So, in my earlier years, we spent much time just doing the art thing. 

However, the case, that small fact led to the basis of my relationship with her. She was my advocate and best friend. Before I even began to speak, I was watching her paint, draw daily and listen to music she’d play. She would sit me down and play Marc Anthony, as well as Rod Stewart. At that time, Tarzan was just released and some of my most favorite moments involved her allowing me the choice to play that movie and the soundtrack that had some of my favorite film scoring. Of course, I got chastised for playing it too often, however the way she made people understand things was so powerful. She had a huge part in my upbringing.

Unfortunately, we didn’t share anymore memories together after 2009 when she passed. As much as I got to see her involvement in the arts, I never asked her to teach me. My only connection I had with her after she died was developing the craft on my own. Granted, I decided to take a different route after the foundation was set. However, her spirit remains. Everything I do, she is with me just like I was when I was alone, afraid, and quiet. 

  1. Do you think a background in Psychology helps you to write extra-impactful poetry?

Well, I would like to say that having background in the field of Psychology enabled me to process things more objectively and make peace with things going on in my life early. At 15, I was an avid researcher into the field, and it presented so much helpful information to assist me in healing and being a strong leader, even at that age. Learning about all the different dimensions in the field and further diving in during a high school course and finally committing to it in college, I can say that is was definitely a priority in how I designed my worldview. 

So yes, when it came to the poetry, I was completing my sessions in therapy and would have to say that they were both connected during the creative process. Whether it has an impact or not is up to my readers and time will tell.

4. How have your own relationships impacted your portrayal of them in your book?

I admit that this was a challenging question to answer. I’ll say this: the relationships I’ve experienced deeply impact and are woven within the fabric of the book. From book cover, visual accents, and the written word itself. All of these components are my best attempt to materialize it. From the relationships I’ve had that were intimate to the ones that were of family and death, the lines speak for themselves. Even grander, I’ve shared my insight into the universe and what I make of it in my life. So, yeah, they’ve deeply impacted the portrayal of my writing on them. 

5. What hardships have you faced and how does your book provide hope to those in similar circumstances?

Some of the hardships I faced included the following: Comparing myself to others regarding socioeconomics, social standing, and understanding a lack of opportunities related to that. Feeling alienated because of experiencing life after family divorce and my grandmother’s passing. And of course, plenty of self-destructive tendencies that resulted from complex generational trauma I never learned to heal from while growing up that was thrown in the mix of just being a teenager and young adult. The book, in addition to completing college and gaining an understanding of my place in the world as a Chicano and more has rooted me much more since then. 

In an honest summary, my book is a refuge. When I wrote it, I was seeking refuge in finding my place in the world around an age where I reflected on some more heavily than the other times I’ve done this. I’ve always tried to seek solitude when I can to process. The period that I wrote this collection in is a testament to that and an overhaul of all the experiences I’ve gone through over the last 10 years. Granted, it’s not all of it as there’s more to be written. More to be reflected on. More to create discussion around. More to be hopeful about and building community around feeling connected and supported. Because some may still have these feelings of loneliness and that’s okay. Be kind to each other. Always.

6. How does working with children give you insight into how to inspire the world?

In all honesty. The youth bring a second chance. I didn’t learn that until I was working in the same district that I grew up in. A humbling experience when I was on the other side and became an educator rather than a student. The power of the word has unlimited value. Being literate and understanding language in context is so key. Whenever I’m allowed an opportunity to collaborate and teach others while bringing understanding as well as patience, there’s nothing else to compare. However the case, there’s always a chance for me to learn or relearn as well. 

So, to answer your question. The insight that I have regarding the young learners is this: children are more in tune with a whole lot more than we give them credit for. Some of the most profound insights I’ve had when it comes to inspiring the world comes from a classroom. Put it this way: you have 30 little humans of a range of backgrounds and walks of life who have the rest of their life ahead of them. They know nothing of what had brought them here other than family upbringing and their collective history, in addition to curriculum and shared experiences. One day, they will discover all of their collective histories and will do something with that knowledge. Whether they have learned to deal with the emotional part of the process and the avenues of action is up to our character to teach them. How we send messages to young learners is everything. I think that is more key now than ever before.

7. Your cover is eye catching and perhaps a bit mysterious! What is its meaning?

With the cover, I aimed to capture the inner voice. I would hope that all of us have one. The inner voice the acts like a compass when things become dark. “What do I do?” As I’m writing this right now, I’ve had so much fire burning inside. The book cover is a testament to that. The inner workings of my craft being ready to ignite and inspire not only my continuing growth but the growth of readers and humanity at large to warm things up a little. 

8. How does you poetry compare and contrast to the work of other poets?

If I were to compare myself to the greats, I’d want to do it as humbly as I can. I’ve looked up to Bukowski, Fitzgerald, Silverstein as well as contemporaries such as RH Sin, Atticus, and Michael Faudet. All of these have influenced me regarding their styles and topic selections. As far as visual compliments, I’d draw comparison from Shel and Atticus. 

However the case, I wanted to differentiate myself by doing something that comes off as rarer than my contemporaries. Designing, formatting, and publishing my own book. As a self-published and creator of the entire project, I had a full control in hand selecting each visual, writing each line, and designing the book cover. Additionally, I want to state that what contrasts me from other authors and poets is that I always want to tie it back to education in sparking discussion and literary review over my selections. Hence, why I decided to add a critical thinking selection at the end of the book that I think educators may enjoy contextualizing.

9. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Some of the suggestions I’d offer to aspiring authors include the following: 

  • Develop a support system: you’re going to have a lot of opposition initially and continuing forward. Criticism will happen however accept it. Feedback matters as I’d always see is a form of respect. Be humble. Learn from the masters but steer your own ship. It’s always good to have a crew ready when you lead. I wouldn’t be here if I were still alone.
  • Keep doing the thing: each bit. Keep doing it. Write like no other. I know it’s taxing and writer’s block happens; however, it is a process. The biggest takeaway I can offer is to archive it all and shelf it. I shelfed this collection for about 2 years until I was ready to go down the publishing route. And even then, I wanted to publish it myself. You’re your own best friend or worst enemy. However the case, the writing needs to be done first.
  • Enjoy the process: ever see the SpongeBob episode when he’s writing and he’s enjoying it and screaming, “I’m doing it!”? Yea, this is kind of close to that feeling. Except some days you may just have a sentence down or some odd line. That’s okay, Writing should be fun. Some days it’s not. Find the joy in the mundane. Even when hungover, some authors enjoyed the remembering.

10. What’s the central message that you’d like readers to come away with after reading your book?

I want the main takeaway of the book to act as a tool of understanding to universal experiences. Whether my words represent my own feelings, the feelings of others, or the interpretation of the text itself. My central message for my readers is this: “I’ve been there and will continue to go through more. It’s quite already to hit the brakes for a while, figure out where to go, and then continue on. Even if a book comes out of the other end. As long as the direction was set before heading out.”  What I mean by that, in the frankest of terms, is I hope to accompany you in your journey of being human. Whether through my word or as a friend, my intention has always to bring inspiration and healing as I’ve seen it. 

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