A Q&A with Oscar Mireles
Poet and educator reflects on sixty year career
Poet and educator Oscar Mireles reflects on sixty years of writing, dreaming, serving and encouraging others toward success.
Describe yourself in one sentence
Eternally jovial, encouraging nurturer, unrepentant lover of life.
What are you currently working on?
I’m trying to figure out how to get our students to pass the new computer-based, Common Core standards-aligned GED test. Our team of staff and volunteers and I have created a plan! We have the resources and community support; I just have to be a little more patient.
What do children and young adults need most from the school system?
A personal connection to someone who sees them as a whole person, not a set of circumstances.
How do you use writing to elevate society or educate?
I try to provide a voice to the voiceless, and to express my own perspective as a Latino man. I try to captivate the universal, mythic aspects of my personal and intimate experiences.
What is the most common misconception that you run into about education?
I have not yet met a parent who wasn’t interested in the education of their child, regardless of their own educational background or failures. Some parents may not have the skills to help their children, but the interest in the betterment of the future of their children is certainly always there.
And what is the most common misconception about yourself that you encounter regularly?
Some people feel that they know me through my work as a writer, but my poetry does not paint a full picture of who I am. Those people can be quite surprised once they do get to know me, that I am not as serious as my words are.
When did you first know you were a poet?
It happened on a bus when I was six years old. I was looking out the window, meditating on how I’d be the perfect kid for someone to adopt, because I was cute, smart and funny. I thought up ways of freeing myself from my eleven siblings. I secretly dreamed of being an only child.
What do you wish you could tell your sixteen-year-old self?
At age sixteen, I volunteered in a free breakfast program. I got up at 6 a.m. to provide breakfast to low-income kids. I’d tell my teenage self that forty-five years later, he’d be providing breakfast of a different kind–education–to the same kind of people. I’m sure he would be happy and proud to hear that.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, a special place to grow up in the mid-1960s. We had opportunity, diversity and economic prosperity. The possibilities were endless, much more so than now.
What were you like as a child?
Still shy, like I am today. Smart and funny, but not as funny as I am now.
Where or when were you happiest?
I was about twenty-four years old; no responsibilities, lots of fun, too many friends, not a worry in the world. A bright, long future ahead of me, once I was ready to tackle becoming an adult.
How would your family and friends describe you?
Exuberant (for my kids, perhaps too much so), a little crazy, positive, caring and very lucky to have found a great job in a wonderful city I call home. Fortunate to have close friends who love me as I am.
Do you live by a creed, motto or catch phrase?
There’s no better time than today to make a difference.
What are three things you personally need to write?
I write about my four children: their challenges, opportunities and success at becoming productive, community-concerned and caring adults. Trying to answer the question, “I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin?” in preparation for the fourth installment of the anthology. Being a man at the crossroads of sixty years old and feeling seventeen inside.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
A Coney Island of the Mind, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Do you have a hidden talent?
I secretly want to be a Zumba instructor, but am too afraid to stand in front. I don’t know that I could ever learn to start my dance moves with my left foot.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I collect old cufflinks. I have over 150 pairs. But I don’t ever wear cufflinks.
What are your three most prized possessions?
Iowa wrestling shirt signed by Dan Gable. Elementary school drawings and writings of my four children, Diego, Sergio, Lorena and Javier. A few pictures of my mom and dad hanging out together after raising twelve children–these photos of my parents, Micaela and Felix Mireles, whom I dearly miss.
How do you unwind?
Zumba, NFL football and being alone. I like my quiet and space of my own company.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
When I was eighteen or nineteen years old, my mother said, “Stop being afraid to take chances.” It stuck with me ever since.
What’s top on your bucket list?
Having the courage to visit my long-lost relatives in Candela, Coahuila, Mexico. (Funny, I can hear my mother now: “Stop being afraid to take chances!”)