Salvadoran poetess Mayamerica Cortez fled her native country in 1980 at the beginning of a 12-year civil war.
A single mother, she left her three school-aged children with family while she came to the United States hoping to find work, peace and stability.
A well-known writer in her hometown of San Salvador, Cortez had published her first book of poetry, “Lumbre de Soledad” (Fire of Solitud), in 1976, but in Washington her first job was cleaning houses on Capitol Hill.
She didn’t write for four years. “Too much pain, too much sorrow, too much striving,” Cortez said.
It wasn’t until she was able to bring her children to the U.S. that Cortez began composing verses again. In 1995, she published her second book, “Nostalgias y Soledades” (Nostalgias and Solitude), and “Cantos del amante y del Amor” (Songs of the Lover and of Love) in 1996.
Her most recent work, “Cantos del Silencio” (Songs of Silence) was published in June.
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the award-winning writer will be reading from “Cantos del Silencio” and some of her other poetry from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Quince Orchard Library in Gaithersburg. Her books will also be available for sale and signing.
This summer, Cortez received an honor from the Deputy Foreign Minister of El Salvador in recognition of her contribution to Salvadoran Culture through literature. She has also translated several books from English into Spanish, including “The Open book of Revelation,” by the Rev. Miriam comer Johnson, due to be in print soon.
Cortez came to the United States on a tourist visa, and her mother was a legal citizen living in Los Angeles. She later became a U.S. citizen as well. But when she arrived in the nation’s capital, she was broke and did not know the language.
“I am happy,” she said. “I don’t feel like I have conquered the country, but I feel like I have conquered the language.” She added, “All learning has value.”
Once on her feet, Cortez brought her children, Carmen-Elena, Alvaro and Karla to be with her. She enrolled them in music, language and arts courses. Karla, or Karlisima as she is known, won a scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis to study fine art and languages. Today she is a painter and has exhibited across Europe, and the U.S.- and El Salvador.
All her children are now adults and live in the District.
On Karlisima’s website is one of her mother’s poems, “To All Immigrants.”
“…I remember that I am pure clay of Ilobasco a piece of Panchimalco something significant from Nahulingo and Nahuizalco and everything of Caluco, Guaymango and Zacatecoluca.
Through my veins fow the coconut’s water. I am Sonsonateca with my birthplace melted to my soul…