Sharon Lee De La Cruz of ‘I’m a Wild Seed’: “You don’t need fancy tools to start”

While writing this book, I had MANY conversations with folks who are not feminist and some who are not BIPOC. I practiced explaining connections I was trying to make in this book with them. Those conversations impacted me because they helped me refocus the book. I went from explaining my idea to telling stories. That […]

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While writing this book, I had MANY conversations with folks who are not feminist and some who are not BIPOC. I practiced explaining connections I was trying to make in this book with them. Those conversations impacted me because they helped me refocus the book. I went from explaining my idea to telling stories. That was a massive shift.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Lee De La Cruz, author of “I’m a Wild Seed”.

Sharon Lee De La Cruz is a multi-disciplinary artist and activist from New York City. Her thought-provoking pieces address a range of issues related to tech, social justice, sexuality, and race. De La Cruz’s work ranges from comics, graffiti, and public-art murals to more recent explorations in interactive sculptures, animation, and coding. She graduated with a BFA from Cooper Union and a MPS from NYU-ITP. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, Processing Foundation Fellowship, and a Tin House Summer Workshop participant. Her latest book, “I’m a Wild Seed” was published in April 2021 by Street Noise Books.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born and raised in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. I grew up in a traditional Puerto Rican home, but my block was where my extended family, from my Dominican side, lived, so it was a mix of both cultures. I knew my neighborhood wasn’t the safest place, but it was familial, and people looked out for one another. My mom moved us to West Palm Beach, Florida, when I was 15 years old, so I practically spent all of my High School years there. Those two and half years taught me about the nuances of racism, helped me fall in love with art, and lit a fire under my ass to get into undergrad far away from Florida!

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I don’t think there was a particular book that inspired me to action when I was younger. I used to read a lot of murder mysteries growing up, which was probably unhealthy. I read “Persepolis” by Marjane Strapi when I was in my mid-twenties, which changed my life! I was impressed not only at her excellent illustrations but also how she could backdrop Iran’s complex history with her feminist coming of age story. She moved me in a way that I knew I could potentially move someone else. I’ve loved comics since I was younger but being inspired to draw and author them is something else. Her book showed me that I didn’t need to draw capes if I wanted to be a comics artist.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

The funniest mistake in my career was my complete denial of comics as an art form I wanted to do. I remember my friend saying, “Man, you are the only asshole who can draw comics well and doesn’t want to do it.” and I just shrugged. I thought I was above it, which of course, was stupid and prudish. I should have listened to her years ago.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

“I’m a Wild Seed” is short but packs a punch. For my first memoir story, I wanted to give you a glimpse of what my brain looks like and the connections I make daily. The format was inspired by Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street.” I loved how she used vignettes and the unspoken to build her world. I hope to get other folks to make connections and pay attention to how history informs and has normalized our daily practices.

Can you share with us the most exciting story that you shared in your book?

The book’s most interesting story has to be the racism chapter because it’s not just one story but a series of experiences that uncovered history and a visceral historic trauma I wasn’t aware of. I speak about racism, particularly in healthcare, in this chapter, because of the long legacy of violence that still plays out to this very day, particularly when seeking help.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

“I’m a Wild Seed” was inspired by a question my friend Jessica asked me over dinner. She asked, “What does freedom look like to you as a queer BIPOC woman?” and although no one had ever asked me that question before, I knew the answer immediately. I shouted, “When Black trans women are safe.” Because the answer is so layered, I knew I wanted to attempt to write a book about it, and the more I thought about the book, the more I realized that the answer was a memoir of my life. I take for granted the connection that lives in my mind, and what’s so powerful about comics is that you can visualize those connections and share them with others through story.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

While writing this book, I had MANY conversations with folks who are not feminist and some who are not BIPOC. I practiced explaining connections I was trying to make in this book with them. Those conversations impacted me because they helped me refocus the book. I went from explaining my idea to telling stories. That was a massive shift.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. EASY- Ask people for their pronouns and address your own in public to make everyone feel safe and stray away from violent assumptions.
  2. MEDIUM- Donate to LGBTIA+ organizations regularly!
  3. HARD- Healthcare for all! When we make sure that our most vulnerable, Black trans women can seek safe and affordable healthcare, we address and protect us all.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is someone or a movement that inspires you to do and seek better with no added pressure. Leadership can imagine a vision long before it’s here. You won’t necessarily reap benefits from the immediate fight; however, you do it because it’s about community and the community’s future state.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You don’t need fancy tools to start. You don’t need a fancy iPad or Wacom tablet or even fancy software; just get to drawing and practice daily!
  2. You don’t have to write a story for everyone. One of the hardest lessons I learned writing this book was understanding that I don’t have to explain everything, and in fact, you shouldn’t! Focus your attention and energy on your target audience and story.
  3. Your story matters. I trashed TOO much time, worried if my story was worth telling. It is! The likelihood that someone else is curious about the same thing and going through something similar is vast. We don’t live in silos.
  4. You don’t have to be a master at comics; you just have to keep practicing and making. Again, I spent too much time trying to master comics and not enough time worrying about telling my authentic story. LESSON LEARNED!
  5. Trust your voice. Writing this book was the first time I understood what the term “find your voice” meant. I realized that humor is my voice and the specific cultural nuances that I love contribute to it, too!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“God is Change” — Octavia Butler.

I grew up in a Catholic household with reminiscences of Caribbean santeria. I grew up knowing that God was everywhere, even inside of us, but when I went to church and looked at the altars in my elders’ house, I saw more icons than faith. That point of contention always humors me because it demonstrates so clearly the human flaw. Faith is only as big as you can imagine it. When I read this quote by Octavia, I felt like she understood that God was everywhere, forever flowing and constant. She had an imagination.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Marjane Strapi! I just want to thank her for writing such beautiful books.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Instagram — @sharonleedelacruz

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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