El Conquistador

Activist poet visits EPCC for poetry month

By Jamie Jimenez; 19 April 2007

It’s a rare occurrence for someone to get so bothered by something that they feel is necessary to take action.

Sehba Sarwar, an activist at heart, who recently visited EPCC, has just done that. Sarwar was raised in Pakistan in a non-traditional home where her parents were involved in social justice issues. They rallied for student rights and participated in hunger strikes so teachers could have higher salaries and more benefits.

Since Sarwar’s youth, she has participated in rallies for women’s rights and much more. “It’s only appropriate that the work that I do today in Houston is linked to the issues I fought for and that my parents fought for, when I was young,” said Sarwar.
Sarwar is the founding director of Voices Breaking Boundaries, which is a rapidly growing organization based in Houston Texas, dedicated to crossing borders, sustaining dialogue and sharing insight of social changes through art.

The organization brings artists and issues to Houston through well administered productions and educational activities involving all walks of life, including immigrants. They work within local communities in West Houston’s large Vietnamese section and Houston’s Third Ward assisting people of all ages.

Sarwar’s inspiration for voices was derived from the government enforced borders.

“I created voices, a non-profit arts organization that challenges the traditional borders through the work we do with youth and art shows,” said Sarwar.

Although this is an ambitious mission, they do a variety of work such as teach multi-disciplinary workshops to high school students, present multidisciplinary arts programs which address issues such as immigration, war, forced borders and much more. To learn more about voices you can visit the website at www.vbbarts.org.

Through the efforts of PaPaGaYo, a literary center with facilities at Rio Grande and Valle Verde, Sarwar was able to visit El Paso to talk with students in Richard Yañez’s English class. She spoke about borders and Black Wings, her new novel that was just published.

“My parents and family immigrated to Pakistan and I was born there,” said Sarwar. “I have roots in two parts of the subcontinent, India and Pakistan, much like many Latinos in Texas, whose family members were born in Mexico.” Sarwar really stressed the border comparison on a global level. According to her, the same border situation along the Mexico-U.S. border is found all around the world, but with different borders and with different families.

After the class discussion at the Valle Verde campus, Sarwar held a reading at the Little Temple at the Rio Grande campus. She read pieces from Black Wings and a poem which was inspired by her visit to El Paso, “Tearing Wires, Building Bridges.”
A stanza toward the beginning of the poem reads:

I have seen the barbed wire along the rio grande between el paso and juarez / And I have heard of guns, walls and barbed wire in ramallah and jerusalem / And I know of AK47s and kalashnikovs and military checkpoints / Along kashmir, baluchistan and sindh, / Borders where sisters wait hours to see their sisters / But then are turned away.