Durinda Montoya-Cearley has written an empowering children’s book which tells little girls they can be anything they wish to be.
Durinda Montoya-Cearley, 54, Fresno, CA, U.S. talks to ASLI about her children’s book which has a powerful message; that girls can grow up to be anything they wish to be. Addressing the issue of stereotyping girls at a young age and how important it is to educate boys and girls that gender is not limiting nor exclusive. .
Throughout my childhood, like gypsies, my family moved frequently. After high school, I joined the Air Force. Four years later, I then served in the DIA, which allowed me to travel & live overseas. Finally, I moved and settled down in San Luis Obispo, where I pursued a career in law enforcement and acquired a 2 year degree in Special Education and a B.S. degree in Anthropology/Sociology and Writing. I now call Fresno home and actively pursue numerous forms of artistic expression, from poetry to visual art and music.
What motivated you to deal with the subject of breaking free of female stereotypes in your art?
I was looking for a children’s book for a little girl that communicated that girls can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. Being unsuccessful in finding such a book, I decided to create a picture book that expressed to little girls that they “can be anything they want to be, just wait and see.”
Tell us why you chose this submission?
“What In This Big World Can You Be?” breaks female stereotypes by letting little girls know that they can choose a career that would not be considered a typical career for a female.
Why have you chosen the medium you use for your art?
I choose a picture book format to express a positive message in hopes it would be an easy and short book for parents to share before bedtime. I hope the rhythmic rhyming storytelling style and simple artwork will attract young readers and help them to remember the message.
What is your process when creating?
For writing, the creative process comes in bits and pieces. I always keep a pad and pen with me, because I never know when the fire of inspiration will spark the creation of the next verse or picture idea. Then, I look at all my notes and organize them, then re-organize them until the story flows.
Who are you influenced by? What inspired you and your art?
I am and was influenced by numerous experiences in life and by strong female role-models in history and those involved in current events. Such women as Condoleezza Rice, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Katharine Hepburn, Ellen DeGeneres, Queen Elizabeth I. Inspiration to create a painting, a musical composition, poetry, and writing comes from an active imagination that has remained with me since childhood. For me, I must create, as it is who I am. I have to have and thrive on artistic expression. My current job and past positions do not define who I am, my art does. I work a 9 to 5 job in order to create art.
What does feminism mean to you and do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
For me, feminism means being strong and confident and to venture off what is considered by society to be the normal path (for a woman). And, balancing that independence and strength with a gentler side that does like doors opened for me, despite the fact I can open the doors myself. Knowing I have a voice, I have an opinion, and knowing that voice and opinion is important and is not something to be ignored or silenced.
What made you want to get involved with our non-profit ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL mission?
There are so many countries even in today’s world where women struggle to have a voice, and where that voice is silenced by inherent beliefs or cultural influences, which are imposed by male governed societies. These women are denied a voice. Also, there are too many animals harmed and destroyed throughout the world. These animals have no voice.
Do you feel women have to conform to social norms and stereotypes to be taken seriously? Do you have any experiences of this?
I feel women do have to struggle to break from social norms and stereotypes, and in some countries, this struggle is tremendous. I have been fortunate, although I have entered careers that years ago were considered predominantly careers for men, my abilities and knowledge were not questioned and if they were, I was unaware. But, I know I am an exception.
Do you think that women and men are equal in today’s societies around the world? Have you any experience of this?
No, I do not think women and men are equal in a number of societies around the world. My degree in Anthropology/Sociology and Writing taught that there are a number of countries where women struggle for not only equal rights, but fundamental rights as a human being.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for etc …..?
Issues I am passionate about are environmental issues, as these issues affect everyone worldwide. I am also passionate about children who live in impoverished communities, as their struggle to break free of that environment is great, and children who live in abusive family situations. I graduated high school at the age of 16 and signed up for the Air Force immediately. I did this to escape from the instability of a home environment of living with my mother, who was neglectful and abusive or living with my father, where I struggled to fit into a Hispanic community I knew nothing of and avoid the gang influences. Additionally, I am concerned about saving wildlife and affects devastating ecosystems have on indigenous species. I believe there exists a false impression that it does not matter to humans if ecosystems and the creatures that those systems sustain are destroyed. We, earth, cannot lose more species than what we already have. Even within this last decade, animals have gone the way of the Dodo bird, including the Baiji Dolphin, an intelligent mammal. It makes you wonder, what did that last dolphin think while it swam alone in the Yangtze River looking for a mate. Did it die a natural death or from loneliness.
What does the statement ART SAVES LIVES mean to you and has art in anyway “saved” your life in any way?
Art has always been part of me. As a young child my imagination and art allowed me to escape the abusive and harsh world around me. I spent most of my childhood and teen years secluded in my room, a safe haven, where I would draw or write about imagined places and secret worlds. It saved me from the reality that existed beyond the bedroom door.
Art Saves Lives also means artist can convey important messages to those who may be unaware of certain situations or give encouragement to others to act to change a negative situation they know exists, but have ignored.
How can your art be used to create change and is this something you want for your art?
I hope my art, whether it is a song or poem I wrote, a picture I painted or a picture book I wrote for little girls can have some positive change or touch someone; to whatever small degree. Some songs/poems I have written have deep, personal messages about life struggles and overcoming those, maybe someone will look at a painting I created and feel the depth of emotion expressed on the canvas, or a little girl somewhere reads a short picture book entitled “What In This Big World Can You Be” and be inspired to pursue her dream of becoming a marine biologist.
What are your goals as with your art?
Regarding creating on canvas, my goal is to one day have a small studio, where not only my work can be displayed but that of other artist who also create to express emotions that communicate to others. One series of paintings I am working on centres on Breaking Free; Breaking Free can have many meanings – for one person it can mean breaking free from society norms, for someone else it can be breaking free from his or her past, it can be whatever someone wants the meaning to be. Concerning writing, I hope to continue to create songs and poetry that conveys a message.
What is your next project or piece that you are working on?
I would like to start working on writing and the artwork for another children’s book that expresses everyone is different and that’s okay. I also have a concept to write a picture book about feelings and everything, every creature feels, no animal wants to be hurt or experience pain.
And is there anything you would like to add to your interview?
I hope, my creations, whether read (such as a picture book), seen (something created on canvas) or heard (a song or poem), can bring about some positive change, which is what ASLI is all about. Thank you.
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