I recently had the opportunity to speak with Quina Aragon about her creative process, the inspiration behind the spoken word she performed for TiC’s conference in October of 2020, and what it means for her to engage in artistic practice and the pursuit of justice as a follower of Jesus. You can check out Quina’s work at QuinaAragon.com. Her latest book, Love Gave: A Story of God’s Greatest Gift, is available now on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
Anna: I’d love to start by hearing about your creative process in general. How do you approach writing and artistic creation?
Quina: For the most part, for many years when I first started writing and even through my 20s, I would simply write like I did with “The Slaughter”—just as an overflow of what I was thinking and processing, an overflow of lament. But more recently, some of my best pieces have been commissioned.
For the Gospel Coalition, I wrote a creative summary of the first four books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. That was one of the first really big projects that I had, and I didn’t necessarily sit down in front of the computer and have words flow out of me. It was a process of studying, sitting down with the text.
When you mature in any craft, you can’t just sit around and wait for a roll of thunder to overcome you, for inspiration to come. I learned the value of showing up to work, sitting down for a number of hours, and just writing and going through an editing process.
After reading the book Worthy by Eric Schumacher and Elyse Fitzpatrick, I was so excited to write this poem they commissioned me to write, but I had no creative juices flowing at all. I had a deadline to meet and a commitment I’d made, so sure enough, I finished in time, turned it in, and it ended up being one of my most well-received and impactful pieces.
All that to say, the creative process can look really different for me depending on the project, and it’s sometimes helpful to have a deadline.
Anna: Your performance of “The Slaughter” at TiC’s conference had a resounding impact on conference viewers and having worked with detained immigrant mothers myself, I was personally very moved by it. How and when did you come to the story of that spoken word?
Quina: In 2018, I was driving to Orlando with my daughter to visit my mom. I was listening to Frederick Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom on audiobook, in particular his account of family separation happening during slavery times, his own separation from his mom, and the way slaveholders would de-establish the family unit so there would be no sense of camaraderie and no uprising.
Once we got to my mom’s house, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, and I saw a newscaster sharing a story on family separation of detained immigrants. He specifically shared this story of a Honduran mom whose son was 18 months old, and she was still breastfeeding him. Before she knew what was happening, immigration officers took her baby from her.
Right then I just got on my knees and tried to pray and was crying out to the Lord, and I couldn’t get over it. My daughter was 2 at the time, and that child was so close to her age. I kept imagining my child being ripped from my arms. At that same time, we were dealing with the immigration difficulties of my husband’s aunt and uncle (who were deported a year later). So I’d been listening to Frederick Douglass and thinking about where we see family separation in Scripture, and I traced that circumstance to the modern day family separation at our border. Everything came together, and I sat down and wrote the poem in one sitting.
I kept crying all summer as I imagined my daughter getting taken away from me unjustly, and I kept writing poems about family. My prayer became, “God, put me in the game. I can’t NOT do something, but I don’t know what first step to take. I want to play a role in dismantling this oppression that’s happening.”
Anna: Clearly, doing the work of writing and creating is a spiritual and faith-filled experience for you, and in this case a deeply personal one. What can you tell me about how your art and your faith inform each other?
Quina: For me it’s kind of a simple question, simply because I was not writing legitimate poetry before I became a believer. I became a Christian when I was 16, and as I started journaling what I was reading in the Bible, it would kind of come out as poetry, and that surprised me. My whole story with poetry and art has always been an overflow of my relationship with God. For me, this is clearly a gift from God that I don’t believe I possessed before I knew Him. Sometimes I’m writing just to survive, to keep my head above water and process life. Sometimes I’m writing for a specific audience to proclaim the Gospel in a certain way, and sometimes I’m writing to see my own story, and God in my story.
Anna: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, Quina. I think conversations like this help people understand why TiC and our partners do the work that we do, and it’s really powerful to hear an artist speak on her work. Is there anything else you want to share with TiC’s readers?
Quina: I think if people are following TiC, they have some level of concern for immigrants and issues around immigration and justice. They want to do something. You may or may not be a writer, but don’t feel like your role has to look just like somebody else’s. Continue to walk with the Lord and let Him convict you in different areas, and if you feel the burden of the Holy Spirit as you turn on the news, seek the Lord. Ask Him, “How would you have me get in the game?” Whatever role you play, whether it’s administrative work behind the scenes, or sending money—whatever it is, the Lord sees that, and it all counts. He shows us different avenues that are available.