Ofelia Faz-Garza makes space for those who feel ‘other’

2018’s Five Fierce Females of Oak Cliff

Ofelia Faz-Garza left her career in the nonprofit sector about five years ago, even though she loved it.

“After almost 20 years of work, I wasn’t seeing a lot of change,” she says. “There are some great nonprofits in Dallas, but they tend to do things the way they’ve always been done.”

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But the change helped her turn a corner in community service work.

The mother of three daughters, she started a book club for girls called Semillitas. She created a collective for writers of color called El Tallercito, which is planning a workshop for late summer.

She started a cooperative space called the Meet Shop, which received a grant from the City of Dallas and rented a small building in Elmwood for writers, artists, performers and community groups. The Meet Shop lost its lease recently, but they still do pop-ups at coffee shops and other places.

Her most recent project is Arte Local. Funded through the City of Dallas, it is a series of artist-led workshops at Lida Hooe Elementary. The monthly workshops are free and open to the public.

Her third place after home and work: Maroches Bakery. I’m hooked on his cookies. Plus, he hosts a lot of community events.

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Her image of the Oak Cliff: There are two faces to Oak Cliff. There’s the Bishop Arts District, what a lot of people consider the cleaned-up Oak Cliff. You hear people say, “Oh, there was nothing here before.” Hearing that is triggering for me. And then there’s the real Oak Cliff, the Oak Cliff that I grew up with. The panaderías, the quince shops, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are owned by people who still live here. I know they kind of overlap. I’m almost defensive about Oak Cliff because this feels like home and family.

What she’s proud of: That I’m able to juggle home and work because work doesn’t feel like work for me. The work that I’m doing is so that I can create the world I feel my children deserve. I feel privileged to work around my children’s schedule, and I’m proud that I can do that. 

The most challenging thing she’s overcome: Self-doubt. That’s something that I still work on all the time. Dallas is a segregated city. I’m first generation. My parents are immigrants. We were the first Mexicans on the block, and we didn’t speak English. Our house was egged. I remember being at the grocery store and hearing people say, “You wetbacks need to go home.” I was the oldest, and I was the family translator. I had to translate a lot of things to my parents that were unpleasant. I grew up feeling “other” and that this wasn’t my home and that I don’t belong. But I do have a place here, and I do have something to contribute. I know who I am, and I know where I come from, so good luck getting me to shut up now. 

I know who I am, and I know where I come from, so good luck getting me to shut up now.

The best advice she’s received: I did a workshop with Sylvana Alonzo, [who founded Oak Cliff Coalition for the Arts], and she said, “If you write, you’re a writer. Claim it.” And I have.

The best gift she’s received: My children. At the end of the day, everything I do is to create the world that I think they deserve and that I think other children deserve. 

Her greatest influence: My mom. I come from strong women. My mom was undocumented when she came, pregnant with me. And I saw how hard she worked. She has metastatic cancer, and she’s still trucking along. 

Advice for her younger self: Do you without worrying what others say or think. I spent a good part of my life playing nice and being who others expected me to be. I’ll never get those missed experiences back. 

The biggest problem facing our community: Housing and the fact that people are being pushed out. It’s becoming the hot spot. And that’s great. But not when people are being pushed out, and people can’t afford to be here.

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