Spotlight Series: Joe Alvarado and Miguel Chavez
July 1, 2019
After being stationed in various parts of the world and the United States during their service in the U.S. Marine Corps, Miguel Chavez and Joe Alvarado coincidentally found themselves in the same room at Palo Alto College in their English class.
Being former Marines wasn't the only thing they had in common, as Chavez and Alvarado would both, unknowingly at the time, be published in the Eleven Rivers Review, the College's literary magazine, years after they had both retired from the military.
"It was an honor to get published," said Alvarado. "I didn't think anyone would ever read anything I wrote besides my family and I figured it was one of those things where if it happens it happens, and if not, then it's not a big deal."
The student-run magazine consists of various student artwork and writing samples like poems, short stories, and essays. Two of Chavez's paintings were published in the 2019 issue and one, titled "Warrior Actual," was selected as the cover for the annual publication. The painting depicts a bull colored in various hues of blue – a representation of all the marines Chavez had met throughout his career, especially those with whom he served in Iraq.
"When working on the piece, I just thought about my time with former Marines," said Chavez. "There was all this chaos, but they stood strong together, like the bull."
Alvarado's contribution was an essay titled "The Tejano Generation — a Changing Perspective," a four-page retrospective on his Tejano heritage and how his life experiences have been shaped by the Tejano culture.
During the Eleven Rivers Review publication party, Alvarado was awarded first place in creative non-fiction for his story, and Chavez's "Warrior Actual" was recognized as being the sole artwork selected for the cover of the magazine.
Alvarado found an interest in writing after returning to school and using it as a form of therapy. He hadn't imagined he would ever be recognized for his writings, nor the amount of support he's received from his professors.
"Previously, I saw writing as more of a tool... as an outlet to get frustrations out," said Alvarado. "It was therapeutic for me. I never think that my work is any good, and it's not written for ambitions of grandeur. It's written for me."
Chavez had been painting for around a year before being published in the Eleven Rivers Review. He got into painting, and art in general, as a way to entertain himself during restless nights.
Chavez heard about the Eleven Rivers Review from multiple professors and, like Alvarado, was pushed to submit some work by his English professor, Dr. Rafael Castillo.
"Dr. Castillo has mentored me and pushed me to get published," said Alvarado. "Now, I'm working on a book that deals with my time in the military, and I have another essay I submitted for Norton Writer's Prize called 'When Ghosts Come Home.'"
Hunter Bates, adviser for the Eleven Rivers Review, said he was blown away by the quality of Chavez and Alvarado's work and how gracious, generous, and eloquent they were when presenting their work at the publication party.
"It's always been about the students and wanting to provide an outlet for them to express themselves," said Bates. "The satisfaction that I get from being involved is seeing students find validation in their work."
Alvarado and Chavez have been able to pay for school as a result of their service in the military with help from G.I. Bill programs, which provide educational benefits to military veterans. With the encouragement and guidance from faculty and staff, they've been able to develop a passion and see it grow.
"At Palo Alto College, these professors aren't just clocking in and clocking out. They're invested in the students; they're invested in their dreams and ideas," said Alvarado. "They understand that no matter what course you're taking, it represents something more. It represents a pathway to whatever a student's dreams are."
The Office of Veteran Affairs is another encouraging resource at Palo Alto College committed to providing services to eligible veteran students like Alvarado and Chavez. Financial assistance and information about veterans' benefits are provided to assure students are equipped with all the tools necessary to succeed.
On Saturday, July 27, Palo Alto College will host the 3rd Annual Veterans Education Summit to assist and provide information to military veterans and their families about federal military education programs. To learn more, visit alamo.edu/pac/veterans-summit.