2018 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Natalia Reyes was born in Indio, California to immigrants from Michoacán, Mexico. Her father graduated from a university-preparatory school, but he could not afford university tuition. As a result, he sold the family refrigerator to pay for his passage to the United States. Natalia’s parents’ experiences and sacrifices sparked her desire to write stories honoring the complexities of immigrant lives.
At UC Berkeley, Natalia’s award-winning honors thesis on the rhetoric of Chicano literary criticism helped to further spark her interest in storytelling. She went on to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to craft narratives from both sides of the US-Mexico border. Natalia graduated with her MFA in English from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 2019, and she will be matriculating into a PhD in English at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2020.
Natalia Reyes with Lan Samantha Chang, Program Director at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, at the Workshop's graduation ceremony in 2019.
Why did you apply to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?
I applied for the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans because it seemed like a Fellowship unlike any other, considerate of their Fellows' backgrounds as much as their accomplishments. To be evaluated so holistically made me optimistic of my chances, and so I applied.
Who has inspired you from the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship community?
Literally every Fellow I've met has inspired me. Writers like Anthony Veasna So and Yessica Martinez inspire me to write and grow. Social scientists like Wendy De La Rosa and Julissa Muniz make me want to reconfigure the world. I could name specific ways that each of my cohort members has inspired me, not to mention all the other Fellows I've met, and I know they'll keep inspiring me for years and years to come.
You’re now finishing up the second year of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship program. Has the Fellowship been what you expected?
I'm not sure what I expected. When I was applying, it was hard to imagine winning the Fellowship, let alone connecting with so many people with lives and interests so different from mine who nevertheless understood me and cared. I would say if I had any expectations, the Fellowship has exceeded them.
As a New American, why has it been important to have The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships community?
The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship community has been so crucial to me keeping my head high and my mind focused at a time when xenophobia and anti-immigrant vitriol is so prevalent in public discourse. The community has been a refuge and a reminder that immigrants and their children are not the evils some would have us believe, but worthy of respect and dignity, sources of inspiration and hope.
What has The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships program brought to your life?
So much! I cannot overstate what a difference the financial support from the Fellowships has brought to my life, even encouraging me to pursue a PhD after my MFA. It has introduced me to friends and mentors, including the Fellowship staff, who are incredibly dedicated and caring. The support has been priceless.
Do you have any favorite memories from the past two years as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow?
I have great memories: an impromptu karaoke outing, walking through Central Park discussing design, talking late into the night even though we knew we'd have to wake up early the next morning. These are some of the memories I cherish.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?
Do it! Don't let that little voice in your head tell you that you shouldn't, or that "they never pick people like me," or whatever self-defeating narrative you've absorbed. If you meet the qualifications, go for it! And seek out support from your on-campus fellowship coordinator - they are invaluable assets in a fellowship application like this.
What does The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program mean to you?
The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships means being supported in my goals and ambitions, being motivated to grow and learn and improve. The PD Soros Fellows make me envision better futures, kinder worlds. ∎