Eliud Martínez Prize – 2021 Winner

Zita Arocha, for Guajira, the Cuba Girl–a memoir

“I am honored and grateful that my memoir “Guajira” will be published as the first winner of Inlandia’s prestigious Eliud Martinez literary award. As the daughter of poor Cuban immigrants, I have devoted my work as a journalist and educator to telling true stories of the pain and gain  that comes from forsaking the homeland for a strange new land full of promise––what I call the trauma of exile. I hope my personal journey to healing and redemption serves as a useful road map for countless immigrants and their children who now call the U.S. home and still yearn for the original homeland.”

Zita Arocha is a  Cuban-American journalist, writer and educator who has reported on immigration and Latino issues for The Washington Post, Miami Herald and two afternoon dailies. She taught bilingual journalism for nearly 20 years at the University of Texas El Paso where she founded and directed  the award-winning web magazine borderzine about border issues and culture. She served as Executive Director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in the 1990’s, was an organizer of the groundbreaking Unity ’94 conference in Chicago for journalists of color and has been inducted into the NAHJ Hall of Fame.  An early manuscript of “Guajira” won a prize for literary excellence at the Mayborn Conference. She completed the memoir during a 2021 fellowship at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. She also holds an MFA in bilingual creative writing from UTEP.  She was born in Guira de Melena, Cuba and grew up in Tampa, Florida. 

Judge Alex Espinoza writes, “Guajira, the Cuba girl is more than just a memoir of one woman confronting past traumas. It is a defiant examination of the ways all exiled people ache for a homeland, even when that homeland wounds us. Zita Arocha turns a quiet song of tragedy into a symphony of strength. The result is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.”