Stella Pope Duarte

Stella Pope Duarte is a Latina novelist. She is an activist for women’s rights, diversity, Chicano/a culture, and human rights. She has taught English as a Second Language at South Mountain Community College. 

Author Stella Pope Duarte, ca. 2008.
Image and article from AZ Republic.
Image donated by Stella Pope Duarte

When asked, Duarte describes her childhood in one word, “freedom.” Stella recalls how different it was to be a child in her time compared to now. As a child growing up in La Sonorita barrio, between 7th Ave and Buckeye, although it was seen as a bad neighborhood she, could feel the comradeship between her and others living there. Stella remembers her desire to become “mainstream.” She recalls how during her first years of education her teachers wanted her and others to speak English, and only English, if in any case they were seen speaking Spanish they would get in trouble. Her story is indicative of the discrimination kids like her faced at the time.

Stella Pope (center) with two friends standing in front of Lowell School, ca. 1962.
Image donated by Stella Pope Duarte

Stella was a witness of segregation and the idea that she had to be assimilated to American culture. Stella remembers seeing African American kids walk to her school to eat lunch and she also remembers how the students were treated poorly because of the racial stereotypes others seemed to have of them. It was important to have an education especially for children of color in her time. Later, when Stella went to Phoenix College and Arizona State University and she sometimes felt like an outsider.

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Pope Duarte was invited to teach English as a Second Language at South Mountain Community College. After a while, she began teaching creative writing there as well. But, as she says, “On the horizon change was coming; a dream would set a new plan into action.” Around that time, Stella had a dream of her father. He was sending a powerful message, letting her know that everything she needed to do next was in front of her. This was the moment when she really began to realize what her dream career was. She was called to become a writer. Stella was very motivated to follow her dream and took great risks to make this happen. In order to write one of her best selling books, If I Die in Juarez, she quit her job and traveled to Juarez, Chihuahua to investigate the femicides happening at the time. It was a difficult research project, and one that didn’t always make sense to her friends and family. But Stella felt it was what she was meant to do.

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When she first began publishing, Pope Duarte faced an uphill battle. At the time, she experienced discrimination due to her race and gender. She found herself in a field of authors who didn’t look like her or share her same backgrounds. As a minority woman writer, Stella did not have many role models or mentors. It was difficult to start her career. At one point, an industry expert suggested she change her last name to something “less ethnic.”

Stella drew on her earlier years as an activist to stand for what is right. Because of the era that she grew up in she became more involved in activist movements with Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. She always tried to be involved in civil rights movements from a young age, which laid the foundation for a lifetime of activism.

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Stella has one message for the youth of today: look inside yourself. She wishes youth could learn to understand themselves more and be more lenient with themselves. She wants youth to learn from their mistakes and really understand why they feel the way they do. 

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Stella Pope Duarte continues to have proud connections to the South Phoenix community. She continues to fight for many movements through her writing. She has and will continue to be an example for youth and an activist for many civil rights movements.

NarratorStella Pope Duarte
BirthdateNovember 3, 1948
Place of OriginSouth Phoenix, Arizona
Place of ResidenceSouth Phoenix, Arizona
Years Active in South Phoenix1948-
OccupationAmerican Novelist, Educator
Recording Duration1:00:27
DateMarch 4, 202
Interviewed ByLourdes Ochoa and Janeth Ramos
Story Written ByLourdes Ochoa and Janeth Ramos