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CARMEN BELTRAN

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Birth Date: 1905
Birth Place: Durango, Mexico
Place of Death: Tucson, Arizona
Passed Away: 2002

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Date submitted: October 24, 2006
Gift: Arch with Seating
Location on plaza map: A2
Areas of Achievement: Arts, Literature, Media
 
“When a year comes to an end, a page out of the album of our life is completed, and a new one is placed before us. What changes did take place in our spirit? If we could read very carefully the completed page forgetting its contents, what would we feel? Will it have been a wasted year? If we were happy, will a sigh escape us when the year ends?…” --Meditaciones de año Nuevo translated by Jennifer Joan Oas

Carmen Celiá Beltran was born in Durango, Mexico in 1905, beginning the first page of a life steeped in prose, theatre and written works. All seven of her brothers and sisters played an instrument, and her mother, Guadalupe, played the mandolin. Her father was a talented musician and Major in the military band of Mexican President Porfirio Diaz. The turmoil of the Mexican Revolution in combination with her father’s political ties, forced the family into flight where they hid in the mountains of Durango. Young Carmen was stowed safely away in a convent under the care of Carmelite nuns until she was older and strong enough to continue the family’s journey to the United States. A journey wrought with adventure, “perhaps too much,” Beltran would later reflect as she recalled the train heist that left her family stranded in San Pedro de las Colonias without any of the money or baggage initially carried onto the train.

The family arrived in San Antonio, Texas, after two years of travel with stops in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon and Nuevo Laredo where Beltran’s father worked the family’s way toward their ultimate destination. Beltran was twelve years old when the family settled in San Antonio. Here her father-daughter bond intensified and Beltran absorbed her father’s love of music and performance, sharing his tenacity of spirit. He started a music studio and taught band classes, always telling her, “As long as you don’t give up music, I don’t care what you do.”

Beltran self identified first and foremost, as a poet and writer; yet was also deeply involved throughout her life with Latino theatre, Spanish language newspapers, periodicals and radio programs, and with the local Catholic Church. She had two daughters whom she raised on her own with the help of her mother, and they would all eventually move with her to Tucson, Arizona. She was self-taught in the higher levels of school and learned the English language in a swift seven months in order to work as a legal secretary while in San Antonio, although she continued to write poetry, plays and newspaper columns in her native tongue.

Initially, respiratory problems brought her to Tucson in 1938, where she soon became a prominent member of the intellectual and artistic Latino communities. No longer a respite due to medical necessity, Tucson became home. Here, Beltran continued the newspaper column and poetry writing she had taken up in San Antonio, also adding the initiation of radio programs promoting Mexican music and singers to her expanding repertoire. She began to travel throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico as an actress in national radio shows, hosted religious programs in Tucson and published numerous poems and articles as an adjunct to her ever expanding literary and artistic works. Beltran was granted a César Award by the Pan-American Theatre Association for her work and received numerous other accolades throughout her career as a dancer, singer, stage worker, writer and poet. In Tucson, the Carmen Celiá Beltran Hispanic Theatre Archives were established as part of the Arizona Historical Societys Mexican Heritage Project in May of 1992.

The arts were a driving force in Beltran’s life. As the daughter of a close family deeply rooted in Mexican music tradition, talent and tenacity, she spent her life channeling the voices of past and present elements of Mexican culture through her work as a poet, playwright, columnist and radio host. She embraced the written word and wrote until the final page of her life. She also held fast to the promise made to her father as a twelve-year-old child, incorporating the music of her heritage into her vision as a writer by hosting a KUAT radio program, “Homenaje a la Música Mexicana” (“A tribute to Mexican Music”) for more than two decades. Utilizing this media, Beltran was able to blend her lineage, love of music, religious tenacity and skill as an orator into a seamless media of expression and inspiration for Tucson’s Mexican-American community. But Beltran’s poetry was also very dear to her. She would read it aloud on the radio during her airtime in conjunction with the music. Her words were written in Spanish, although she hoped to one day have them translated into the English language. The last page of her life was written before she could do so. “Meditaciones de año Nuevo,” (“New Years Meditations”) is one such work of prose that Carmen Celiá Beltran wished to be read by a wider audience. Her prose began this biography, and ends it here.

“…If the year ends without having left a small amount of joy, of poetry, mixed in with the monotonous page of our existence, we breathe easier when the year is half over and its end approaches, and we ask ourselves if our present efforts will be rewarded tomorrow. How many promises, not kept? How many unrealized dreams are left in the year? Will the future be more smiling? The flame of hope almost extinguished is strongly revived: the spirit is encouraged, and the will to live gradually arrives, to struggle with and for life… In the final hours of the year, remembering one by one our past emotions and forgetting our going astray, we wish to start life anew and function in such a manner that we won’t be horrified by the idea that half-way through time comes the day when we have to read from the first to the last line in our book of life… in which every year is a page, every day a line…”

--Carmen Celiá Beltran
La Prensa
San Antonio, Texas 1924

Written by: Jennifer Joan Oas

Information Sources:
Arizona Historical Society, Tucson Library Archives.
Arizona Daily Star, Ernesto Portillo Jr. Daily Column, 5/29/2007
Tucson Citizen, Obituaries, 5/31/2002.
Arizona Daily Star, Article: Roots of KUAT’s ‘Homenage’ are in Mexican Revolution, 10/20/1982.
Sara G. Tinajero, Laredo State University, Masters Thesis, May 1988.