University News

WIU Senior Wins National Creative Writing Contest

February 19, 2020

Share |
Printer friendly version

MACOMB, IL – As a first-generation college student, Western Illinois University senior law enforcement and justice administration (LEJA) major Araceli Muñoz has found a reflective outlet through writing.

A poem the Melrose Park native wrote, called "Alienated," about her parents' 20-year experience as immigrants and her college time, has resulted in Muñoz winning the fifth annual national Spanglish Creative Writing Contest. She captured first place in the poem category at the college level.

Muñoz said the award will be presented later this month at a conference in New Mexico.

"My poem is a reflection on the struggles my parents went through being immigrants," said Muñoz. "When I told my parents I had won, they were very proud and emotional. They had not yet read it."

The poem weaves English and Spanish to tell her own story and that of her parents.
Muñoz submitted the poem to the national contest at the request of Associate Professor Munia Cabal-Jimenez. Muñoz had previously been a student in her course, Spanish for Heritage Speakers, intended to encourage Latino students to explore their cultural and linguistic background and identity and study the use of Spanish in the United States.

"Western Illinois and the Midwest region, in general, are very important cultural and linguistic centers of Spanish in the United States, thus demonstrating the importance and relevance of this class for our students of Latino origin on our campus," said Cabal-Jimenez. "The class seeks to empower the students linguistically and culturally and welcomes their bicultural and bilingual experience within their academic and creative work."

Cabal-Jimenez first heard Muñoz read "Alienated" during the WIU Multicultural Center event "Define American/Thank Our Immigrants." As she was gathering entries for the competition, she remembered the poem and invited Muñoz to submit it.

"This is not a small accomplishment as the competition was carefully judged by evaluators from multiple universities," Cabal-Jumenez said of Muñoz's win.

Muñoz said she is grateful for the support she has received from the WIU community for her writing.

"I am honored to have been acknowledged in this way, but if it wasn't for my roots, my family, the support of the Casa Latina and Rocio Ayard Ochoa, and Munia Cabal-Jimenez, my writing would not be where it is now," she said. "Thank you all for your support and believing in me." 

This is the third year in the last five, that a WIU student has placed in the top three places in the completion. In 2017, Jose Gutierrez, a 2018 LEJA alumnus from Chicago, won first place in the same competition. In 2018, WIU senior Spanish education major Gabriela Montoya, of Beardstown, IL, won third place in the Spanglish Creative Writing Award category.

The competition is part of the seventh annual National Symposium on Spanish as a Heritage Language, Feb. 27-29 in Albuquerque, NM.

For more information about the course, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing