By Cory Phare
From an early age, Jo Elizabeth Pinto understood the power of words.
As a child growing up in Brighton, she specifically recalled her father reading to her about Osceola, a fabled leader of the Seminole Nation. Pinto, who is blind, was sad when the story was over, but her spirits lifted when her dad would offered to start the book over from the beginning.
“I couldn’t see what he was reading but remember being amazed that the story was tucked away safely in the book and that you could just go back to experience it again,” she said. “I thought, ‘I want to do that. I want to save words in books so people can read anytime.’”
That powerful experience sparked a flame still burning in Pinto today, one that contributed to Pinto’s being chosen as a 2022 Corn Mothers inductee, honoring Indigenous women of the Southwest.
Constantly composing, Pinto landed her first publication in Jack and Jill magazine at age 12. A short-story collection she developed in high school later became her first book, one of several she has released, including “The Bright Side of Darkness” about mentoring, resilience and second chances, written while caring for her first husband, who had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and “Daddy Won’t Let Mommy Drive the Car: True Tales of Parenting in the Dark,” a memoir about raising her daughter.
“A lot of people think moms with disabilities aren’t fully capable of having or raising kids, but that’s not true at all,” Pinto said.
It’s not just about amplifying her own voice. Today, Pinto proofreads Braille books such as English, history and math textbooks (and “the occasional murder mystery”). To do this, text is run through translation programs and converted into the raised-dot Braille system, along with tactile graphics and picture captions. These oversize tomes are sent to Pinto, who painstakingly reviews the copy before sending them back to program directors to fix the errors.
“I just want people to know our communities are our responsibility; we don’t get a pass on that. Everybody can do something. And if we live with our eyes and hearts open, the world will be a better place.”
Jo Elizabeth Pinto
She began proofreading part-time in 1997 and expanded to full-time in 2005.
“There’s always work, and it’s just the niche I found to pay for my author habit,” she said.
A shift brought Pinto to Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2002 to study Nonprofit Management, a program now housed in the Department of Human Services and Counseling. Transitioning from a career in social work, Pinto relished the opportunity to also work in the University’s Access Center, teaching students how to use adaptive technology such as screen readers, magnifiers and voice-to-text tools to improve their lives.
Pinto’s dedication to community and service led to her inclusion in the Corn Mothers Class of 2022, said Renee Fajardo, founder of the project and head of MSU Denver’s Journey Through Our Heritage program. Nominated by poet Elena Guerrero Townsend, Pinto will join 21 other inductees Oct. 21 at a free reception marking the opening of a yearlong exhibition at History Colorado.
“Jo Elizabeth Pinto is a true inspiration to everyone,” Fajardo said. “The obstacles she has overcome and the tenacity she has shown encourage others to never give up and keep on going, no matter what.”
Other 2022 Corn Mother inductees include Ellen Alires-Trujillo, Batkhishig Batochir, Shirley Romero Otero and Alicia Cardenas, an iconic tattoo artist/muralist and social activist who will be honored posthumously.
Pinto expressed gratitude for the honor, though she stressed that the work of narrative preservation within the pages of books continues. Coming from a long line of storytellers and community-builders, it’s literally in her DNA, she said, reflecting on hearing an elderly aunt from New México share never-before-heard accounts.
“As I’ve gotten older, I understand that the story is what’s important,” Pinto said. “We lose so much from our families if we don’t capture it.”
Her work ensures that ever more individuals have access to shared wisdom of families big and small. And at a time of fraying social cohesion, Pinto sees compassion as a prerequisite to making necessary changes to our shared story — and perhaps even to beginning again.
“I just want people to know our communities are our responsibility; we don’t get a pass on that,” Pinto said. “Everybody can do something. And if we live with our eyes and hearts open, the world will be a better place.”
The opening reception for the Return of the Corn Mothers exhibition is Fri. Oct. 21, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at History Colorado. The event will feature music, food and a ceremony honoring all Corn Mothers past and present. The event is free but requires RSVP.
Corey Phare is a Writer with MSU RED. This story originally appeared on MSU Denver RED.
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