Author Michele Serros

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Michele Serros, a short story writer, essayist and poet whose wry and witty observations on growing up Mexican-American in Southern California became required reading in many ethnic studies courses, has died at age 48.

Serros died Sunday at her home in Berkeley, California, after a 20-month battle with a rare form of oral cancer, her husband, Antonio Magana, said.

Serros was a community college student when she burst on the literary scene in 1994 with the publication of “Chicana Falsa and Other Stories of Death, Identity and Oxnard,” a collection of stories and poems inspired by her family life and childhood in a majority Hispanic coastal community. A fourth-generation Californian who did not learn to speak Spanish well until she was an adult, she gave voice to the struggle for belonging girls like her faced while straddling cultures.

“A White person gets encouragement, praise, for weak attempts at a second language,” Serros wrote in the poem “Mi Problema.” ”My earnest attempts make me look bad, dumb.”

“Chicana Falsa” led Serros to be one of 12 poets who were invited to tour with the Lollapalooza music festival. The book was reissued in 1998 and with the publication two years later of another autobiographical collection of fiction, “How to Be a Chicana Role Model,” Serros joined Gloria Anzaldúa, Sandra Cisneros and Ana Castillo in contributing to the growing canon of Chicana feminist literature.

“She opened the doors for many of us to look at what it means to be Chicana in a different way,” said Jennie Luna, an assistant professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at a California State University, Channel Islands, who knew Serros for 14 years. “She liked to do surfing, she liked to do skateboarding … She didn’t feel constrained to living life one way as a Chicano in the world. She was really boundless.”

Serros spent a season as a staff writer for “The George Lopez Show” and wrote two young adult novels, “Honey Blonde Chica” and its sequel, “¡Scandalosa!” She also was a regular commentary contributor for National Public Radio.

Throughout her writing career, Serros gave speeches and book readings at colleges and universities, a practice she continued in the last months of her life. One of her final projects was helping to organize a Ventura County Museum of Art exhibit in October that was designed to counter the exclusion of Latino writers from an essay series sponsored by the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain.

“For Michele, life was not a fight that was to be won or lost, but enjoyed as a wonderful journey and to be experienced with a firm sense of purpose, curiosity, tenacity, hard work and never-failing courage,” her husband said.

A private memorial service is planned, but Serros’ family is asking her admirers to organize local readings of her work, Luna said.