Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Generation Thankful for What They Had and Ignoring What They Lacked

Daniel Cano                                                    
                                                   Los Unidos, University High School circa 1944

     I don't know why General Kelly's words weigh so heavily on me. I realize he was referring to the Dreamers who hadn't signed up to become legal residents or citizens when he said they should have gotten "off  their asses," insinuating they were lazy, as in Lazy Mexicans, since the majority of Dreamers are of Latino descent.
     Maybe it's because my generation remembers the dirty, lazy Mexican stigma of the 40s and 50s, that bothered me. I figured an educated man like Kelly should know the history of Mexicans in the Southwest and the labels used to demean us. So why would he use wording that raised such ugly stereotypes?
     One would think as an Irish descendent, Kelly should understand discrimination, and how the British and their descendants used it to exploit and dehumanize the Irish, not only in England but in the U.S., as well. Maybe because I am a veteran, I expect more of our military leaders, like General Kelly.
     As a descendent of the an oppressed people, maybe Kelly is adopting the behaviors of those who exploited the Irish. In his masterpiece "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," Brazilian educator, philosopher, Paulo Freire explains how oppressed people once they are liberated adopt the characteristics of their oppressors, since those behaviors were the only models they knew. So maybe in some weird way General Kelly has become like those who once oppressed and exploited his Celtic brethren.
     What I do know is General Kelly's words sting. They reminded me of a time when Mexicans freely crossed a border, manufactured in Washington, after, what the poet Walt Whitman, described as one of the cruelest wars ever waged, the U.S. war against Mexico. Educator Noam Chomsky has said that Mexico, to this day, has never "legitimized" the U.S. theft of Mexican lands. Mexico has only "recognized" it. There is a difference. Yet, even into the 1920s, Mexican migrants needed only to sign a few papers and pay a dime, if they had it, to answer the Yankee call for Mexican workers, much like the call that still rings clear today.
     So is it true, do immigrants need to "get off their asses," to stop the laziness? Back in 2001, my parents' comadre and compadre, described to me how their parents worked to scratch out a place for themselves here in the north. Lupe Herrera, who served during both WWII and Korea, then later made a career for himself at Hughes Aircraft, and his wife Peaches Rubio Herrera, who raised a family while working at high-security electronic and computer companies, shared their family stories, stories of sacrifice, hope, and hard work, a Mexican story, an immigrant's story.

     Guadalupe "Lupe" Herrera, whose friends pronounce his name Lup'eh or the Americanized Loop, still lives in the home where he, and Peaches (who sadly passed away some years after my visit) raised their four children, near Sawtelle Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, on L.A.'s west-side, not far from where they grew up, in the town they still refer to by its original name: Sawtelle.
     Today, the neighborhood is a mix of 1920’s faux mini-Craftsmen bungalows, 1940’s stucco homes, 1960’s block apartments, Japanese nurseries, churches--from Buddhist to Baptist, and modern high-scale glass monstrosities owned by the ever increasing dot.commers.
     "Look. Here's a picture of Los Unidos, a Chicano club at University High School back in the '40s," Peaches said, pointing to an old black-and-white photo she’d placed on the coffee table.
     The students, young men and women, many of them now passed--in their youthful bliss, their faces frozen forever in time.
     "Lupe, that looks like you in the top row, middle, in the white t-shirt?" I asked.
     "Yeah. That's me."
     "I also recognize Mrs. Flores in the front row," my friend John's mom," I said.
                                                                Eighty-plus years young                                                                                               
     “Yeah, yeah. Boy, look at that, “Lupe said, as if transported into the past. “As kids, we used to go to the Nu-Art Theater every weekend. An usher always stood in the middle of the lobby making me, my brothers, and friends-- all the Chicanos, go to the left door and all the other kids to the right door. One day I told my older sister, Julia, about it. You know, I didn’t think much of it. I was just curious. But she was suspicious and figured they were separating the Chicanos from everyone else, so she went to the manager and asked why. He couldn’t answer her, and she told him she wanted her brothers to sit on the right side of the theater if they wanted.”
     Peaches said, chuckling, “Maybe they were trying to keep the troublemakers on one side.”
    Lupe insisted that the American kids were loud and rowdy too, and that not all Mexicans were rowdy, yet they still had to go to the "left" side. “Really,” he said, “it didn't matter to me. I wanted to sit with my friends anyway." He thought for a moment, and said, "Still, I never forgot it. I never did sit on the right side."
     “What about the Japanese kids,” I asked. “Where did they sit?”
     Lupe said he didn’t remember the Japanese kids going to the movies, or if they did, maybe they went to the Tivoli Theater (the Royal Theater today), a half-mile west on Santa Monica Boulevard.

                                                                     The Tivoli Theater circa 1920s

     As a bachelor, Guadalupe Herrera Sr., Lupe’s father, began traveling to the U.S. in the early 1900’s working the railroads in Kansas and across the Midwest, where work was plentiful and Mexican labor welcomed, especially men trained in working the mines, railroads, and agriculture.
     He returned to Zamora, Michoacan, a city in Mexico’s central highlands, married Librada and the two decided to leave Mexico and the Revolution, not unlike those from El Salvador, Guatemala, and parts of Mexico escaping violence today. They traveled to California by way of Plasencia, an early Mexican settlement and resting point for Mexican families migrating west.
     Guadalupe and Librada settled in Santa Paula, California, where Lupe, his six brothers and one sister, Julia, were born. Ventura County’s vast strawberry and lettuce fields were magnets for Mexican workers. When not working in the fields, Guadalupe worked as a laborer, utilizing the construction skills he’d learned over the years. His goal was to buy a house for his family.
     He saved what he could, which was not enough to purchase the land for a house, so he borrowed $900 from the bank and bought a plot of land on a side of town where he knew the best school in town was located. Eventually, he built the family home on 12th Street in Santa Paula at the time Julia was about to enter junior high school.
     On the first day at Julia’s new school, the principal called her aside and told her she would have to leave and attend the school on the other side of town, at El Campo, located near the orchards, where the workers lived in homes, mostly shacks, owned by the growers, and where the field workers' children attended school. Never a couple to fear a struggle, Guadalupe Sr. and Librada protested. The principal would not listen. Lupe told me that it was "a standard thing" in agricultural communities for principals and teachers to tell the Mexican children they should work to help their families and not worry about school.
     He said, “A lot of the kids ended up working in the orchards when they should have been in school.”
     During the Depression, Guadalupe, a mason by trade, couldn’t find work in town. Unable to support his family, he was forced to rent out the family home and move into a shack in the orchards and pick lemons and oranges at a much lower salary. Not only hard-working but also astute, Guadalupe soon became a supervisor, but he still didn’t earn enough to adequately support his wife and children.
     When the family was living in El Campo, Librada became seriously ill. There was no money for medicine and little food in the house. With their mother weak and barely talking, two of the children, Julia and Alfred, decided to walk to town and search for a doctor. Fortunately, both children could speak English and Spanish. In those days, few people in town spoke Spanish. They found a doctor's office, but to their dismay, the doctor was out on call.
     Desperate, the two children told someone in the office about their mother’s condition. Once they finished explaining, they walked back home. Later in the day, they heard a knock at the front door. When they opened it, the doctor was standing there looking for the two children who had come to his office earlier. Today Lupe still thinks it was a miracle since the children hadn't left an address. The doctor must have knocked on every door in El Campo until he located them.
     When he saw Librada, the doctor immediately knew she was suffering from malnutrition. He started filling her with medication. He visited her each day for the next few days. He told the children to make sure they stopped by his office everyday after school to pick up vitamin supplements for her. Soon, Librada regained her health.
     "If it wasn't for him, our mom would have died," Lupe said. “My sister Julia always remembered that doctor…because, you know, he didn’t have to do that. We didn’t know it at the time but my mom had been giving us her food, so she wasn't eating anything. Our parents really sacrificed for us in those days."
     As the Depression took hold over the country, Guadalupe Sr. could not make the payments on his home in Santa Paula and lost it. He moved the family to West Los Angeles in 1937 where Lupe’s aunt Trinidad was already living, along with Lupe's older brother, Trini. Lupe's younger brother Edward had been living with another aunt, Luisita in Santa Paula. Lupe said that the times were so tough many families sent children to live with other relatives to make ends meet.
     When the Herrera family arrived in Sawtelle, they couldn’t find a house to rent. Lupe said, "There was nobody going to rent to a family with seven kids, no way!" he laughed, thinking of the irony, I'm sure. Not only does he have his own large home, but he built an apartment rental in the back.
     His aunt Trinidad and her husband, who had no children and had saved a little money over the years, bought a small house, and rented it to the family. "I remember that," Lupe said, "Nine dollars a month."

                                                    Lupe and Peaches Herrera, University High School Reunion
     Located on Nebraska Avenue, near Santa Monica Boulevard, the house, Lupe said, “…was just a casita, one bedroom, a tiny living room.” He held out his hands showing a room half the size of his living room. “It had a small bathroom and a porch.”
     Peaches said, chuckling, "It was small!"
     She said she had met Lupe's younger brother Edward before she met Lupe. "Eddie was a friend of my brother, Roji." She said each Sunday she and her brother stopped off at the Herrera's house to pick up Eddie on the way to church. She remembered a few times the weather was cold and rainy, and she and her brother would wait outside for Eddie.
     "Why doesn't he ever ask us in?" she had asked Roji.
     Peaches said years later, when Eddie was already her brother-in-law, she reminded him of those days and asked why he had never invited them in. Eddie told her, laughing, because the living room floor was so full of mattresses, there was no room for anybody to stand up.
     Lupe said two small beds took up nearly all the space in the one bedroom. He and Eddie slept in one bed, but he couldn't remember who slept in the other. His older brothers slept in the living room, each evening spreading out mattresses, and storing them away in the morning.
     I asked, “Where did your mother and father sleep?”
     Lupe started to answer, mumbled, then stopped, as if startled, he thought for a second, then said, embarrassed, "To tell you the truth, I don't know. I really don't know."
     Later Guadalupe and his sons added a room to the house, roughly 30x20 feet. Lupe said it was just made of plywood and simple, but to them back then it was like a mansion.
     “Do you remember what the furniture was like; did you have a stove?” I asked.
     Lupe said, "In the kitchen there was only a mesita."
     He couldn’t remember the entire family ever sitting down to eat at one time. "We must have eaten in shifts," he said. “Everyone was either working or going to school, so nobody ever seemed to be home at one time, except to sleep.”
     He didn’t remember anyone ever complaining. Mostly, they gave thanks for what they had and did not concern themselves with what they lacked, and, most certainly, they did not see themselves, or their parents, as an American general would come to see them.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

National Latino Children’s Literature Conference

The 2018 National Latino Children’s Literature Conference will showcase the works of authors, illustrators, and scholars which embody Latino culture and art as a means to promote literacy and reading in Latino children.

Highlighting the literacy needs of Latino children and their families, the conference also serves as a forum for librarians, educators, researchers, and students to openly discuss future information and education needs necessary to promote Latino literacy.

This year’s conference will be held at UTSA’s Downtown Campus in San Antonio, TX.

 February 22-24, 2018 
UTSA’s Downtown Campus
San Antonio, TX

Keynote Speakers

Rafael López

Rafael López is an internationally recognized illustrator and artist. A children’s book illustrator, he won the 2016 Pura Belpré medal from the American Library Association for his illustrations for Drum Dream Girl and the 2010 Pura Belpré medal for Book Fiesta. In 2012, he was selected by the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival poster. He has been awarded the 2017 Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award, three Pura Belpré honors and two Américas Book Awards. The illustrations created by López bring diverse characters to children’s books and he is driven to produce and promote books that reflect and honor the lives of all young people.

Monica Brown

Monica Brown, Ph.D. is the author of many award-winning books for children, including Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (Henry Holt), winner of the Américas Award for Children’s Literature and an Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Nonfiction, and Waiting for the Biblioburro (Random House), a Christopher Award winner. Her picture book Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/Lado a lado: La historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez (Rayo/HarperCollins) was an NAACP Image Award nominee and Tejas Star Book Award finalist. Monica’s books are inspired by her PeruvianAmerican heritage and desire to share Latino/a stories with children. “I write from a place of deep passion, joy, and commitment to producing the highest possible quality of literature for children. In my biographies, the lives of my subjects are so interesting and transformational that I am simply giving them voice for a young audience. I don’t think it is ever too early to introduce children to the concepts of magical realism, social justice, and dreaming big!”

Margarita Robleda Moguel

Author of over 30 Latino/a children’s books and winner of the Juanes de la Cabada Fine Art of Children’s Tale Award.

From Margarita: On the migration card, when I leave Mexico, I put in occupation: to be happy. In doing so I remember that everything I do has that goal. Happiness, not as a state of mind, but as realizing my sense of life: being a better person. I think the frog is my nagual. Through his eyes I see things that I have the impression that no one else sees, these discoveries I translate into songs and stories, articles for the newspaper, conference themes, and in recent times in poems and photographs, such as those of the Moon. For many years I have dedicated myself to sing and tell stories to children, now I have opened the age limit until the age of 112, because I consider that the 113 as that changes the character. I struggle day by day so as not to lose my temper.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Ms. Mccall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low Books), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist, received the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Literacy Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Review’s Best Teen Books of 2011, among many other accolades. 

Ms. Garcia McCall was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems). She is currently a high school English teacher in San Antonio.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Is Anyone Goin' to San Antone?

Review: Literary San Antonio. Bryce Milligan, Ed. Ft Worth: TCU Press, 2018. ISBN 9780875656939

Michael Sedano

The summer after high school graduation, I flew to a speech tournament in Houston Texas. The return trip, by train, stopped overnight in San Antonio Texas, where I took an an enchanted walk in the warm summer night near Alamo Square.

Walking into a bustling shopping area was like being in San Bernardino, except bigger. I felt delighted no one would ask after my grandmother, and every beautiful Chicana I saw on the street wouldn’t be a Prima.

I told that story to Mario Robledo one night at Bravo Battery, a HAWK missile outfit out of Fort Bliss Texas. Mario was a 19-year old vato from the streets of San Antonio, Regular Army. There was nothing holding him to the best city in the USA, so he joined up.

The shit-kickers played this song down in base camp, by Charley Pride, "Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone?" When I saw the album cover my mind was officially blown Texas-size. One kid exclaimed "Charley Pride can marry my sister!" Over subsequent years multiple business trips into San Antonio confirm high school me's opinion of the best city in the world, and good people all around.

I imagine Mario put in his 20 years. Robledo today, enjoying his late 60s a retired contented man. He’s holding a copy of Literary San Antonio in his lap and saying,”I’ll be darned, who would’ve thought, there’s no place like home.”

Literary San Antonio is the perfect book to pass those endlessly empty hours on the mountain, or  provide immediate gratification for a browser who enjoys tastes of serendipity. Leaf through and you’ll get caught. The book serves every reading interest from merely curious to literary scholar.

Period work, 19th century writers like the quondam giant Sidney Lanier narrating a mythic storming of the doomed Alamo, and the 1960s’ Ricardo Sánchez, explaining "chicano" as a lexical item. The Meaning of Chicano. Rarely anthologized work like Josephina Niggli’s Saints Day, and work intended only for a print audience, like the final story. Niggli's war story captures a grunt's eye view of a war of attrition.

Journalism combined with political organizing collects Emma Tenayuca’s classic example of argument while providing a contemporary shudder at how little changes in raza life, The Mexican Question in the Southwest.

Small politics with larger scope come into focus through columnist Jan Jarboe Russell's account of the battle of the Alamo among society women, Letter from San Antonio. No retreat! No surrender! Hay otra voz, especially among the mover and shaker tipas who look after local culture.

Speculative fiction readers will delight in the out-of-body experiences in O.Henry’s story The Enchanted Kiss. Modern readers will give the syntax and dialect spelling a friendly reading. The palsied twisted Chuy Pingarrón finds a spot in literary history with Candy on one side and Arty from Geek Love on another, and the sausage man in Tod Browning’s Freaks in back.

The editor's note on O.Henry and local bridges makes a story of itself, and the period piece draws a memorable connection. What do iron and aluminum ring like?

The city’s teatro history, wasn’t available or perhaps what the editors found seemed as bathetic as certain cowboy laments described in the introduction because the editors went for quality, and drama is tough to sell. Quien sabe, right? Gregg Barrios' work gets an editorial nod, but all things being equal, one exemplar is what we share.

A memory play, Sterling Houston’s Driving Wheel is a worthy sample with the play's echoes of August Wilson in both dialogue and use of place to delve into intense family issues.

The volume’s raza side enjoys good proportion in the poetry and fiction chapters. The sixteen poets, principally women, illustrate why there never can be enough poetry, nor enough poems fully to capture the richness of theme and style that populate a region’s rhetorical discourse in poetry.

Carmen Tafolla, Laurie Ann Guerrero, and Rosemary Catacalos are three laureates of their town and state, and Naomi Shahib Nye is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Nye’s segment leads with a sadly apt prose piece about guns and bullets and time.

Reading the editor's biographies of the writers constitutes a deeper layer of San Anto literary history. There’s a montón of degrees, several MAs, and a Ph.D. in the mix. Niggli held MA. That persistent thread of brilliance that shines out from before Emma Tenayuca’s time, is certified by these paper accomplishments, as if their art doesn't already speak for itself and their pueblo.

There's lots of nuggets and delights across the genres. Readability goals achieved. A right way to eat a taco moment in Mary Guerrero Milligan's Loteria:La Rosa, wondering if taco is the folded-in-half kind, or the wrapped kind I grew up, also called a burrito? I got a chortle from the clash of vocalic styles, the colloquial meets the medieval, that culminates a wonderful paragraph in Ph.D. Norma Elia Cantú’s ekphrasis, “La Chola.”

Big hoop earrings. Big hair. teased bouffant.… defiant but also a bit fearful; she knows her future. Sees it in her tías… La chola fears cancer. Fears so many things: her boyfriend, her dad. Fears her uncles. Fears poverty. Fears illness. Fears old age. But most of all she fears them, the men who rule and decide for her. But maybe she’ll show them all. Become la reina del sur. Her own boss. Take no shit from nobody, as she is wont to say.

It’s important that kids see themselves in the books they have to read, in process of finding books they want to read. Like Literary San Antonio, no matter where that kid reads, kids and their folks will pass it around. I wonder if Robledo would have gone a different direction, if his high school let him read about his girl back home? I hope she wasn't afraid of the guy I knew on that Korean mountaintop.

A collection like that of Literary San Antonio's answers lots of cultural needs, not in San Antonio alone, and comes in a package diversity-palatable. Except to the most hidebound of the DRT, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, whose mismanagement of the thing itself, the Alamo, reflects a long-simmering tension between raza daughters, like Adina de Zavala, and anglo daughters.

The publishers obviously intend people to read this book without struggling with its 416 pages. TCU Press has chosen a extra large page dimension and large, legible even without glasses type.

Lots of gente and just plain folk have their San Antonio conectas, memories, and empty spots they won’t know existed until they get their hands on the print or electronic version of a fabulous sequel to the publisher’s Literary El Paso. Order Literary San Antonio via your local brick & mortar bookseller.

Loving Floricanto Update

At least two poets' biographical materials reached me after the Valentine column was put to bed. One, Briana Muñoz, notified me her materials shipped tardy, but that email has yet to arrive. Another, Moderator Sonia Gutiérrez, got tangled in the vagaries of email and ultimately arrived. Here's a link to the St Valentine On-line Floricanto updated.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Interview of Ire’ne Lara Silva

Interview of ire’ne Lara Silva by Xánath Caraza 

Ire'ne Lara Silva is the author of furia (poetry, Mouthfeel Press, 2010) and Blood Sugar Canto (Saddle Road Press, January 2016) which were both finalists for the International Latino Book Award, as well as flesh to bone (short stories, Aunt Lute Books, 2013) which won the 2013 Premio Aztlan. She and poet Dan Vera are also the co-editors of Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands (Aunt Lute Books, 2017), a collection of poetry and essays. 
ire’ne is the recipient of a 2017 NALAC Arts Grant, the recipient of the final Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, the Fiction Finalist for AROHO’s 2013 Gift of Freedom Award, and the 2008 recipient of the Gloria Anzaldua Milagro Award, as well as a Macondo Workshop member and CantoMundo Inaugural Fellow. 

 As a child, who first introduced you to reading? 

Mrs. Addams, my first-grade teacher. My parents were illiterate in both English and Spanish, and my older siblings had no interest in reading—or at least, they never shared that interest with me. On my first day of kindergarten, the teacher’s son had to show me how to write my name. I learned the entire alphabet that day (though I think LMNOP was one letter in my mind). My parents were truckdrivers that followed the harvest seasons in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, so when we moved to South Texas, I ended up with the group of students that spent all day coloring and practicing writing the alphabet.

The next year, we were back in West Texas at the beginning of the school year. My parents weren’t sure how long we were going to be there and so hadn’t enrolled me in school. Mrs. Addams came to my house and encouraged my parents to enroll me. When they said they weren’t sure about my travelling to and from school alone, she offered to drive me to and from school (which was five miles outside of town). She introduced me to the school library and that was that, I was in love with books from that point on. I remember telling her about the books I was reading when we were in the car. The last gift she gave me were daffodil bulbs from her garden. I planted them but never got to see them bloom. I don’t know if she retired or passed away, but I never saw her again.

How did you first become a poet?  

I started writing poems when I was about ten or so. I wrote them everywhere. We moved every few months so Edinburg, Mathis, Bay City, Hereford, Stratford, Dalhart, Guymon, OK, Albuquerque, NM, and then back to Edinburg in South Texas.

I had a few poems published in high school and college, but the first publication outside of school was in 1998, in the Mesquite Review out of McAllen, TX. As for impact—I think that was when I was realized I was going to jump into writing for real. That it wasn’t going to be a hobby, but a lifelong passion—and that I was going to figure out how to do it always.

Do you have any favorite poems by other authors?  

So very many. There are poems and poets I’ve returned to, again and again, for inspiration, for language, for strength.

Audre Lorde's "A Litany for Survival" is the first poem that comes to mind. It’s been almost twenty-five years since I first read it, and I’ve turned to it innumerable times for the ability to endure, for the lessons it teaches in channeling rage. (Also, it’s a gorgeous poem.)
This is the beginning:

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours…

Full poem can be found here:

Francisco X. Alarcon was the first Latinx/Chicanx author I ever read, and his Cuerpo en Llamas was the first book by a Latinx/Chicanx poet I ever owned. But this poem in particular is one I would want to tattoo on my skin:

amanecete mundo
entre mis brazos
que el peso de tu ternura
me despierte

E.E. cummings was and continues to be a huge influence. I could read his poems forever. Two poems I love:

“i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh ... And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new.”
―E.E. Cummings

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)I am never without it (anywhere
I go you go,my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)
I fear no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet)I want no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”
― E.E. Cummings

Another poet I can’t go without mentioning: Joy Harjo, who is an amazing performer and a poet whose work is focused on healing. I love the power and the complicated nuances of how she sees time, community, nature, and the soul. These are lines from “A Map to the Next World”:

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It
must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land, how it
was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.

Full poem can be found here:

When do you know when a poem is ready to be read?    

As soon as I feel it’s done—and it may turn out that after reading it, I realize it isn’t done or that it needs a little more fine-tuning. I write a poem and then revise it until I feel I’ve said everything I need to say but also, until I can’t cut out any more words.

Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist? 

I started reading my poems in college at protests and marches, so for me, poetry didn’t start out being about publication or prestige or prizes. It was about community.

Before that, poetry had been a private thing I kept entirely to myself. I’d say everything before college was about experimenting with language and image. It wasn’t until then that I even knew that Latinx poets and writers existed. I graduated high school planning to become a mechanical engineer—because that was what minorities with good grades in math were encouraged to become. I didn’t even last the first semester in Engineering—that exploded as soon as I read This Bridge Called My Back. I had my first experience gathering writers during my junior year. I started a group called Colored Women Colored Wor(l)ds that was incredibly diverse, drawing women from around the world. I was the only Xicanx poet and one of only two Latinx writers. We read around campus and put out one anthology, co-edited with Rosamond King ( and Dolores Greisy Perera, cover art by Yasmin Hernandez (

I left college in 1996 to return to South Texas and then moved to Austin in 1998, and poetry started up again. In the last twenty years, I’ve been a part of various writing communities, as a member, a coordinator, a founder, and so on—from Austin Hispanic Writers to Macondo to CantoMundo to Flor De Nopal and now as an independent curator of literary and arts events in Austin.

It’s unfortunate, I think, that so many writers buy into the dominant society’s view of writing as being about competition and accumulation (of power, prestige, etc.) Or that writing is purely an intellectual or aesthetic pursuit. For me, poetry is about the soul, about our lives, about our wounds and our efforts to heal them, about how we articulate our isolation(s) and find ways to bridge that isolation through our work. Poetry and writing are about community—how we hold each other up, how we challenge each other, how we tell our stories in order to reach for understanding and beauty and the truth of things. So, in that way, my work as a cultural artist has been about helping people bring forth what is in them, about creating opportunities for like-minded people to find each other, especially those interested in art and social justice, about creating reading venues, and about sharing knowledge and resources with other writers.  I want to live in a poet/writer world where I am surrounded by friends, not one where all I see around me are competitors.  

What project/s are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a handful of projects but the one that will take priority in 2018 will be completing and revising my first novel, Naci, about the life and loves of a Mexican/American/Indigenous hermaphrodite/intersexed person, set mostly in South Texas. I’m also working on editing an anthology of Xicanx poetry, fiction, and literary memoir by Xicanx authors whose first books were published after the year 2001 (after 2010, for the most part).

After that, I want to work on another collection of short stories, a collection of poetry, and a new novel.

What advice do you have for other poets?

This is a hard one to answer, but here’s a bit of what’s worked for me:
Figure out what you want from poetry and why you go to poetry, and you’ll rarely lose your way.

Find your own language not the language or technique or form that is popular because what is popular will change and this work of poetry is a work in time and persistence and endurance. Rejection hurts but there is no way to build callouses short of going through the hurt.
You are not your work. Your work is something you make. Rejection is not a reflection of your worth.

Mil gracias, Xánath, for this opportunity to share some thoughts with La Bloga readers.