Why Puerto Ricans Did Not Receive U.S. Citizenship So They Could Fight in WWI

Original post by Harry Franqui-Rivera found here: https://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/centrovoices/chronicles/why-puerto-ricans-did-not-receive-us-citizenship-so-they-could-fight-wwi

We just crossed that threshold, the centenary of the Jones-Shafroth Act, which among many other things, extended U.S. citizenship to the people of “Porto Rico” on March 2, 1917. A century later we still hear the tired opinion that it happened just so Puerto Ricans could be drafted into the U.S. military to be used as cannon fodder. Nothing is further from the truth.

Let us look at facts and chronology.

March 2, 1917–Puerto Ricans became U.S citizens.

April 6, 1917–The U.S declares war on the German Empire and its allies.

May 18, 1917–Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917 calling for all males between the ages of 18 and 32 to fill out registration cards.

Case done. Nothing to see here, move on. That was the big American plan.

Step 1–Force U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans.

Step 2–Send them to France to win a victory for the Empire.

That seems to be the logic of people who can’t be convinced—regardless of how much evidence is presented to them, that the last thing the U.S. political establishment and the military wanted was Puerto Ricans in the military.

I have talked and written about this issue in academic forums and venues. But the truth is that no scholar who has taken the time to consider this matter believes that mobilizing the Puerto Ricans had anything to do with extending citizenship. Why? Because there is zero evidence supporting that opinion (because that is what it is— just an opinion) and there is a mountain of evidence proving the contrary.

[Here’s a link to my academic work on this]

So, I’m not writing for scholars, and as such, I will drop all the academic jargon and instead have a friendly Q and A session.

Q: Why extending citizenship to Puerto Ricans in 1917, just before declaring war on Germany if not to get more soldiers?

A: One has nothing to do with the other. To think so, one must believe that U.S. politicians and military leaders thought the Puerto Ricans to be some kind of secret weapon or super soldiers when in fact the opposite was true.

Q: What do you mean?

A: Well, elected officials, politicians and military leaders considered that the vast majority of Puerto Ricans were too inferior (racially and culture wise) to ever become soldiers.

Q: But they did mobilize the Puerto Ricans.

A: True. But they did not want to. Puerto Ricans, just like African American did, fought for their right to fight, to prove they were men and thus deserving of full political rights and self-government.

Q: Are you saying people wanted to go to war?

A: Yes. This was WWI, not Vietnam. War was considered a legitimate form of diplomacy and a glorious act where men proved their worth. Combat was seen as an almost universal rite of passage. And this was a war fought to “End all wars” according to Allied propaganda. It doesn’t get more gallant than that.

Q: But Puerto Ricans were included in the draft…

A: Yes and no. Initially, Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii—as territories—were excluded from the draft. But only because the Wilson administration was still considering what changes would be necessary to implement them in the territories. And by the way, almost immediately the newly elected Puerto Rican legislature asked Congress to extend the draft to the island, which was seconded by the press as an act of patriotism.

Q: Didn’t the Chamber of Delegates oppose U.S. citizenship?

A: That is another misconception. The Chamber of Delegates opposed a citizenship bill in 1914 but only because it did not include universal male suffrage. And, Luis Muñoz Rivera opposed citizenship because he thought it would gain the US metropolis much sympathy thus weakening his party’s position.

Image of Bill
Image of Bill

Q: Were Puerto Ricans made US citizens to deter a German attack on Puerto Rico?

A: No. Puerto Rico was a U.S. possession due to the Treaty of Paris of 1899 and recognized as such under international law. So, a German attack on Puerto Rico would’ve been an Act of War even if Puerto Rico was only populated by two goats and a chicken.

Q: I have heard that it was all about economic interests, do you agree?

A: Sure but let’s put that into context. There is global competition for colonies and markets. What you can’t control directly you control economically and politically. The U.S. had been challenging British financial control of Latin America and the Caribbean since at least the 1880s—and by 1914 the U.S. is on its way to be the absolute hegemonic power in the hemisphere. But the Germans come into play. They want to penetrate those Latin American markets.

I find this argument a bit reductionist in the sense that WWI occurred precisely because fin de siecleimperialism, marked by  a scramble to secure colonies- for economic reasons, prestige and military advantages, inevitably puts five empires at war in the summer of 1914.

Q: What have other Scholars said about this?

A: Why, I’m glad you asked. Edgardo Meléndez argues that citizenship for the Puerto Ricans in 1917 was not only “about the narrow strategic interests generated by the war or the military recruitment of Puerto Ricans” but that “cementing Puerto Rican loyalty”, a sense of  a “matter of justice”, “rewarding the Puerto Ricans’ loyalty”, “doing the right thing” “supporting U.S. permanence in Puerto Rico” and making the island “a bridge the Latin race and the improvement of U.S. relations with Latin America” have much to do with it. (316-318, 323-24)1

I agree with him—in fact, I have been arguing the same for a while now. But, I would add that the military factor is not a tangential issue—but perhaps the most important of them all because of the geostrategic concerns the war created and President Wilson’s grandiose attempt to end the war with a diplomatic solution.

Q: Ok, now I’m interested. Why you think that? 

A: Don’t get me wrong—there were many reasons for extending citizenship and a degree of self-government to the Puerto Ricans but they can all be tied to diplomacy, war preparedness, and what we call nowadays “National Security”.

1.      The fear of a growingly discontent population in Puerto Rico influenced the passing of the Jones Act. The U.S. War Department considered that stability in the island was essential to secure U.S. hegemony in the Circum-Caribbean. Because of Puerto Rico’s strategic position as a gate to the Panama Canal [key to U.S. naval dominance of the Western Atlantic and Eastern Pacific] military planners could not conceive of the island under a flag that was not the Stars and Stripes. This is pure geo-strategy.

Military planners feared that a discontent population may side with an invasion force so they supported citizenship for the Puerto Ricans, since at least 1909, believing it would be well-received and make the island population loyal to the U.S.

We need to remember one thing. The German Navy, since the early 1900s had changed its war games and planning. Now the enemy was the U.S (instead of the British Empire) and the Caribbean was the stage where the confrontation would take place. These plans and exercises were not a secret and the U.S. had a counter plan; defeating the German Navy in the waters near Vieques and Culebra. But just in case, U.S. military planners wanted to make sure that they could count on a friendly Puerto Rican population not to aid the invaders. The irony—the U.S. military wanted to prevent what happened to Spain in 1898 happening to them in case of a German invasion of the island.

2.      The Woodrow Wilson administration also believed that it would gain diplomatic clout from granting citizenship and some measures of self-government to the Puerto Ricans.

The Jones Act went along with President Woodrow Wilson’s New Diplomacy. Wilson tried to end the war without the U.S. having to be involved in it militarily. Part of his approach to diplomacy included the dismantling of old empires and giving voice and an opportunity to self-determination to the many “nationalities” living within these empires. Because of this, when Wilson addressed Congress on December 7, 1915—he urged them to pass the Jones Act because the whole world was watching and they needed to show they were serious about Wilson’s New Diplomacy, self-determination and freedom. Wilson tied the passing of the Jones Act to national security and defense preparedness.

Citizenship for the people of Puerto Rico (and the degree of participatory government that came with the Jones Act) would serve to prove that Puerto Rico was not a colony giving credence to Wilson’s diplomacy and the moral ground to call for the dismantling of the old empires.

3.      At any rate, U.S. Citizenship for the Puerto Ricans was long in the making. Wilson was not the first U.S. president to support citizenship for the Puerto Ricans- neither was Yager (the one to run the island during WWI) the first appointed governor to champion US citizenship for the Puerto Ricans. For some of them it was simply the right thing to do.

  • President Theodore Roosevelt consistently proposed granting American citizenship to Puerto Ricans, but did not find much support in Congress.
  • As early as 1909, officials from the War Department studied the possibility of granting citizenship to the Puerto Ricans. They came to the conclusion that even though the status would be well received by the Puerto Ricans, collective citizenship was a premature step since the majority of Puerto Ricans, they argued, were illiterate and unprepared for full political rights.
  • Projects to grant U.S. citizenship to the Puerto Ricans were presented before Congress in 1912 and 1913.
  • President William Howard Taft, (and later President Woodrow Wilson) the Bureau of Insular Affair (a branch of the War Department entrusted with administering the island) and most of Congress supported these projects.
  • Taft’s appointee as governor of Puerto Rico, George Colton (1909-1913), also endorsed taking this step thinking it would improve the United States’ image in Latin America.
  • Colton’s successor, Arthur Yager (1913-21) was even more vociferous regarding this matter.

See “Comments on the Jones Act and the Grant of U.S. Citizenship to Puerto Ricans” by Edgardo Meléndez for more antecedents to the 1917 bill. (317-18)

These projects, as well as the support for granting American citizenship to the Puerto Ricans shown by Taft, Wilson, the BIA (if reluctantly), Congress, and opinion-making groups in the mainland, responded to both local and international considerations like I just discussed above.

The outbreak of World War I accelerated the passing of the Jones Act but not because the U.S. needed more soldiers for a war in which they were not yet involved, especially when at the time “dark races”, including Puerto Ricans, were neither trusted nor wanted in the military—much less as combat troops.

Q: Hmm, I still believe that they just extended citizenship to the Puerto Ricans to have more soldiers. 

A: Ok. What about this?

The War Department sought to limit the role of the Puerto Rican soldier and made no serious effort to send the Puerto Rican Division (94th Infantry) to Europe.

Frank McIntire, Chief of the Bureau of Insular Affairs, (a branch of the war Department in charge of administering Puerto Rico) wrote a memorandum to Governor Yager regarding where to train the Puerto Rican recruits and insisting that training them in the U.S. would:

“…make them better men on returning to Porto Rico, physically and otherwise, this, even though they should not go abroad at all for service” (McIntire to Yager, November 24, 1917).

So, the military was not inclined, at all, to send the Puerto Ricans into combat, not even after President Wilson, heeding to pressure from Puerto Rican leaders, had ordered the War Department to create a Puerto Rican Division.

And there is one detail I left out in case I could not convince you.  This is what the Registration Act of 1917 established with regard to who should register:

Section 53. Persons Subject to Registration

“All persons who, on June 5, 1917, had attained the age of 21 and had not attained the age of 31 are subject to registration except…

Aliens who have not declared their intention to become citizens of the United States and who have entered the United States for the first time since June 5, 1917, are not subject to registration…”

In effect, all “American nationals” and citizens had to register—including Puerto Ricans, because under the provisions of the Foraker Act of 1900, Puerto Ricans had become “American Nationals.” The Puerto Ricans did not need to be citizens to be subjected to the draft law.

Finally, over 70% of Puerto Rican volunteers and men called up were rejected because they were simply not wanted as soldiers.

I hope this put this issue to rest so we can focus on the intricacies of colonialism.

Rev. of Verónica Reyes, Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives

Original post by Sheryl Luna found here: http://letraslatinasblog.blogspot.com/2017/03/wecomefromeverything-no13.html

Micro-review: Verónica Reyes, Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives, Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press, 2013

by Sheryl Luna

The poem “Los Angeles River—Rio Grande: brown speckled mirrors” by Verónica Reyes in Chopper! Chopper! Poetry From Bordered Lives (Arktoi Books/ Red Hen Press)  opens beneath the old Juárez El Paso International Puente. The Río Grande river runs below is described as being strangled. Politics, we are told, “lace the bordered fortress dividing tierra y familias.” It migrates between Spanish and English, between cultures, between time and between places.

The poem then moves to Los Angeles, which the speaker says is a reflection of the Río Bravo. The stanza focuses on the smog, sewage and dirt of the city which is used to indicate the corruption of the land. It too struggles. The Los Angeles river

Trails down a 1930’s gringo-made route cutting the canela dirt.

Patchwork of yellow chaparral and desert line in the brown agua.

Much of the poem is spent reflecting on the Mexican people who lived in California long before it became part of the United States.

They say California was once México living in Aztlán:

The Anasazi, the Ventura people, la Mexica existed here.

On this arid land, this State, there lived many nations.

They were a living part of the living blue seacoast:

in a dream, seashells were money, half a mussel was a spoon.

                        the acorn source of a stable diet, women crushed them

This along with earlier images of tossed garbage cans, black tires, wobbling signs, murky canal water, red-brown children fill the poem with a longing for the past before the border was drawn.

The speaker asks three times whether or not this was or is a dream.

Was it a dream that the earth lived and breathed

blue skies so freely?

Towards the end of the poem, there is a man at the edge of the concrete bordering the water. We are back in the Río Grande.

In the Zacatecas, Jalisco, Sonora, he left his familia,

            His daughter waits for him by the puerta.

            Her mother tells her, “Papi will be back soon.” 

            And the heavy sun settles itself beneath Tonantzín

            . . .

            Este hombre could be my tío, mi papa, my brother

It is also a migration between two languages and two cultures with the speaker taking the #30 bus down to el Centro, crossing over to la Primavera Street puente from Boyle Heights to Broadway avenue. She is all the while traversing the Río Grande, as well as L.A. in her imagination.

Join Cuban Heritage Collection Fellow Jennifer Lambe at Books & Books on March 31

Original post found here: http://library.miami.edu/chc/2017/03/14/join-chc-fellow-jennifer-lambe-at-books-books-on-march-31/

March 31, 2017 | 8 p.m.
Books & Books | 265 Aragon Ave, Coral Gables, FL

On the outskirts of Havana lies Mazorra, an asylum known to-and at times feared by-ordinary Cubans for over a century. Since its founding in 1857, the island’s first psychiatric hospital has been an object of persistent political attention. Drawing on hospital documents and government records, as well as the popular press, photographs, and oral histories, Dr. Jennifer L. Lambe charts the connections between the inner workings of this notorious institution and the highest echelons of Cuban politics. Across the sweep of modern Cuban history, she finds, Mazorra has served as both laboratory and microcosm of the Cuban state: the asylum is an icon of its ignominious colonial and neocolonial past and a crucible of its republican and revolutionary futures.

About the Author
Dr. Jennifer L. Lambe is Assistant Professor of Latin American and Caribbean History at Brown University. A 2011 Cuban Heritage Collection Research Fellow, she earned her Ph.D. in Latin American and Caribbean History at Yale University and her B.A. in Gender Studies and History at Brown University. Her work has received support from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Coordinating Council for Women in History, and the Cuban Heritage Collection of the University of Miami Libraries. Dr. Lambe is coeditor of the volume New Histories of the Cuban Revolution, currently under review by Duke University Press.

This event is free and open to the public. Download a PDF flyer.

To RSVP or find out more, please call 305-348-1991 or email cri@fiu.edu.

Co-sponsored by the University of Miami Cuban Heritage Collection, Amigos of the Cuban Heritage Collection, FIU Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs, and Books & Books

Exhibition Panel & Opening: Asi Somos Diaspora

Original post found here:

May 04, 2017 at 6pm – 9pm
Centro Library and SB 115 & 120, Silberman School of Social Work

The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at CUNY presents: Select photographs focused on the diaspora taken from the book Así Somos: Who We Are from Chicago-based author Ada Nivia López and photographer Mark Joseph which aims to capture the diversity and exuberance of Puerto Rican culture in artful, vibrant images.

Panelists: Ada Nivia López and Mark Joseph

Exhibition Panel: 6 – 7:30 PM   Room SB 115

Exhibition Opening: 7:30 – 9 PM  Room SB120

RSVP: Así Somos: Who We Are

New Book: En carne propia: Memoria poética / Flesh Wounds: A Poetic Memoir by Jorge Argueta

Original post by Rene Colato Lainez found here: http://labloga.blogspot.com/2017/03/en-carne-propia-memoria-poetica-flesh.html

What you need to know:

  • Author: Jorge Argueta
  • Title: En carne propia: Memoria / Flesh Wounds: A Poetic Memoir
  • Publisher: Arte Público Press
  • ISBN: 978-1-55885-838-1
  • Publication Date: March 31, 2017
  • Bind: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 208

This extraordinary bilingual poetry collection evokes the horrors of war and the loneliness of exile.

“I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up being the writer in my family,” Jorge Argueta says in his poetic memoir. He wrote his first lines as an adolescent, though he didn’t know what the words meant or that it was poetry. In this moving, bilingual collection, renowned poet Jorge Argueta reminisces about growing up in El Salvador, the impact of war on his family and neighbors, life as an exile in the United States and ultimately his rebirth as a poet.

He became involved in the revolution as a teen, not realizing what was to come, “a bloody massacre … An entire generation disappearing / As if it were a trifle / To lose the entire future of a country.” Mothers lose sons, their bodies beat beyond recognition. Friends’ bodies are thrown into common graves. Husbands lose wives and wives lose husbands. “Death saunters / Dressed in olive green / A rabid dog / Snapping at anyone in its path.”

The 48 poems in this collection—in Spanish and English—smolder with loss and longing. Argueta’s indigenous roots ultimately contribute to his salvation after he flees his homeland. His braids, he writes, “are rivers / Of my village / Running / Down my back.” In San Francisco, he becomes part of the city’s exile community, yearning for home but knowing his friends and relatives are dead or gone. His pain is like a ring that “lives on my left hand / as if I were / married to it.” In spite of the pain and sorrow expressed in many of these poems, Argueta’s work is a powerful testament to love, hope and the strength of the human spirit.


“From his trying upbringing in rural El Salvador to his arrival on the literary scene in San Francisco in the 1980s, Argueta alternates between prose and poetry to create this genre-blending, bilingual memoir of his long journey north in flight from guerrilla violence. In short chapters, Argueta narrates life at home with his family, interrupted by the onslaught of civil war, and his subsequent escape from Central America. Argueta’s poems are interspersed between these chapters, the best of them hovering, koan like, and momentary.”—Booklist


JORGE ARGUETA is a prize-winning poet and author of more than twenty children’s picture books, including A Movie in My Pillow / Una película en mi almohada (Children’s Book Press, 2001), and Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds (Groundwood Books, 2016). He lives and works in San Francisco, California.

Chicanx Liberation & Healing! A Chicanx Psychology

Liberation for Chicanxs in today’s society begins with decolonizing of the mind and soul. This allows us to recognized our passed down cultural strengths. With generations of marginalization, many of our people also have been impacted by society’s negative images. Internalized oppression turns those negative influences inward. Thus, Chicanx liberation must also include healing the cultural soul wounds that we carry with us. This is the role of Chicanx Psychology – to contribute to our community’s liberation and healing. In this workshop platica, we will discuss ways as individuals and as a community that we can begin to decolonize our identities and facilitate the healing we need for a holistic liberation.

Where: Resistencia Bookstore

4926 E Cesar Chavez St, Unit C1, Austin, Texas 78702R
When: Saturday, April 22 at 1 PM – 4 PM

Cuentos y relatos de familia – taller público de medios hosted by Texas FolkLife

Ven y aprende a convertir memorias familiares, relatos tradicionales, y herencias culturales en narraciones audiofónicas con los productores de Texas Folklife Michelle Mejía y Carlos Salazar. Las personas asistentes deberán traer un artículo de valor personal o una foto de familia relacionada con la historia a contar. Donación sugerida $20 para este taller.

This workshop is primarily in Spanish, but English translators will be available on-site.

To hear other media projects by the Texas Folklife Stories from Deep in the Heart program, please visit https://soundcloud.com/texasfolklife/sets/stories-summer-institute-2016-radio-documentaries.

Texas Folklife’s Public Media Workshops are a series of classes for community members who want to learn the basics of media production. Our goal is to get central Texans starting their own history and cultural documentation projects with materials on hand. Each workshop is uniquely designed to cover a unique cultural need, such as interviewing community members, documenting local events, or making the most of family heritage and photos. At the end of every workshop, participants have a chance to consult one-on-one with our producers about putting their new skills into action.

These workshops are the newest initiative by Stories from Deep in the Heart, Texas Folklife’s award-winning media education program. They were started in 2016 to reach beyond the program’s traditional scope and directly serve the Austin community in more dynamic ways. In addition to Podcasting Techniques and English/Spanish radio production in central Texas school, our public media workshops offer a return to the Stories program’s strong bilingual education roots. Most workshops are available in English and Spanish.

When: Wednesday, April 26 at 6 PM – 8 PM

Where: Texas Folklife

1708 Houston St., Austin, Texas 78756

Tickets available at eventbrite.com


Rev. of the Pink Box by Yesenia Montilla

Original post by Marlene Galván found here: http://www.latinobookreview.com/yesenia-montilla-the-pink-box.html

The Pink Box is a collection of gracefully written, but sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful poems by Yesenia Montilla. A running thread through the collection, Montilla uses the image of the “pink box” to anchor the reader as she tackles very personal and sometimes very sensitive issues. The narrator of the poem for which the collection is named asks questions about the box itself – where it was purchased, where the box lives, if it was constructed “by women / in the rainforest who specialized” specifically in pink boxes. These questions asked by the narrator allude to issues surrounding commodification of female art and mythologies surrounding female artists. Montilla uses her box, this collection, to discuss a barrage of different topics including food, family, race, culture, traditions, living in New York city, love, sex, masturbation, music, addiction, popular culture, and a deep appreciation for poems and poets.

While Montilla balances bluntness and humor as well as empathy and anger in her discussions of poetry and pop culture, it is the poems that tackle some of the most tender of women’s issues that prove to be her most powerful. Montilla’s collection flows from poem to poem and section to section with ease. She beautifully guides the reader through her story of a life, developing characters, ingraining images on readers, and discussing experiences of gender and race. 

Yesenia Montilla is a New York City poet whose work often draws from her Afro-Caribbean roots. A 2014 Canto Mundo Fellow, she received a BA from Hunter College and an MFA from Drew University.
The Pink Box 
is a publication by Willow Books. 

Resurrecting the honorable Romualdo Pacheco, California’s only Hispanic governor so far

Original post by Gary Hart found here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article139199973.html

Californians will celebrate the life and accomplishments of Cesar Chavez on March 31, appropriately so. The founder of the United Farm Workers union was a fierce advocate for human rights and nonviolence.

But I wonder, given California’s rich Hispanic origins, if Chavez has somehow monopolized our acknowledgment of Mexican American leaders, especially those from the political world.

One who is overlooked is Romualdo Pacheco, an extraordinary figure from California’s early years as a state.

For 20 years in the 1850s and 1870s, Pacheco was a state senator, treasurer, lieutenant governor, and headed San Quentin prison, before becoming governor. He is the only Hispanic governor in California so far, and the first to have been born in California.

Gov. Leland Stanford appointed him brigadier general during the Civil War. In that role, he took weapons from Confederate sympathizers in Los Angeles. And there is more: He was a judge in San Luis Obispo County, the first Hispanic to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the first Mexican American appointed to a United States ambassadorial post, serving in Central America.

Pacheco served in all three branches of government, and at all three levels of government, probably a unique political double trifecta in California history. He also reflected the agricultural roots of the state, having been a Central Coast rancher, and upon his retirement from government, he crossed the border to run a cattle operation in Coahuila province in Mexico.

Most importantly, Pacheco was also on the right side of history on many issues. He abandoned the Democratic Party for the Republican of Abraham Lincoln, becoming the first Hispanic legislator to denounce slavery and declare unequivocal allegiance to the Union.

As a state senator, he refused to participate in Anglo anti-Hispanic vigilante groups, bucking his powerful political supporters. As San Quentin warden, he advocated an end to overcrowding and developed a meaningful work opportunity program for inmates. He was a visionary governor who advocated the expansion of the University of California.

“Much of the future welfare of California depends on the higher culture of her sons and daughters. There is nothing to prevent our establishing a University that will be peer to any in the world,” Pacheco told the Legislature.

Biographers Ronald Gerini and Richard Hitchman write in “Romualdo Pacheco: A Californio in two eras” that his most important accomplishment was his ability as a Californio to bridge two cultures, two ways of life in early California history when Spanish-speaking peoples’ rights were abridged, Hispanic economic losses were heavy and damage to their way of life was substantial.

Pacheco never abandoned his Spanish-Mexican heritage, even though politics of the time were by Anglos who often were hostile to Hispanics. And though he served during the Gilded Age when corruption was rampant, he rose above it.

“Pacheco’s high personal and political character is a guarantee of the faithful and intelligent performance of the duties of his office,” the San Francisco Chronicle wrote when he became governor. “The carpet baggers have had things their own way in the State long enough, their day is now about over.”

The next time you’re in the Capitol, stop by his portrait. It hangs on first floor, on the Senate side, near the re-created Governor’s Office. I sometimes provide Capitol tours to students and adults and stop there to recount Pacheco’s remarkable story.

Why Pacheco’s story is little-known is perplexing. Perhaps it’s because he came from a prominent Californio family rather than modest circumstances, or perhaps because he was part of the political establishment. But it’s worth remembering a Latino leader who governed honorably long ago.

Interview of Juliana Aragón Fatula

Original post by Xánath Caraza found here: http://labloga.blogspot.com/2017/03/interview-of-juliana-aragon-fatula.html

Juliana Aragón Fatula’s, three books of poetry are Crazy Chicana in Catholic City (2nd edition), Red Canyon Falling on Churches, winner of the High Plains Book Award for Poetry 2016, (Conundrum Press), and a chapbook, The Road I Ride Bleeds (Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press). She has been anthologized as a poet in Open Windows III, El Tecolote, Trance, and broadcast on Colorado Public Radio’s Colorado Matters. She teaches writing workshops for Bridging Borders and Writers in the Schools and believes in the power of education to change lives. She is currently writing a mystery, The Colorado Sisters.

Who is Juliana? 

That’s heavy. My mind goes crazy thinking of answers, but the truth is I’m a small-town girl, raised in a large family, very poor, but not as poor as my ancestors. My paternal great-grandfather was a Navajo sheep herder in Villa Nueva, New Mexico in a village outside of Santa Fe. My maternal Navajo great-grandfather was sold to the Gomez family in Alamosa, Colorado for food and a horse when he was four-years-old.

I was raised a Mexican-Americana, Mestiza, Mexica, Aztec in Southern Colorado. In the seventies, I marched with the Denver Brown Berets and heard the civil rights organizer, Corky Gonzales, speak as a political activist. I claimed the label Chicana, Xicana, Xicanx. I honor my indigenous roots, my mestizaje, my culture and history. I write about living between two worlds.

My beginning as a poet. I embrace my mestizaje and spirituality as a true American, indigenous. I remember where I come from. What’s the dicho, “How can we know where we’re going, until we know where we’ve been?”

I drove to Villa Nueva, New Mexico to gather stones and put my feet in the Pecos Rio. I met locals and heard their stories. I entered the church where my great-grandparents were married and my father baptized in 1917.

My father’s homeland, like mine in Southern Colorado; has the same trees, soil, grasses, herbal medicine, religion, language, culture. He landed in Tortilla Flats. My second book, Red Canyon Falling on Churches, comes from those cuentos, those stories, poemas. Born forty years apart: 1917 and 1957, we were both brown skinned, brown eyed, brown hair, mestizo nose, Navajo and Mexicano culture and language, religion and spirituality. My DNA is indigenous to this land.

I grew up with ten kids and one bike. We had to share. Growing up in Southern Colorado with grandparents from Villa Nueva, New Mexico and Alamosa, Colorado in el valle, I inherited brown skin, my last name, Aragón, my Spanglish, my culture and myths.

We never crossed the border, the border crossed us. My father migrated to Colorado from New Mexico when he was ten and went to work; he had brothers and sisters depending on him. My grandparents died very young and my father raised his siblings. He was a loved father figure. My mother was the strongest and most generous woman I ever knew. She grew up next to the river and rail road tracks in a shack with dirt floors. My parents taught me to give back to my community.

How do you define yourself as a poet? 

I define myself as a confessional poet and as a member of the Macondo Foundation I follow the mission statement: a community of poets, novelists, journalists, performance artists, and creative writers of all genres whose work is socially engaged. Their work and talents are part of a large task of community building and under-served communities through their writing.

I write about my truth, nature, addiction, creation stories with tricksters and desert creatures. I aim to make my audience laugh, cry, and dream. The first decade as a writer was an experiment. Now that I’m ‘seasoned,’ I teach writing workshops, write blogs on writing, conduct literary interviews, and review my favorite books. I feel like it’s ok to call myself a writer now.

As a child, who first introduced you to reading?  Who guided you through your first readings?

I was introduced to reading by my older sister, Irena. She was ten years older than me and since our family was so large, she was given the responsibility to watch over me. She took me to the library for my books. I never imagined someday I would be a writer. My sister has been my guardian angel for my entire life. Even now she sends me blessings from heaven. I often wonder what her life could have been like if she had the same choices I had.

I was the first in my family to graduate college. She would have been incredibly proud of me as would my parents. They believed in me even when I lacked confidence in myself; they knew I had special talents and power to change things with an education. There’s nothing more powerful than an educated Chicana. I am Chicana Woman, hear me as I raise some hell.

How did you first become a poet?

I was born a poet. I have a very twisted sense of humor and sometimes strangers think I’m sonsa, but it’s just an act. I’m always acting. I’m odd. I’m mysterious. I’m curious. I’m telepathic. I’m psychic and psycho. Ja ja aja ja. I crack myself up when I get on a roll. I’m ridiculous and irreverent and righteous and rotten and refined and riddled with guilt. But my writing; my poems are my salvation. They are my medicine. I’ve been healed with the power of words.


My path has always been about beauty and truth. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but, I didn’t write poetry until I was fifty.  Ten years ago, I enrolled at Colorado State University-Pueblo, to become a Language Arts teacher in my hometown. I chose creative writing as my minor and began my introduction to Ethnic Literature. I read poetry by the icons, Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sherman Alexie, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Maya Angelou and many others, but it was the poems written by Chicanas that inspired me to write about my culture, language, and heritage. I grew in four years of Chicanx Literature, Ethnic Studies, Shakespeare, Creative Writing: Drama, Poetry, Fiction, and Non-Fiction Nature Writing.

Where were your first poems written? 

If I’m honest they were written when I was in junior high school. I didn’t know how funny I used to be until my best prima/soul sister gave me the notes I passed to her every day in the halls at school. I was hilarious. It was like getting in a time machine and going back to my teens. I was wild and unconcerned about what anyone said about me. I wore what I wanted, I walked where I wanted to go, and I said what I wanted to say. I was the character from Crazy Chicana in Catholic City. I wrote in my journal every day. I was a young woman in love with being in love. I kept all the letters from my loved ones and when I read them now, I always cry tears of joy at the memories of them in my heart. I’ve been very blessed.


My first poems were published in the literary magazine at CSU-Pueblo, The Hungry Eye, and on the webpage for CSU Pueblo’s Hispanic Cultural Experience: A Collection of Poetry, Essays, and Short Stories from Pueblo, Colorado. These poems began as performance pieces for the Denver Indian Thespians and El Centro Su Teatro in 1992. Those stories morphed into poems.

When did you start to publish?  And, what impact did seeing your first publications have on you?

I published in literary magazines in college, won poetry contests, and published several poems in anthologies. Several of those poems were later published in my first book of poetry, Crazy Chicana in Catholic City. My first book of poems was published because of an independent study course I took with my mentor, David Keplinger. Never did I imagine the publisher would send me a contract and publish my manuscript, but I gained confidence with each publication and grew to be a prolific writer.


My first book arrived on my doorstep; I realized how much hard work I put into it and how taking risks had proved successful.  I decided to write my second manuscript, Red Canyon Falling on Churches. My publisher, Caleb Seeling and editor, Sonya Unrein, at Conundrum Press in Denver promoted my books, arranged readings, and gave me a voice. Being published changed my perception of myself and gave me courage to help other beginning writers. It gave me the incentive to teach writing workshops to at-risk-youth, like the Bridging Borders Workshops I teach in Pueblo.


Do you have any favorite poems by other authors?  Or stanzas?  Could you share some verses along with your reflection of what drew you toward that poem/those stanzas? 

Maya Angelou inspired me with “Phenomenal Woman.” One of my favorite verses:

Now you understand/Just why my head’s not bowed. /I don’t shout or jump about/Or have to talk real loud. /When you see, me passing, /It ought to make you proud.

“And Still I Rise”, and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and her quote is engrained in my head, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

An essay written by Gloria Anzaldúa, “Linguistic Terrorism” awoke in me a rebellious voice. “…We are your linguistic nightmare, your linguistic aberration, your linguistic mestizaje, the subject of your bruja. Because we speak with tongues of fire we are culturally crucified. Racial1y, cultural1y, and linguistically somas huerfanos – we speak an orphan tongue.

“Chicanas who grew up speaking Chicano Spanish have internalized the belief that we speak poor Spanish. It is illegitimate, a bastard language. And because we internalize how our language has been used against us by the dominant culture, we use our language differences against each other.”

Shakespeare changed the way I write, “We know what we are, but know not what we might be.” And Sherman Alexie inspired me to interject humor into my writing. “In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written, all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts.”

A letter I received from Sandra Cisneros last year after she read my second book, Red Canyon Falling on Churches, changed my life in small and big ways; she wrote to me, “…Think what light you are transmitting to others as you walk your own path. A lantern leading others on their path. This is sacred work. May you always be this light. Abrazos.” Sandra.  I cried when I read that line. She moved me. I changed. I grew. She inspired me to work with other writers.


I was invited to join The Stiletto Gang, a group of women writers on a mission to bring mystery, romance, humor, and high heels to the world; and Women Who Write the Rockies, literary women writing in the shadow of the Rockies: a community of like-minded women sharing news, readings, publications, and reviews. I’m learning from these women how to write for an internet audience on these websites. I’m enjoying the blog experience and reaching a new group of readers who might not otherwise ever know my work.

What is a day of creative writing like for you?  Where do you write?  How often? 

It’s midnight and I’m in my kitchen writing, listening to Bob Marley. My muse refuses to let me sleep during full moons. It’s a red moon tonight. I’ve tried staying in bed but I toss and toss until I get up and go to work.

My writing space: I love writing in hotel rooms, coffee shops, in my back yard, in the wilderness in my twenty-four-foot camper. My husband, Vince, and I go camping in the Colorado wilderness with our Border Collie, Big Bad Baby Boy Bear. My husband hikes with Bear and gives me my space to write or read.


I write in my back yard under the grape arbor, and my sun/moon room are also favorites spots. I have my Chicana Garden with fruit trees, ivy and wood vine climbing the fences. The backyard is filled with birdhouses, bird baths, bird feeders. The wind blows the twenty-five chimes for each year we’ve been married, and birds sing along. It’s a magical place. Colorado fresh air and sunshine, even on winter days. I make a fire in the woodstove, heat up the porch, brew some chai, read a book, and watch the snow fall.

If I’m real lucky, I escape to the mountains and the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide. Up there, no phones, cell service, television, nosy neighbors or worries. I write, read, nap, eat, sleep, wander through fields of wildflowers. Watch the fish jump in the lake. And I write and write and write and write. I’m hypnotized. I fall into a pattern of waking and writing and writing until I can’t keep my eyes open every night. I feel like a writer. I feel productive. I feel fierce.

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

I always read my work out loud. Sometimes I record it and listen to it playback several times. I ask friends if I can try a poem out on them for their reaction. I read their body language. Sometimes it’s positive feedback, sometimes, not so much. If I hear the poem and it sounds like music, if it has the power to move someone to laugh or cry, if it makes me want to perform it on stage in front of an audience, I know in my heart it’s ready.

Could you describe your activities as poet? 

I won the High Plains Book Award for poetry, 2016, in Billings Montana. My husband and I drove to Montana with an invitation as a finalist. I met some great poets and writers and fell in love with Billings. If I hadn’t won the prize, I still would have come out a winner because of the experience. It elevated me to a new high. The feedback from the judges allowed me to accept that I am an award-winning poet.

I had just had knee replacement surgery; however, I didn’t let that stop me from attending and when I won, I dropped my cane and danced up on stage like a lunatic. The audience laughed at my enthusiasm and cheered for my first win as a published poet.

It gave me confidence to submit a third manuscript, a memoir of poems: Gathering Momentum. It’s unpublished but I’m proud to have finished it; it was the most difficult thing I ever wrote. I included my Mother’s recipes so they would never be forgotten. I’m preserving my family’s histories.

I love performing and maybe that’s why I didn’t begin writing until I was in my fifties. I was having too much fun being on stage. My writing began as a performance artist. I wrote short cuentos about my family. Some sad, some funny, some tragic, some hopeful. I never felt like a poet. I felt like a storyteller.


In the nineties, I worked with El Centro Su Teatro in Denver, Colorado. I learned the tradition of taking the word to the people. I became very active in the Chicano community. Su Teatro organized and attended protests carrying picket signs; Justice for Janitors, Amnesty International, and of course the United Farm Workers. We sang protest songs; they had Aztec dancers in full regalia. One time we drove from Denver to Pueblo, Colorado and joined the American Indian Movement to protest Columbus Day.


In 1995, I joined the Latin Locomotions, Sherry Coca Candelaria and Manuel Roybal, Sr. from Su Teatro. We traveled to the Persian Gulf to perform for the troops. We toured five weeks and entertained in Sicily, the Azores, Diego Garcia, and the United Arab Emirates. It was my first time out of the country. I dreamed of traveling all my life and now I was being loaded on cargo planes and flying across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean.  The Department of Defense paid me to sing, dance, and tell stories for Hispanic Awareness in the Military.

What’s something that helped to shape your outlook to life?

The good and bad experiences molded me in to a strong, independent, out-spoken woman who is fearless. I’ve faced hard times and remained a survivor, never a victim. As a teenager, I was headed for prison or death.  I was loud, rebellious, a tomboy; many of my closest friends I grew up with are dead from their lifestyle choices.

I chose to have a baby at fifteen, drop out of high-school, go to work and thanks to Planned Parenthood, I raised my son as a single parent and had pre-natal healthcare. My son is in his early forties; I turn sixty this year. Having access to healthcare through Planned Parenthood changed me. It shaped my future.

With an education, I became independent with a job and a steady income. I worked for many decades in Denver and climbed the corporate ladder. I was not corporate material. I’m a performance artist. I wanted more than a job and a desk. I never gave up on that dream. I made it happen. Pure will power.


I returned to school and graduated from Colorado State University – Pueblo in 2008 and became an educated Chicana. My son claims I should have a Ph.D. because I’ve been going to school his entire life. That’s not a fact; but it is true.  Not an alternative fact, but a truth.  I love learning and I am a lifelong learner. I love teaching and I teach my students to love learning.

My son gave me a purpose and made me rock steady. I became focused and escaped the cycle of poverty. My husband would say, “We’re poor, but we have love and kindness in us.”  We’ve both been sober for twenty-seven years. We support each other; we are best friends.

Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist? 

I’m extremely proud of my activism with at-risk-teens. I’ve taught hundreds of students in Southern Colorado through the Writers in the Schools Program with Colorado Humanities. Some are in high school and college now. I remain close with many of them through social media. Gotta love Facebook, que no? Sometimes they ask me for advice. They lovingly call me, Mama Fatula. I don’t have grandchildren, so I gave all the love inside me to my students. Many of them hugged me every day. I listened to them. Some of them needed more than a teacher. I mentored many students who bravely walked out of the closet and into the sunshine as proud members of the LGBTQ community. I’m so proud of them. I’m proud of the students who invited me to their high school graduation. They’re in college now; they are the future of this country. They changed me. They taught me more than I taught them.

I tell my students about my first protest.  I led the first-sit in to protest the school’s policy of forbidding the female students to wear blue jeans. In 1852, Emma Snodgrass was arrested for wearing pants. Women protested until women were allowed to wear pants. When I tell my students this they are shocked.

In 1972, my fellow female students protested to wear blue jeans instead of pantsuits. I lead the female students and they followed me; I didn’t know then I was leading. Today, I understand the power of being able to express myself and communicate my reality through spoken word.

What project/s are you working on that you would like to share? 

I’m a storyteller; and a very good listener. I’m writing my first murder mystery because I love a challenge. I’ve been writing The Colorado Sisters for the last year.  I wanted to see what else there was inside my head. Turns out there’s plenty. But getting up every day and making something out of nothing takes dedication, work, and talent.  I learned that you can’t write a book, if you don’t sit down and write.


I’m creative and weave stories and characters like a movie inside my head. I love writing dialogue and using humor in my writing to curb the edge of the murder, the nitty gritty of the story, the dark secrets we all have, the criminal element of detective work, and finally the investigative work can’t be just evidence, testimony, and undercover work; there must be balance with the characters’ lives because in real life, we have up and down days and have funny things happen all around us, if we pay attention.

What advice do you have for other poets?

My good friend, Manuel, always says, “Everywhere you go; there you are.” Never forget that bit of wisdom. It might save your life someday. Surround yourself with smart, talented, generous people like Manuel, who have a social conscience and are activists. My writing gives me a voice and a medium to reach people. It’s the same for my writer friends. Read lots of books and write lots of poems and then read books about writing poems and write poems and read books written by poets you admire and then write more poems.

One piece of advice, don’t ever change your voice or your truth to make someone else happy. Don’t change a word if you feel it is your truth. You’re not writing for you parents, siblings, partner, children. Write for yourself and write the kind of poems you want to read. And attend lots of book readings, writing conferences and writing workshops, and network with everyone you meet. Keep those connections current through social media. Share your story with new writers and encourage them to write from the heart not the head.


Remember you can’t please everyone; and not everyone will like you, or your poems. But for those who do appreciate your writing, you tell them how much their feedback feeds your soul. You meet your readers and audience and share your stories about how you became a writer. You teach poetry writing workshops to others and encourage young and old to write, write, write.

What else would you like to share?

I have fears: I’m afraid of drowning. I’m scared of la Llorona and el Cucuy, I’m afraid of the future under a misogynist, xenophobic, racist, President and cabinet. I’m frightened by the racism that exists in our country. And finally, I’m afraid of Climate Change and the future of our Mother Earth. However, I have faith in the young people; I have faith, and like Maya Angelou sings, “And still I rise.”