Rev. of Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands edited by ire’ne lara silva and Dan Vera

The original review by Reyes Ramirez for glass-poetry.com can be found here: http://www.glass-poetry.com/journal/reviews/ramirez-imaniman.html
Review of Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands edited by ire’ne lara silva and Dan Vera

 

Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands Edited by ire’ne lara silva and Dan Vera Aunt Lute Books, 2016 Growing up, I had to read, memorize, and be tested upon the mythology of European/Western civilizations. Even though I received my education in Texas schools (K-12, undergraduate, and graduate), I was never taught indigenous, Mexican, Chicanx, or borderland mythology, writers or theorists. I can’t imagine what sort of writer or thinker I’d be today if I had studied Gloria Anzaldúa’s seminal texts, ruminating, digesting, responding, criticizing, and growing from them. Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands (Aunt Lute Books, 2016, edited by ire’ne lara silva and Dan Vera) houses many writers who have done that work. It’s why I can’t stress how amazing this book is.
Former Poet Laureate of the United States Juan Felipe Herrera sets the tone with a poetically fluid introduction that breaks any sort of formal expectations you would have of an anthology. Again, as much as this collection is an homage Anzaldúa’s writings, it’s about showing the influence she’s had on contemporary writers. One of Anzaldúa’s ideas, out of many, is the ever-shifting nature of identity and thus, how humanity imbues everything with this nature despite, or in spite of, oppression imposed by hetero/patriarchal/capitalist/white supremacist guidelines. Writing is no different. Particularly, Herrera spits out these phrases that can’t be any clearer as they are mind altering, such as, “let us dream-examine.” Herrera doesn’t want to give you answers insomuch as he wants you to think about pressing issues, asking poignant questions such as, “Which feels right? […] Belonging to the same-language group? […] Belonging in the same-color group or belonging in the same marginalized community group? Can you cross over?” Herrera relies on the contributors to provide their own responses.
Which brings me to the plethora of voices in this collection, a testament to silva’s and Vera’s editorial work. It’s clear that the editors wanted to showcase the far-reaching influence Anzaldúa had on different communities across the US and the world. The concept of the borderlands is not a wholly Mexican-American experience, as mainstream conversations would have you believe. There’s representation from Central & South American experiences with pieces from Melanie Márquez Adams (Ecuadoran American), Roy G. Guzmán (Honduran American), Gabriela Ramirez-Chavez (Guatemalan American), and Elsie Rivas Gómez (Salvadoran American), for example. There’s Native American and African American voices from D.M. Chávez and Alexis Pauline Gumbs, respectively (and out of many more). There’s voices from Filipino American, Syrian American, and Indian American writers in Barbara Jane Reyes, Nadine Saliba, and Marie Varghese, respectively. Not to mention the vast display of LGBTQ voices that intersect with these identities, nationalities, and ethnicities. If we’re going to have real discussions of borders and intersectional identities, we need voices from the many peoples who speak to them from real experiences. As Saliba puts it: “…I realized that my story did not begin in 1975 with the Lebanese war … Because we read the Palestinian story within the global narrative of colonial conquest, resistance and the struggle for justice, my story begins in 1492.” Ideally, this is as Anzaldúan as it gets.
In addition, if you want a primer on some of the greatest working writers in the Southwest today, you’ll get that here with Joe Jiménez, Lupe Mendez, Rodney Gomez, Jennine DOC Wright, Veronica Sandoval, and Emmy Pérez. If you want an introduction to incredible Californian writers of color, there’s Olga García Echeverría, Monica Palacios, Daniel E. Solís y Martínez, Minal Hajratwala, among so many others. Quite simply, there’s much to learn and appreciate here and you’d be hard pressed to find a fresh anthology that offers so many voices of different backgrounds in one place. After all, aren’t so many of us still healing from the open wounds of displacement, of suppressed/oppressed identity inflicted by colonialism and heteropatriarchal, white hegemony? I’m also tired of presses and editors saying they can’t publish writers of color because there aren’t that many or of any quality; this anthology is proof, out of many, that that claim has and always will be based on nothing.
However, this isn’t to say that the work presented can only exist in the context of the anthology, as each piece in here is a gem in a treasure trove of great writing. One writer whose work I’ve read and come to love is Cecca Austin Ochoa, whose “dream-examination” in this collection astounded me: “The first time I slept with a girl, we were in the jungle … I fumbled into her orgasm, and she cried, isn’t this a revolutionary thing?” Simply gorgeous. I had several “Holy sh—” moments in what I was forced to realize from the works. Joe Jiménez has this haunting line: “Because fear is not an accident.” jo reyes-boitel blew me away with an opening like: “I never fully invited the ghost / carried from generation to generation …” Same with Inés Hernández-Avila: “I have always moved among worlds, / I have never known otherwise.” And Nia Witherspoon’s first-person poem regarding the fractured nature of freedom on the individual fighting against prescribed identities: “maybe a little broken. / but free.” There’s even some flat-out realizations that come to light, such as in Tara Betts’ essay: “While more people of color are getting graduate degrees, educational systems are eliminating tenure and increasing numbers of overextended adjuncts.” There’s just so much in this collection (and so many awesome voices I didn’t mention.)
Ultimately, this anthology provides an important update to the conversation developed by Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera. If you’ve never read any of Anzaldúa’s work, you’ll get “dream-examinations” of her legacy that demonstrates what contemporary writers took most from her many ideas and contributions to queer/Chicanx/borderlands discourse. If you know and love her, you’ll get new stories, interpretations, and works that she no doubt would be proud to have inspired. Either way, you can’t go wrong. This is the anthology that dares to have Anzaldúan discourse without the limitations of formal, academic language and harmful, institutional guidelines of what constitutes “legitimate” conversations regarding borderlands, intersectionality, and sex. It’s what we need.

CfP: Love and Justice

Have any good poems that you’ve been working on recently? Looking for some extra cash in your pocket? Check out the following call for poems:

We are looking for poems on the theme of love and justice. The selections will appear in a special section, guest edited by Sun contributor Crystal Williams, in an upcoming issue. Williams is a poet and essayist and an advocate for diversity and inclusivity in the arts.

Our aim is to provide a space for writers to address this peculiar historical moment, the human condition, and our capacity to come together. Poems may be personal or political or both. We favor accessible language and thought, but we are open to poems that push boundaries and challenge readers. We especially want to hear from writers of color.

The deadline for submissions is November 1, 2017. We pay $100 for each accepted poem. Please use the link below to send us your work.

Original post here: https://thesunmagazine.org/news/love-and-justice

submit poems here: https://thesunmagazine.submittable.com/submit/93f3c6c6-47bd-49e8-9b32-a12be3d3a47a/love-and-justice-a-call-for-poems

MEET THE PUBLISHER: Jade Publishing Founder Gerald A. Padilla

Original post by Jon Marcantoni can be found here: http://www.lcgeditores.com/blog/2017/8/28/meet-the-publisher-jade-publishing-founder-gerald-a-padilla

1.     Tell us about the mission of your publishing house and why you started it.

Our mission at Jade Publishing is to produce a wide variety of books, highlighting the importance of Spanish, Latin American and Native Cultures of this continent. We seek to create a panoramic view that connects our contemporary collective voices with those of our ancestors. We decided to start Jade Publishing as a platform to reconcile and bring light to our, many times obscured, historical and cultural identity as U.S. Latinos. In this, we decided to take a step forward and begin to share stories that have been long overdue.

2.       What do you offer writers that they cannot find at another press?

I believe the spirit of Jade Publishing is quite different from those of other presses, including other Latino presses. We don’t seek cultural assimilation within our stories but perhaps the exact opposite.  We choose to take full ownership of our roots, languages and struggles, while unapologetically showcasing the regality of our heritage in all its splendor.

3.       Tell us about the books you have released and/or upcoming releases.

 

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One of our most recent publications this year is Aztectopia by Pedro Larez. With currently over 128,000 facebook followers Pedro Larez has rapidly become one of Mexico’s leading comic strip illustrators. Through his wit and humor, he has been able to put Aztec mythology on the spotlight. This book is currently available in both English and Spanish editions as well as ebook format.

Purchase Aztectopia here and here.

 

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Another book that we are very proud of is Animals of My Land authored by my wife Rossy Evelin Lima and myself, translated to Nahuatl by Jesus Castañeda and illustrated by Gaby Rico. It is a trilingual book designed to nourish the importance of language and nature. It is the first children’s book published in Nahuatl in the U.S. and serves as a tribute to our majestic native heritage. It is also available in softcover and ebook.

Purchase Animals of My Land here.

 

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Another great book is 140 Twitter Poems by Christopher Carmona. This book is a collection of 140 poems each over 140 days. Each poem embodies the social and political fervor of the day. Also available in softcover and ebook.

Purchase 140 Twitter Poems here.

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We have also decided to reprint important Spanish classics. For our first classic book we decided to printRomancero Gitano by Federico García Lorca. Originally published in 1928, Romancero Gitano is Lorca’s best known book of poetry. It is composed of 18 romances that reflect the struggle of marginalized people. Available in softcover and ebook.

Purchase Romancero Gitano here.

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An upcoming release for 2018 is Undocumented Dream: A Poetic Memoir by Rossy Evelin Lima. This poetic memoir by Rossy is composed of poems as well as real life anecdotes that span almost two decades of her life as an undocumented immigrant. This book will be available in hardcover and ebook.

 

4.       What do you feel writers need to do to be successful?

A high level of passion, focus and determination is always a good start. This of course should also be accompanied with a variety set of skills that includes but is not limited to literary talent alone. Successful writers also typically develop qualities that involve well established relationships, planning and organization, negotiation and perseverance.

5.       What challenges do you see in the industry that your press addresses?

One of the obvious challenges for most presses is to maintain and increase book sales – the enormous challenge of competing in a world dominated by large presses. For Latino presses it’s that plus gaining a spot within the larger, mainstream American narrative.

6.       What is your attitude toward conferences and how do you gain exposure for authors outside of the usual festival and conference circuit?

Literary conferences are a good way to establish professional relationships for possible future collaboration. They are also a good way to compare works, publishers and promotional material. Nonetheless, conferences should not replace your marketing plan. Let’s be real, other authors will probably not be your number one customers when it comes to purchasing your books. Their goal is exactly the same as yours — to gain exposure and sell their books. Therefore, other methods of publicity are required.

A great place to start expanding your audience is through presentation at your local schools, colleges and libraries. It is important to acknowledge that these institutions are the gatekeepers of your true audience and in many times can become your customers as well.

Another new and popular way to gain exposure is through social media. This is a great way display promotional material and let your current audience know what you’re up to.

7.       What are your five year goals for your company?

Our goal is to connect with the public education system and have our books readily available for children, teens and adults of all ages. We want to make sure our books are accessible for students, educators and the general audience through a well-established marketing system that assertively promotes a rediscovery of our culture.

 

For more on Jade Publishing, visit their website:

www.jadepublishing.org

New Book: Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics by Frederick Luis Aldama

Whether good or evil, beautiful or ugly, smart or downright silly, able-bodied or differently abled, gay or straight, male or female, young or old, Latinx superheroes in mainstream comic book stories are few and far between. It is as if finding the Latinx presence in the DC and Marvel worlds requires activation of superheroic powers.

Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics blasts open barriers with a swift kick. It explores deeply and systematically the storyworld spaces inhabited by brown superheroes in mainstream comic book storyworlds: print comic books, animation, TV, and film. It makes visible and lets loose the otherwise occluded and shackled. Leaving nothing to chance, it sheds light on how creators (authors, artists, animators, and directors) make storyworlds that feature Latinos/as, distinguishing between those that we can and should evaluate as well done and those we can and should evaluate as not well done.

The foremost expert on Latinx comics, Frederick Luis Aldama guides us through the full archive of all the Latinx superheros in comics since the 1940s. Aldama takes us where the superheroes live—the barrios, the hospitals, the school rooms, the farm fields—and he not only shows us a view to the Latinx content, sometimes deeply embedded, but also provokes critical inquiry into the way storytelling formats distill and reconstruct real Latinos/as.

Thoroughly entertaining but seriously undertaken, Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comicsallows us to truly see how superhero comic book storyworlds are willfully created in ways that make new our perception, thoughts, and feelings.

 

http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/Books/bid2730.htm

Newish Book: Latina Lives in Milwaukee (2015)

Any folks from Wisconsin out there? This book might be worth checking out…

Milwaukee’s small but vibrant Mexican and Mexican American community of the 1920s grew over succeeding decades to incorporate Mexican, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American, and Caribbean migration to the city. Drawing on years of interviews and collaboration with interviewees, Theresa Delgadillo offers a set of narratives that explore the fascinating family, community, work, and career experiences of Milwaukee’s Latinas during this time of transformation.

Through the stories of these women, Delgadillo caringly provides access to a wide variety of Latina experiences: early Mexican settlers entering careers as secretaries and entrepreneurs; Salvadoran and Puerto Rican women who sought educational opportunity in the United States, sometimes in flight from political conflicts; Mexican women becoming leather workers and drill press operators; and second-generation Latinas entering the professional classes. These women show how members of diverse generations, ethnicities, and occupations embraced interethnic collaboration and coalition but also negotiated ethnic and racial discrimination, domestic violence, workplace hostilities, and family separations.

A one-of-a-kind collection, Latina Lives in Milwaukee sheds light on the journeys undertaken then and now by Latinas in the region, and lays the foundation for the further study of the Latina experience in the Midwest.

Includes interviews with Ramona Arsiniega, Maria Monreal Cameron, Daisy Cubías, Elvira Sandoval Denk, Rosemary Sandoval Le Moine, Antonia Morales, Carmen Murguia, Gloria Sandoval Rozman, Margarita Sandoval Skare, Olga Valcourt Schwartz, and Olivia Villarreal.

“Not only excellent but timely as well. The book will undoubtedly prove to be a valuable resource guide that will not only introduce the literature but also provide an impressive study for experts in Latina cultural studies.”–Alvina E. Quintana, author of Home Girls: Chicana Literary Voices

“Theresa Delgadillo and her collaborators create a living archive that highlights the rich and varied experiences, histories, and cultures of a Midwestern Latino community. This book provides the personal stories often absent from required course reading lists, while at the same time demonstrating the importance of region in shaping identity and the immigrant experience.”–Natalia Molina, author of How Race Is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts

 

http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/33ydk6gp9780252039829.html

New book: ¡Manteca! An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets

Are you looking for some intersectionality in your reading? Check out the following anthology from Arte Publico Press…

 

“We defy translation,” Sandra María Esteves writes. “Nameless/we are a whole culture/once removed.” She is half Dominican, half Puerto Rican, with indigenous and African blood, born in the Bronx. Like so many of the contributors, she is a blend of cultures, histories and languages.

Containing the work of more than 40 poets—equally divided between men and women—who self-identify as Afro-Latino, ¡Manteca! is the first  poetry anthology to highlight writings by Latinos of African descent. The themes covered are as diverse as the authors themselves. Many pieces rail against a system that institutionalizes poverty and racism. Others remember parents and grandparents who immigrated to the United States in search of a better life, only to learn that the American Dream is a nightmare for someone with dark skin and nappy hair. But in spite of the darkness, faith remains. Anthony Morales’ grandmother, like so many others, was “hardwired to hold on to hope.” There are love poems to family and lovers. And music—salsa, merengue, jazz—permeates this collection.

Editor and scholar Melissa Castillo-Garsow writes in her introduction that “the experiences and poetic expression of Afro-Latinidad were so diverse” that she could not begin to categorize it. Some write in English, others in Spanish. They are Puerto Rican, Dominican and almost every combination conceivable, including Afro-Mexican. Containing the work of well-known writers such as Pedro Pietri, Miguel Piñero and E. Ethelbert Miller, less well-known ones are ready to be discovered in these pages.

 

About the editor: MELISSA CASTILLO-GARSOW, a Mexican-American writer, journalist and scholar, is the author of a novel, Pure Bronx (Augustus Publishing, 2013), a poetry collection, Coatlicue Eats the Apple (VerseSeven, 2016), and the co-editor of La Verdad: An International Dialogue on Hip Hop Latinidades (Ohio State University Press, 2016). Her short stories, poetry and articles have appeared in numerous journals, including The Acentos ReviewHispanic Culture Review and El Diario/La Prensa. In addition to serving as managing editor of Words Beats and Life: A Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture, Castillo-Garsow is completing her Ph.D. in American Studies and African American Studies at Yale University.

 

https://artepublicopress.com/product/manteca-an-anthology-of-afro-latin-poets/

New Book: The Lynching of Mexicans in Texas Borderlands

The Lynching of Mexicans in Texas Borderlands (2017) is a new book by Nicholas Villanueva Jr. and put forth by UNM press.

More than just a civil war, the Mexican Revolution in 1910 triggered hostilities along the border between Mexico and the United States. In particular, the decade following the revolution saw a dramatic rise in the lynching of ethnic Mexicans in Texas. This book argues that ethnic and racial tension brought on by the fighting in the borderland made Anglo-Texans feel justified in their violent actions against Mexicans. They were able to use the legal system to their advantage, and their actions often went unpunished. Villanueva’s work further differentiates the borderland lynching of ethnic Mexicans from the Southern lynching of African Americans by asserting that the former was about citizenship and sovereignty, as many victims’ families had resources to investigate the crimes and thereby place the incidents on an international stage.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Nicholas Villanueva Jr. teaches in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado.

ACCLAIM

“This deeply researched history of anti-Mexican prejudice and violence in the Texas borderlands in the era of the Mexican Revolution and World War I offers valuable insight into anti-Mexican lynching and the responses of persons of Mexican descent in the United States.”

–Michael J. Pfeifer, author of The Roots of Rough Justice: Origins of American Lynching

 

“Offers fresh insight into how populist US Americans justified both the exclusion and lynching of ethnic Mexicans in South Texas during the decade of the Mexican Revolution. Uncovers personal narratives and newspaper accounts of unjustified racial violence against Mexicans and Tejanos on the Texas-Mexico border, leading readers to reevaluate dominant versions of Texas history and to understand the importance of what it means to be ‘Mexican’ in the United States.”

–John E. Dean, author of How Myth Became History: Texas Exceptionalism in the Borderlands

 

http://unmpress.com/books.php?ID=20000000008079&Page=book

 

Stephanie Rodriguez Takes on Slut Shaming, Anxiety & Heartbreak in Her Super Relatable Comics

Original post by Yara Simón with photos by Itzel Alejandra Martinez can be found here: http://remezcla.com/features/culture/stephanie-rodriguez-comics/

 

Between an image of a woman making it rain money on payday or a step-by-step breakdown of how to mend a broken heart (get your nails done, reverse the sadness through a high-intensity workout, and block and unfriend your ex on social media), 28-year-old Stephanie Rodríguez could be peeking into your world and illustrating the highs and lows of your everyday life. In reality, the Bronx-born comic bases her art off of her own life, illustrating incredibly relatable details.

“My comics come from my life experiences,” she tells Remezcla. “The topics can span from dealing with breakups to growing up Latina in NYC. I want the reader to say, ‘Oh yeah, I totally went through the same thing.’ It’s very important for me to make that connection with the reader.”

It sounds like such a simple concept: Draw about topics that are part of everyday life and home in on those universal feelings. But it took Rodríguez years, and plenty of trial and error, to find her voice.

The Bronx native knew she wanted to become an artist as early as kindergarten. In those years, she doodled her favorite Nickelodeon cartoons. Eventually, she graduated to writing and creating her own stories. By middle school, she had conceptualized a series called Friends Forever, which followed how four BFFs dealt with all the drama that comes with being a teenager.

And even though Stephanie began gravitating to creating stories about day-to-day occurrences in her early teen years, when she began the School of Visual Arts, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. “I kinda went in there like, ‘Oh, children’s books are cute. Maybe I could do that,’” she remembers. “So I went into the illustration major thinking that I was gonna do children’s books illustrations, which I was doing for the first couple of years of college. Then, because of the major, they were pushing us to do illustrations for editorial, which is very competitive, and I just didn’t feel comfortable with it. It just didn’t seem like the right thing.”

Between her sophomore and junior year of college, she began hanging out at the library, checking out graphic novel after graphic novel. She found Gilbert Hernández’s Luba – which “had drama, romance, and complex family dynamics” that reminded her of the novelas she grew up watching – and she became hooked. She did her junior thesis in the form of a comic and thought that it was the right path for her art.

But she still stumbled. Right before she graduated, the head of the illustration department told her she should focus on more Latino-centric art. “He said, ‘I think it would be great if you were doing illustrations [just focusing] on Latino culture, maybe you should do illustration portraits of Rosie Pérez.’ I think it’s one of the reasons why I got stuck for a couple of years after graduation, because I was forcing myself to make work like that, and it just wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she says.

After graduating, she struggled to find a job she loved. As she saw some of her classmates get work with publications like The New York Times, she felt that her art style didn’t really fit anywhere. She bounced around working retail at different shops and taking low-paying graphic design jobs, and she didn’t feel happy. It affected her art. “I started lots of illustrations, and never finished them due to frustration,” she adds.

Once she got a full-time job that offered her benefits, she felt financially stable. That’s when her art started flourishing. “I was able to create art without the pressure of it being my main source of income,” she says. With a full-time career, she learned how to do self-publish her comics and sell them at festivals.

After being laid off earlier this year, she began taking other projects, including working with middle school students as part of an initiative with the City of New York. That ended up taking so much of her time that she began creating daily comics and posting them onto her Instagram account. Pretty soon after, BuzzFeed hit her up.

“[With BuzzFeed,] I’m able to basically do the exact same thing, but on a bigger platform with a bigger audience than I could ever imagine,” she says. “I don’t think I would have been able to reach that many people if it weren’t for BuzzFeed. It’s very exciting. They give me so much leeway. It’s basically, they really love things that are relatable. I usually give them multiple ideas and some of them are very specific to me, and some aren’t. It’s still being true to myself. I’m not changing my work because it’s on BuzzFeed, and that’s very important.”

For many Latinos, her No te hagas la pendeja comic – where she tells the story of growing up with a strict mother – will resonate. The comic, which takes place in 1999, follows her having to suddenly go to a classmate’s house to finish a project. Despite knowing that it’s not something her mother would approve of, she goes, only to get an earful from her mother later. And though so many Latino kids grew up knowing that their parents didn’t want them en casa ajena, her comics are about more than her Latinidad.

Recently, she illustrated a piece for Comics for Choice, an anthology of comics about abortion. Paired up with a Venezuelan woman named Daniela, Stephanie told the story of how she, who works in the women’s reproductive health world, decided to have an abortion. With the articles Daniela had written on the topic and through a series of conversations with her, Stephanie’s piece ended up reflecting very specific details, like the fact that Daniela spent $60 on pregnancy tests and papaya, the food she was craving.

Then, there’s Lil’ Shorties – a three-part comic that looks at anxiety, slut shaming, and The Bachelor. All of the vignettes are taken from her life, because autobiographical comics have helped her through rough moments.”The motivation to share stories about anxiety comes from reading comics that struck me emotionally when I needed it the most,” she says. “To read an autobiographical comic and relate to what the artist is writing about made me feel at ease about whatever I was going through. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I want my readers to have the same feeling.”

In her Sunset Park work-space studio, Stephanie is working on her next artistic transformation. As she learns to become a freelance illustrator full time, she’s also beginning to test the waters with animation. And even though she’s expanding her art into different mediums, her genuine storytelling will remain a constant.

 

Elizabeth Acevedo’s Upcoming YA Book Is For Afro-Latina Teens Who Never Feel Seen

Original post by Raquel Reichard found here: http://remezcla.com/features/culture/elizabeth-acevedo-the-poet-x/

 

The power of literature is so immense that it can change our worldview. Through books, we can see and connect with our cultures and understand who we are. But the dearth of novels by, for, and about women of color has made this impossible for generations of young Latinas. As we continue to cry out for literary heroes we can call our own, we are seeing the tide change a bit. In recent years, books with strong, well-developed Latinx characters have addressed this void. In 2016, Gabby Rivera’s debut novel Juliet Takes a Breath introduced readers to a Bronx-born Puerto Rican teen navigating her identities as a lesbian, woman, Latina, and daughter. That same year, Zoraida Cordova’s Labyrinth Lost gave us a bruja heroine, who finds self-acceptance while on a magical journey to save her family. And Celia C. Pérez’s The First Rule of Punkwhich hits bookstores today, follows a Mexican-American punk rocker ‘tween who makes zines and forms a band.

These multifaceted and relatable characters are a breath of fresh air, especially considering that the media still overwhelming depicts our community through tired stereotypes. However, as we see some progress, we’re still missing complex portrayals of Afro-Latinas. That’s where slam poet-author Elizabeth Acevedo comes in. Her debut novel, The Poet X, tells the story of 15-year-old Xiomara Batista, an Afro-Dominican teen growing up in Harlem in a strict, religious household.

Xiomara’s supposed to be preparing for her Catholic confirmation; instead, she’s sneaking around with boys, listening to hip-hop in the park, and going to slams – activities that make her question her faith and cause discord with her mother. To cope, Xiomara turns to writing. Through slam poetry, she tries to find her voice and become the kind of woman she wants to be.

Xiomara’s story is reminiscent of Elizabeth’s. Acevedo is a famed Black Dominican poet from Harlem, who used to rap in her youth. Like her character, she too tackles themes of spirituality, decolonization, and gender norms in her poetry. But the novel isn’t autobiographical.

“Similar to Xiomara, I felt disempowered coming from the neighborhood I came from, and when I started performing poetry, I felt like I was taking some power back. I could push against factors like gentrification or sexism that made me feel so small at home,” Acevedo tells Remezcla. “Xiomara also realizes her power in a very public way, but she’s a bit stronger than I am in how she rebels and stands up for herself. It took me a long time to learn that I could speak up and demand to be treated how I deserved.”

The Poet X – out in early 2018 – is the first of a two-book deal with HarperCollins Publishers. Currently, Acevedo, who’s excited to enter the world of fiction, is working on her second novel.

At a time when political attacks of Latinx immigrants and violence against African American bodies fill the news cycle, coming-of-age stories that help readers make sense of their identities and place in this country are crucial. Of course, The Poet X isn’t the only novel with Afro-Latina lead characters (here’s an entire list of them), but it’s a necessary addition to the collection of Latinx literature.

Acevedo spoke with Remezcla about why she wanted to write this story, the difference between writing slam poetry and novels, and the need for people of color to write their own narratives.

We have edited and condensed this interview for clarity.


Why did you want to write this novel?

I was thinking about how girls are silenced or told, “Tú eres la niña de la casa. You have to cook and clean and be good and get good grades.” But what if you don’t fit that mold, if that doesn’t make sense to you? It’s hard to be the girl you want to be in a culture that raised you to be strong but also quiet. Growing up, I remember my brothers never had to clean, mop, or had a curfew.

“Because of my gender, I was put in this box.”

Because of my gender, I was put in this box. And that was the story of a lot of the folks I grew up with, too. We had such strict ideas of gender roles and what it meant to be a good girl. I wanted this character to challenge that, to complicate and question who she’s told she has to be. At first, you learn the character has been used to using her fists and mollywhopping people in order to get her point across. But I was curious to create a character who learned to use the weapons of her words.

Elizabeth Acevedo, the poet, often tackles issues of colonialism, anti-blackness, feminism and spirituality in her work. What sort of themes come up in this book?

A lot comes up in regards to faith. She doesn’t necessarily subscribe to faith in the way her hardcore Catholic mom does. She questions religion and colonialism. Through that, she’s thinking of what it means to be Latina and comparing what her family and culture allow her to do versus what others are allowed to do. Gender and rape culture are big themes, too, particularly the ways we perpetuate how men and women interact. Friendship and feeling heard or seen in hip-hop are ideas that come up repeatedly in the story. The book is looking at what it means to be young and having teachers and school and television and your homies all telling you who you should be but having to figure that out only on your own terms.

So it’s some of the same issues you take on in your poetry. What are some of the benefits or setbacks to hitting on these themes through prose?

It’s funny because the novel is actually in verse, so it’s still being told through poetry but following one character for 368 pages. One of the benefits is that it’s not me. It doesn’t feel like I’m the speaker, so I don’t have that feeling that I’m trying to impress people like I do when it’s my poem. Or like I’m revealing too much of myself.

“I wish 15 years ago that I had a book where I could fully see and say, ‘that’s me,’ a book that could have helped me answer questions of race and identity sooner.”

This is a different kind of vulnerability. With this, there’s a character, a narrative and the poetry — and all have to balance at all times. You see the development of a person on a page, and there’s action and conflict that have to happen. In my poetry, everything is self-contained. In the poetry I perform and publish, those pieces are self contained. Someone can get the gist of what I’m saying in three minutes or one page. But here, through this project, I need to pace it out over time and engage the reader in an entirely new way. It was an exciting challenge to tackle.

There aren’t a whole lot of YA books centering Latinx characters and even less with Afro-Latinx characters. Why do you think a book like The Poet X is essential, especially in this moment in time?

I think we are starting to see a wave of new Latinx writers creating stories and writing specifically for young people, and we all stand on the shoulders of those authors who told our story before us. But every generation has to own the story of their times, and sometimes publishing is so slow at making sure authentic voices are being uplifted in books and being put into the hands of children.

For me, we are in a powerful moment where a lot of people are interrogating their ethnic and racial histories and complicating the umbrella term of “Latinx.” My character is one of those girls. She’s a self-described morenita who is completely unapologetic when it comes to her hair, and skin, and complicated notions of Black/Latinx womanhood. We are living in a moment where we are talking about Black Lives Matter, thinking about what it means to be Afro-Latina, what it means to be Black and Latina.

For me, this book is saying, “I see you, girl who is called negra at home or at school, who has always had to choose different sides of herself. I see you, and I hope this novel allows you to see yourself.” I wish 15 years ago that I had a book where I could fully see and say, “that’s me,” a book that could have helped me answer questions of race and identity sooner.

What do you hope readers get from this book?

I guess I just really hope readers realize that your story, whatever it is, is necessary and should be told, even if you’re just telling it to yourself. I think when you come from a certain cultural background, or a particular gender, or are gender-nonconforming, or grew up in certain neighborhoods, you’re told you’re an ant in a long line of ants, and none of y’all matter. You’re all the same. You can all be stomped on and no one would mourn not having heard what you had to say. And I just want folks to know that whenever they’ve been told they aren’t good enough, or their individual story doesn’t matter, that’s a false narrative. We all deserve to be written about.

I hope this will be an important story to chronicle this generation. It’s a story about pop culture, dysfunctional families, poetry, bachata, the streets and those first teenage butterflies of crushing on someone. It’s a story that I hope gets the people and place I come from accurately and authentically. I love the quote, “Literature should be both a mirror and a window.”

And so I hope readers will be willing to peek in or peek out with me.

On my nightstand: Crossing the Border by Daniel A. Olivas

 

I recently had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Crossing the Border: Collected Poems (2017) by Daniel A. Olivas. Pact Press schedules the book to be released in November of this year, and if you’re a fan of Chicano poetry, it will be well worth your investment.

Olivas, who is an accomplished prose writer, confirms his place in verse with this publication. The poems touch on historical moments, such as “St. Francis Dam, March 12, 1928” which details the dam bursting, spilling 12 million gallons of gushing water into the adjacent region, killing up to 600 people. The writer’s haunting tribute to the lost lives in this tragedy, many of whom were migrant farmers, is done from the perspective of two Mexican American men: “We learned later that the water washed / away whole towns: Castaic and Piru, / anything near the river” (16). The poem serves to memorialize the deaths of those people on a personal level, all the more significant given that no physical memorial exists to this day.

While Olivas describes himself as a Xicano, and to that end, the poem “Xicano!” tackles the history of the term, it would be reductive to say that he follows in the footsteps of his Chicano predecessors. Olivas is unique with his verses. One such example is “Tezcatlipoca’s Glory.” This poem hearkens back to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. While this is common among Chicanx writers, Olivas puts an interesting spin on it, using the legend of Tezcatlipoca to subvert the reverence often afforded to Quetzalcoatl in Mexican American literature: “I made a fool out of you / Back in the bright days / Of the Aztecs and Toltecs. / I made a fool out of you, / And it was easy” (22). In “Blood, Frogs,” Olivas continues to explore identity and make unique connections. Herein that connection is between indigeneity and Judaism.

Crossing the Border is an ambitious first collection of poetry from Olivas and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It transitions seamlessly between personal contemplation and larger socio-political commentary.  If you’d like to learn more about him, check out his bio at Pact Press’s website: http://pactpress.com/daniel-a-olivas/