New Book: Cabañuelas by Norma Elia Cantú

Nena leaves Laredo, Texas, and moves to Madrid, Spain, to research the historical roots of traditional fiestas in Laredo. Immersing herself in post-Franco Spain and its rich history, its food, music, and fiestas, Nena finds herself falling for Paco, a Spaniard who works in publishing. Nena’s research and experiences teach her about who she is, where she comes from, and what is important to her, but as her work comes to a close, Nena must decide where she can best be true to her entire self: in Spain with Paco or in Laredo, her home, where her job and family await her return.Norma Elia Cantú is the Norine R. and T. Frank Murchison Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Trinity University. Her recent works include Transcendental Train Yard: A Collaborative Suite of SerigraphsCanícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera, Updated Edition (UNM Press), and the coedited anthology Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art.

 

 

Advertisements

New Book: Ballad of a Slopsucker by Juan Alvarado Valdivia

Check out this new book from UNM press!

A young widower visits Chichén Itzá to honor his wife; family dynamics unravel at a child’s birthday party; the lead singer of a high school metal band faces his dreaded tenth reunion; a serial killer believes he’s been blessed by God to murder bicycle thieves—Alvarado Valdivia’s debut collection of short stories ranges from dark to light and is written with a storyteller’s skill and compassion. Based in Northern California and examining a variety of themes, including love, family, and masculinity, these stories offer an important new perspective on the experiences of Latinos and Latinas in the United States and complicate ideas of nationhood, identity, and the definition of home.

 

Juan Alvarado Valdivia was born to Peruvian parents and raised in Fremont, California. He is the author of ¡Cancerlandia!: A Memoir (UNM Press).

Latinx: The Future is Now series…

This looks awesome. Can’t wait to see some of the publications that come out of this!

https://utpressnews.blogspot.com/2019/04/announcing-new-serieslatinx-future-is.html?fbclid=IwAR3d5gKu0TnZfPRLceJmwefRryKka5adSvYNoCV5UGEjyWIxft7_qGQqvek

Announcing a New Series—Latinx: The Future is Now

Latinx: The Future Is Now is a new interdisciplinary series devoted to the evolving field of Latina/o/x studies, including Central American, Afro-Latinx, and Asian-Latinx studies. Situated at the nexus of cultural, performance, historical, food, environmental, and textual studies, the series will focus on ways in which the racial, cultural, and social formations of historical Latinx communities can engage and enhance scholarship across geographies and nationalities. The series editors invite projects that consider the multiple queer and gender-fluid possibilities that are embodied in the “x”; projects that have a feminist critique of patriarchy at the center of their intellectual work; projects that deploy a relational approach to ethnic and national groups; and projects that address the overlapping dynamics of gender, race, sexual, and national identities.

Submissions or queries may be directed to the series editors, Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez, ngh24@austin.utexas.edu and Lorgia Garcia-Peña, garciapena@fas.harvard.edu in addition to Senior Acquisitions Editor, Kerry Webb, kwebb@utpress.utexas.edu.

Forthcoming books in the series will be listed here as they are published: https://utpress.utexas.edu/books/series/latinx-future-now.

# # #

Dr. Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández is Associate Professor of American Studies and Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. She is an expert in Borderlands History after 1846, Transnational Feminist Methodologies, Latinx Studies, and Popular Culture and Immigration. As a public intellectual, Dr. Guidotti-Hernández has written numerous articles for the feminist magazine Ms. and the feminist blog The Feminist Wire, covering such topics as immigration, reproductive rights, and the Dream act. She also sits on the national advisory council for the Ms. and is currently on the national advisory council for Freedom University in Athens, Georgia.

Dr. Lorgia Garcia-Peña is the Roy G. Clouse Associate Professor of Latinx Studies at Harvard University. She is the author of  award-winning book The Borders of Dominicanidad and the co-founder of Freedom University Georgia, a modern-day freedom school created to support undocumented students.

An Interview with Jasminne Mendez

An oldie but a goodie. Check out this interview between Daniel Peña and Jasminne Mendez: http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/inking-well-an-interview-with-jasminne-mendez/ 

 

If you’re at all alive in the Houston arts scene, chances are you’ve crossed paths with Jasminne Mendez in one of her capacities: as a poet, as an actor, as an educator, as a podcast host, or as a community organizer and programmer (sometimes all of these things in a single day). She’s one-half of the dynamo behind Tintero Projects, a community-based workshop and reading series focused on Latinx writers in the Houston Area, as well as one-half of Inprint’s Inkwell Podcast; she manages both projects alongside her husband, the poet Lupe Mendez. So much of her current work stems from her roots as a performance poet and you can hear it in the lyricism in her prose and poetry, but also see it in the way that work thematically reflects her activist bent within Houston literary circles as an advocate on behalf of Afro-Latinx Writers and Poets.

Her first book, Island of Dreams (Floricanto Press, 2014) was awarded Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book by the International Latino Book Awards in 2015. Her memoir, Night-Blooming Jasmin(n)e: Personal Essays and Poetry (Arte Publico Press) will be published on April 30. I spoke with her here about chronic illness, the writer’s life, and unexpected influences on her work.

Daniel Peña: Chronic illness is such an integral part of Night Blooming. You write about staring at EKG results and not wanting to understand them. There’s a kind of indignity to the battery ram of tests that chronic illness brings to your life. Could you talk a little about chronic illness and your experiences with the medical establishment and how this has inflected your writing?

Jasminne Mendez: Well I can tell you for one that even just looking at that question you wrote “inflected” and my brain literally read it as “infected.” Medical jargon is everywhere for me now! How I use language, and think about the body has completely changed because of my chronic illness experiences. For me, chronic illness and the medical world has become part of my identity. Not only do I identify as Afro-Latina, American, [and] Female, but I also identify as chronically and invisibly ill and partially disabled. The body and what ails it has become such an integral part of the themes in my writing and my writing process that even when I’m not specifically writing about illness, the body always finds a way to make it into the poem or essay. Living with chronic illness and being subjected to endless poking and prodding and examining by complete strangers over the years has also taught me how to disassociate myself from the experience and then come back to it on the page. I am able to use my imagination during invasive procedures or exams to go somewhere else in my mind. I make metaphors for what’s happening, or I study the size and shape of the people and objects in the room, I think about the smells and the textures of the rubber gloves or how bright and white the fluorescent bulbs are. Then, when I come to the page, I explore all those sensations and the emotions tied to those sensations and I use [them].

Being sick and dealing with medical professionals and, most of all, medical terminology has opened up a whole new world for me language- and writing- wise. I’m fluent in Spanish, English and “Medicine.” It makes me laugh to think about it, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked by doctors, nurses, and pharmacists if I’m “in the medical profession.” I use the words like they’re my own, because they are now. They are a part of me and I know what they mean. Learning this new vocabulary allows me to effortlessly incorporate it into my poetry and prose and it keeps my writing interesting, I think. If I talk about the “bone” or the “flesh” of something, I’m not just using it as a metaphor or because I think it’s a striking image. I use it because I now know what this stuff is made of, how it functions in the body and how it can break, or rot, or heal and scar, and I know physically what each of these sensations feels like in the body so I can describe it in ways that perhaps others hadn’t thought of or aren’t familiar with.

I will say that it has really opened my eyes to how women and especially women of color are treated by medical professionals, and it’s made me want to raise awareness about it. When we’re not being perceived as drug seekers, everyone assumes we’re exaggerating our pain or that it’s “all in our heads.” I think that’s why I’ve made myself become well-versed in medical jargon, because I know the power of words and language; if I can use their language to explain what I think is going on, then I’m more likely to be believed when I come into the ER or clinic complaining of chest pain.

DP: What is the most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?

JM: Terrifying to write it? Or terrifying to put it out there for others to read? I think I’ll go with the former and say that the most terrifying thing I ever wrote was the essay “One in Four” (which is in the book!) about my miscarriage. That essay took me about four years to write. I would write one paragraph, cry, edit it, cry some more, and then put it away. I’d come back to it, read what I’d written, sob for an hour, and give up. I’d write another paragraph, cry, and delete what I’d just written. That piece took on so many different forms before it became the final essay that made it into the book. And even now, there [are] probably things I’d want to change because I just don’t think I “got it right.” But really, how can you even articulate and put into words an experience like that? The essay as it’s in the book now also revolves around language because what I wanted to say about the experience and how the medical world described it were two very completely different things. I was shocked when I looked at my medical file and it listed my miscarriage as a “spontaneous abortion.” To me, as a writer, those were two very harsh and strong words that had NOTHING to do with what I had experienced. So, I think in part, I used the essay to try and grapple with that discord.

I think what was so terrifying about writing it was knowing that one day I would have to finish it. And once I finished it, did that mean that I had accepted what had happened and moved on? For those four years that I struggled with this essay, I wasn’t ready to move on, I didn’t want it to mean that my baby was really gone, so in a way I guess I was subconsciously refusing to finish it.

DP: You’re very open about your writing processes and your personal life in your work, but also on social media, which I think is refreshing. You’re radically honest about your writer life. What’s your relationship with social media?

JM: It’s a love/hate relationship! I love being able to tune into what’s going on in the world and in my friends’ lives and find out what books are coming out and what events are happening around town. But it sucks up my writing and reading time if I’m not careful, and it also can drain my positive energy. Too much negativity in my news feed makes me sad and anxious. I have to curb my time on Facebook and Twitter especially (even if it seems like I’m on 24/7) because if I don’t, it can take me to some dark places pretty quickly.

I do love it though, because back when I was seriously ill and bedridden most of the time, I was still able to connect with people, meet other chronic illness sufferers (Spoonies, as we like to call ourselves) and it made me feel less alone. It was my lifeline when I struggled with insomnia and chronic pain. Scrolling through my newsfeed numbed the pain at times and allowed me moments of distraction and reprieve I couldn’t get by just lying in bed staring at a wall. I was also able to raise awareness about my diseases through social media and my blog and I’ve actually made some great virtual friendships because of it. I find that people open up to me about their struggles because I’ve been so open about my own and that makes me feel good, that my social media presence has made someone feel less alone, less afraid.

I’m very open about my writing life on social media because I want to demystify it. It’s not all sunshine and cupcakes but it’s also not all drunkenness and misery. It’s work. Plain and simple. And sometimes the work is easy and sometimes it’s hard. But you can only succeed if you work at it. Writing is a practice and I try to practice often. (Not everyday, ’cause I think that’s BS, too.) But I practice often and I tell the world about the practicing, the publishing, the failures and the successes, because that’s what’s real. It’s not just big book deals and fancy readings and sitting at a desk in a cottage in the woods. It’s living your life day by day and working at this thing you love, not [knowing] if or when the payoff will ever come.

 DP: What are some literary influences that might surprise your readers? Especially influences that may have had an impact on your memoir. 

JM: I will start by saying that any book project I start is started because, as Toni Morrison said, “It’s a book I want to read, that hasn’t been written.” So sometimes, it’s because I’m NOT finding inspiration or stories that I relate to, that push me to write my own.

But to actually answer your question, sort of, I think what’s maybe more interesting is whose work HASN’T influenced this memoir. And what I mean is that 100 percent of the time when I do a public reading or performance, and folks learn that I’m Dominican, someone from the audience will ALWAYS ask me if I’ve read Junot Diaz or Julia Alvarez, the only two Dominican authors most people know or are familiar with. And while I do admire and respect their work, it’s truly NOT where I find inspiration. Their voice and narrative style and even experiences are actually very dissimilar to my own, and while I find some kinship in reading their stories, poems, and about the lives of their characters, their work isn’t where I go when I need to be “fed” as a writer.

For this memoir in particular, I really loved the work of Eula Biss, author of On Immunity and Notes From No Man’s Land, as well as the essays in Belle Boggs’ book The Art of Waiting. These three books deal with the health care industry, illness, and infertility and race in ways that were new to me and that I enjoyed learning from. Both of these essayists are also masters of the braided essay, interweaving personal narrative and memory with research and reflection, something I experimented with in this forthcoming collection.

I also really drew inspiration from Toi Derricote’s The Black Notebooks, Natasha Tretheway’s Beyond Katrina (and pretty much everything she’s written), and Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World, all African-American women who see themselves as poets first, but who also write memoir and essay, which is how I see myself as well. All three of those books experiment with multi-genre elements, flash creative nonfiction, and poetry to tell the story. They all really helped give me permission to write a hybrid-style book and they taught me that I didn’t have to give up being a poet to write a memoir, [and] that I could use what I know about crafting a poem, (such as repetition, imagery, precision with language, and extended metaphor), to craft a lyrical and moving essay as well.

DP: What are you reading right now?

JM: I have to read a variety of things for the literary podcast I co-host with my husband, Lupe, and I am currently in grad school, so there’s always reading I have to catch up on for that! Currently for the podcast I’m reading What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth by Rigoberto Gonzalez. For grad school, I’m only focusing on poetry this year and this morning I just finished Tarfia Faizullah’s Seam and am about three poems into Mai Der Vang’s Afterland. My current book project involves a lot of research and docupoetics, so I’m trying to read as many books that incorporate that as I can. For fun, I’ve just started Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and I’ve read Junot Diaz’s picture book Islandborn like twelve times because I can’t wait to share it with my baby girl when she makes her big arrival into the world.

Cómix Latinx: Hector Rodriguez on EL PESO HERO: BORDERLAND

Great writing by Chris Hernandez for Comicosity: http://www.comicosity.com/comix-latinx-interview-hector-rodriguez-el-peso-hero-borderland/?fbclid=IwAR1hr5Ung-FTzaGkkFF1NFqiS6LQuv8KNj73bga4S-k0EPpqlGR2bqBtkck

A few years ago, we couldn’t have imagined a world where a reality TV show actor could be elected President of the United States. Then we couldn’t imagine our children being taken from their parents and being held in cages where some die.

These realities make belief in a super hero that come and save us from these waking nightmares not only plausible but necessary. We don’t need god-like heroes from far off planets or other dimensions, we need real people that stand up to hatred. For the past eight years comic book creator Hector Rodriguez has been writing stories about very relatable, down to earth hero: El Peso Hero. This week Rodriguez, along with artist Chema, launches his ninth book, El Peso Hero: Borderland.

El Peso Hero is the story of a modern Mexican super hero that uses his strength to protect the people along both sides of the U.S./Mexican border from those that abuse their power. In El Peso Hero: Borderland, “El Peso Hero joins a group of refugees as they go through the registration process at a detention facility.” I had the opportunity to sit down with Rodriguez to discuss El Peso Hero, some of the issues that he confronts in his new book, and the books affect on local students.

Chris C. Hernandez: What is the symbolism behind the cover art for Borderland?

Hector Rodriguez: Barriers don’t make good neighbors. Especially in the southwest where there is a lot of shared history between the U.S. and Mexico with its cross-pollination of people. By putting a barrier in between it’s breaking history, breaking families, break language and culture. The symbolism of that barrier is very threatening to everybody that lives there. El Peso Hero, being a border hero, having him breaking through the wall is something that is very natural. I’ve gotten comments like “Why is he not holding the American flag?” or “Why is he invading?” “Is Mexico invading?” It can be threatening having a super hero with those abilities seemingly invading your country. The U.S. almost feels like they own the idea of a super-hero.

CH: What kind of super-hero would you consider El Peso Hero to be?

HR: I get asked if he is a vigilante, but I wouldn’t call him that. He is a super-humanitarian. In the story he is given the abilities and power to do good and he feels that it is his responsibility to do the best he can. He feels compelled to follow that.

CH: What compelled you to create El Peso Hero?

HR: So, I actually wrote borderlands in 2015 before Trump. I had launched him in Summer 2011 as a webcomic because there was always a need for immigration reform and always people living in the shadows as second-class citizens in our community.  It’s a bridge between cultures and issues having a super-hero dealing with all those things and really it has never been done. El Peso Hero is definitely not the first, but we haven’t seen a Latino super hero dealing with contemporary issues in a long while. In Marvel and DC comics there have been a lot of b-listers and stereotypes because a lack of Latino creatives behind those characters There’s not a representation of Latino creators. I’m lucky to be in a position to get a pulse of the community as an educator being in an urban city dealing with the community and listening to families.

 

CH: What can you tell us about Borderland and some of the ideas behind the stories in it?

HR: I wanted to put El Peso Hero in a position where in order to get inside he had to embed himself. He discovers the children; that’s something we had to go back and add in. It got darker. We couldn’t even imagine that ourselves. We had readers asking what the world was like outside the border in response to El Peso Hero. So, we explore how would the US government react to a Mexican super hero; going in and out of the country without impunity. We also discover the origin of his name in this book. Everyone along the border had a nickname. I had a nickname.  Belittling him. The people though take that and as a sense of empowerment take that nickname for him as their own.

You take away all the layers, him being male, Mexican, Latino, Spanish-speaking, Norteño…take those away and deep down inside it’s a very human story. It’s a very impossible situation that he’s facing. The story progresses through struggle. And sometimes its more about the characters around him and how they respond to this unwavering character with a strong moral compass. It’s compelling.

CH: You also touch on the theme of Coyotes in Borderlands?    

HR: Some of them feel a duty as guides or compasses for the people crossing or else the people may die. They know the terrain. It’s a double-sided aspect because even though they are doing good they also get paid to do that.  So, from this particular Coyote we get to see where El Peso Hero gets a lot of his moral compass from. These two stories add to the overall story-arc and at the same time are reflections of what has been going on regardless of what year it’s happening.

CH: You are a teacher, but you also do presentation at other schools and school districts about El Peso Hero. How do the students react?

HR: They get excited seeing all these things. They feel like they own El Peso Hero themselves. It’s a sense of ownership that’s unique to them because he may look like their Tío dressed in blue jeans and boots. He’s very accessible to him. Characters like Blue Beetle, who is supposed to be this Chicano from El Paso, isn’t really reflective of the kids. He doesn’t have anything to do with the community. He’s always in the watch tower or out in space on otherworldly missions. It’s not really something rooted in out culture. It’s almost feels like a handout. Or America Chavez who sees herself as Latina, but is an alien? It’s like they can’t give us anything. Latinos have their own stories and are very organic and grassroots.

 

I have a student who is writing a Corrido of El Peso Hero. It’s exciting to see them excited about him. Sixty-five percent of the student body are Latinos in Texas. Doing these presentations about El Peso Hero is very empowering for the students because they see someone that has a last name like theirs making comic books with a super hero that speaks Spanish. They have a lot of questions about the hero and especially about the process because they want to make their own comic books.

CH: What’s next for El Peso Hero?

HR: I’m already writing the next story which will bring the overall narrative to a conclusion of this journey that he has been on since the beginning. Sometimes the headlines catch up to me. Somethings that I wrote about years ago is unfortunately coming true now. It’s hard to pinpoint issues because Latinos are such a diverse group. For example, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez is creating La Borinqueña and that deals with the issues of PR. El Peso Hero deals with aspects of the Southwest and immigration.

Look for more information and the new El Peso Hero: Borderland graphic novel here!

Acts of Listening: An Interview with Analicia Sotelo

Another interview for Daniel Peña, this time with Analicia Sotelo…http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/acts-of-listening-an-interview-with-analicia-sotelo/

 

Headshot of Analicia Sotelo

The most exciting collection of poetry I read in 2018, perhaps even in recent years, was Analicia Sotelo’s Virgin(Milkweed Editions). These poems pull together the mythological and the mundane to synthesize a direct line of communication (if only sometimes in echo) between the Greek mythological Ariadne and the various personae that inhabit these pages. A master of metaphor and voice, Sotelo nimbly moves between disparate images—a half-dead tree and a jilted mother; Theseus and Victorian-era rest cures; cherry red cardigans and scarred peaches on the grill—to complicate tropes of feminine rage, joy, desire, and humor. But even through the abstraction of symbol, these poems cut to the deep through an incredible directness and urgency of voice. You don’t consume these poems so much as you step into them and find yourself changed by a set of radical truths. And in this way, Virgin is easily in league with what the best works of literature do in decentering the reader’s world through the radical truths of the subjective. When you approach Sotelo’s work you are not simply dealing with words on a page, you are dealing with witchcraft.

In addition to Virgin, the inaugural winner of the Jake Adam York Prize and Ross Gay selection for Milkweed Editions, Sotelo is the author of Nonstop Godhead which was selected by Rigoberto González for a 2016 Poetry Society of America National Chapbook Fellowship. Her work has appeared in such outlets as the New YorkerBoston ReviewFIELDKenyon ReviewNew England Review, and The Antioch Review among others. In this interview, I speak with Sotelo about humor, unexpected influences, and the complications of being a Mexican American writer in the contemporary era.

Daniel Peña: Ariadne is very much the heart of Virgin. I feel like all of the personae in this collection are in conversation with that character and her mythology, but also her humor. She can be very funny, if incredibly dark, and I feel like that’s one of the more underappreciated parts of this collection—its humor. As much as disparate themes and images are in conversation with each other in this collection, there’s a really beautiful dissonance you create in juxtaposing heaviness and levity (or hilarity). How do you see humor at work in your poetry?

Analicia Sotelo: I’m interested in how humor can propel angles of feeling—it can be self-protective, self-referential, confident, dismissive, seductive, welcoming…It holds a veiled honesty to it that I think can add depth to a person’s curiosity about how they truly feel. It’s similar, I think, to a conversation with a very good friend, where you can be slightly more witty and achieve an intimacy in those small revelations. Humor is also Ariadne’s “secret power” I think—in the gendered expectation that was solidified by the Victorian “Angel in the House” and continues today, women aren’t supposed to be funny—they are supposed to be timid, modest, and agreeable. They also aren’t supposed to be darkly funny. But the morbidity in these poems functions, I think, as a self-awareness of the importance of human love, as temporary as it may be, and as lasting. I think the humor in these poems illuminates how Ariadne’s search for love is simultaneously heavy and light, as steeped as it is in the continuous feedback of power structures and social expectations.

DP: Something I’ve noticed thus far—and it really kind of tickles me—is that reviewers don’t really know how to classify you, which is kind of cool I think. So many of my favorite writers (including yourself) are ultimately just their own animals—James Baldwin, Clarice Lispector, Clemens Meyer. I’ve seen one reviewer compare you to Carl Phillips, but largely reviewers just seem to side-step those comparisons and honor you and the complexity of this book. But I’ve been wondering: Who are your actual influences? Who and/or what things speak to you and your writing right now?

AS: You know, I’ve thought a little about this because often I’ll get asked informally about my influences, and it feels like a great mystery. Here is a poet-collage of where some of it may come from: Levis, Lasky, Ruefle, Nelson, Glück, Olds, Kasischke, Roethke, O’Hara, Rilke, Blake, Donne, Keats, Whitman. My influences have broadened since then, but I would consider those a foundation. Nora Ephron, Virginia Woolf, and Lorrie Moore are strong roots for the challenging energy of the female speakers in the book. Ultimately, history as collage is an influence—Virgin was impacted by the rhetoric and images of Surrealist art, Catholic hymns, English Victorian novels, Mexican-American South Texas, and early 20th century love songs.

DP: What are some unexpected influences in Virgin that might have surprised you?

AS: I didn’t really expect the Victorian references to become so strong in the Ariadne sequence, but I had to trust my process on those poems and see what became of them. I realized later that I was interested in how patriarchal structures persist today even in the smallest moments of intimate relationships, but at the time of writing, I was a little perplexed. I liked the surprise, though, and decided to keep writing into it.

DP: What is the most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?

AS: The most terrifying thing I’ve ever written is nonfiction, and I have yet to see where that leads me.

DP: Non-fiction is indeed terrifying! That separation between public and personal can disappear. Do you feel the need to separate your public writing life from your personal life? To that end, Virgin has been such an incredible success. I know you’re in high demand right now. How do you protect your writing time and your interior writing life?

AS: I do like to separate the writing life from my personal life. I think conflating the two would leave me feeling as though I didn’t have my own thinking space to create new work, and being able to write freely is incredibly important to me. Protecting time is an ongoing challenge—I leave most of my Saturday and Sunday mornings open for myself, and some early weekdays. That’s not always consistent, so I have to rely on trusting my intuitive process—reading and memorizing poems, journaling as needed, and even picking up painting for an afternoon. The public writing life can feel so much like a job that I think it’s vital to remember that writing is an art that requires a different kind of listening.

DP: What do you get from memorizing poems?

AS: You know that feeling when you’re walking through a neighborhood that you’ve driven by every day, and you notice things you’ve never known existed? That’s what it’s like walking through a poem by memorization. Taking it slow allows you to feel its composition, and how the tiniest choices, of even an article or a preposition, add meaning to the work and enrich it. That act of listening also informs how you write, what you notice, and how you choose to pace your line of sight.

DP: As I’ve written about in this space before, I personally struggle with being labeled a Chicanx writer. While I read and enjoy Chicanx literature, I’m not sure I belong in that canon. It wasn’t me who put my body on the line in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. Not me who risked expulsion, jail, and billy clubs by boycotting class at Garfield High School and sparking the East LA Walkouts. But then on the other hand I also feel a disconnect in no small part due to the rampant misogyny and problematic race politics that inflected a lot of the literature written by so many of the men of that movement. In any case, people insist on calling us Chicanx writers. How do you feel about that label? And do you feel like possibly our generation is building something completely different?

AS: This is a big question! I think Latinx/Chicanx writers of our generation grew up and into the study of literature with an awareness of the way in which our elders had been stigmatized as outside of the canon, and you’re right, with a conscientiousness of misogyny and race politics. However, when I think of the European canon, and how it has long carried its history of conquest and colonization, I wonder if it has so deeply embedded itself into our cultural consciousness that we ignore its terrifying, long-term impact. It has its own misogyny and race politics. Here’s a scenario: a typical Latinx student who has chosen to major in English, and maybe become a teacher, or a lawyer, or a writer, is just trying to excel in college, and make the risk worth something, and what’s on the menu? Western civilization. We have to master it to survive that experience. We have to consume it to be respected. And so, to that effect, the study of Chicanx literature gets passed over because the English lit framework ignores its validity. Why can’t we just study Literature, instead of English Literature?

If we can go back and understand our own culture’s legacy, we can start changing what future Latinx students will see in their classrooms. I think a lot about who has been left out, historically, from these conversations. So to that extent, I don’t mind being called a Chicanx writer if (a big if) the person or institution using that label understands what that really means, and knows the history of it, and can speak to it, and asks first what I prefer. I don’t think anyone should be labeled—we determine our own identities. What I really envision is that marginalized literatures can each become a major part of the canon, and that it will be a global canon, a portrait of a world in constant transformation. Shakespeare beside Sor Juana, Li Qingzhao beside Sappho, Enheduanna beside Homer.

DP: Damn. I feel like I really needed that. What works are speaking to you right now? And what’s next for you?

AS: I’m paying a lot of attention to The Performance of Becoming Human (Borzutzky), Poems for the Millennium (Ed. Rothenberg and Joris), A History of Their Own: Women in Europe From Prehistory to the Present (Ed. Anderson and Zinsser), and Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950 (Ed. Affron, Castro, Cruz Porchini, González Mello). Also Look (Solmaz Sharif), Whereas (Layli Long Soldier). There are so many more, but there is some of it. I’m writing new poems, and playing with essays. I hope to closely study certain periods of history, fashion, art, and poetry. I’m interested in color, or the perception of color. That’s the starting point.

New Book: Where We Come From by Oscar Casares

You’re telling me Oscar Casares has a new book coming out? I’ve been waiting a while for this…

From the acclaimed author of Brownsville and Amigoland–a stunning and timely new novel about a Mexican American family in Brownsville, Texas, who reluctantly becomes involved in smuggling immigrants into the United States

From a distance, the towns along the U.S.-Mexican border have dangerous reputations: on one side, drug cartels; on the other, zealous border patrol agents–and Brownsville is no different. But to twelve-year-old Orly, it’s simply where his godmother, Nina, lives–and where he is being forced to stay the summer after his mother’s sudden death.

For Nina, Brownsville is where she grew up, where she lost her first and only love, and where she stayed as her relatives moved away and her neighborhood deteriorated. It’s the place where she’s buried all her secrets–and now she has another: she’s providing refuge for a young immigrant boy named Daniel, for whom traveling to America has meant trading one set of dangers for another.

Separated from the violent human traffickers who brought him across the border, pursued by the authorities, Daniel must stay completely hidden under Nina’s roof. But when Orly discovers Daniel’s presence, the two boys’ immediate kinship–and shared desire for independence–puts them all at risk of exposure.

Tackling the crisis of U.S. immigration policy from a deeply human angle, Where We Come Fromexplores through an intimate lens the ways that family history shapes us, how secrets can burden us, and how finding compassion and understanding for others can ultimately set us free.

El Peso Hero Confronts Immigration Detention Facilities in Latest Comic Book

A new announcement from Rio Bravo Comics, LLC, which was shared with media earlier this month:

DALLAS — Rio Bravo Comics released an unprecedented story featuring the border hero, El Peso Hero. There have been unprecedented surges of unaccompanied children migrating to the U.S. without a parent or legal guardian. These unaccompanied minors held in detention facilities have skyrocketed, and large number of children are teenagers from Central America who came to the United States as unaccompanied minors without their parents. The teens are mostly being held in a system of more than 100 shelters, with a heavy concentration along the U.S.-Mexico border. Many minors are also being held in facilities with long histories of alleged abuse, sexual violence, or neglect.

In the latest book El Peso Hero: Borderland, El Peso Hero joins a group of refugees as they go through the registration process at a detention facility located near the border at Carrizo Springs, Texas. El Peso Hero is on a mission to rescue and free the children from cruel captivity. The story features for the first time every in a sequential comic book narrative the realities of unaccompanied children in detention facilities.

El Peso Hero: Borderland is available worldwide, and the list of comics for the highly popular franchise now includes new El Peso Hero stories, only from Rio Bravo Comics. El Peso Hero: Borderland is the ninth book in our series and the exciting second book of the El Peso Hero Border Stories series. The new book is currently be sold exclusively through riobravocomics.com.

The company’s first publication was EL PESO HERO #1. Created by Hector Rodriguez, El Peso Hero is a comic book heavily influenced by the modern-day challenges people from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border face. The main story is centered on El Peso Hero, a rogue hero who is standing up against Mexico’s cartels, corrupt officials and human traffickers.

El Peso Hero has been one the most internationally talked about Latino superhero in decades. With more focus on modern social issues such as immigration, human trafficking, and institutional corruption, El Peso Hero has garnered attention and praise from the Latino community, and has been featured on American Way Magazine, Univision, CNN, Telemundo, Fusion, CBS, NBC and countless of other media sites worldwide.

For more information on El Peso Hero, please visit the official website or Rio Bravo Comics, LLC.

Poet Yesika Salgado blew up on Instagram. Now her books are breaking literary boundaries

Poet Yesika Salgado blew up on Instagram. Now her books are breaking literary boundaries
Yesika Salgado spent a lot of time at Cafe Tropical, where she worked on her first two books. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Yesika Salgado sits at her usual table at Silver Lake’s Cafe Tropical, accompanied by carrot-orange juice and a slice of guava cheese pastry. Arguably, it’s the best seat in the Cuban coffeehouse and bakery — back to the wall with a congested Sunset Boulevard to her left, easy access to the counter to her right and a full view of the two entrances and the customers. It’s prime seating for those who like to make offices out of coffeehouses. It’s also where the poet takes most interviews from journalists.

Salgado’s books appear in local and commercial bookstores, but one of her big breaks came from an unconventional place: Instagram.

Just a few years ago, the thought of a poet blowing up on the social platform seemed impossible. Traditionally, emerging literary voices in poetry have been shaped by universities and established in poetry journals. Yet Salgado is part of a new generation of artists established on the stage — through the spoken word and slam traditions — and magnified on the internet.

 

“I want my work to be in unconventional places. You write in poetry journals to get fellowships and grants, not for an audience,” says Salgado. “My readers don’t read journals — they are homegirls that normally wouldn’t be interested in poetry or they’ve always read poetry and find me.”

Her Instagram audience of more than 62,000 followers (as of now) is about 90% women and 10% men, according to her Instagram analytics. Her poetry struck a chord with millennial Latinas she describes as “the hoops, lipstick kind of girl” who are usually in college and looking for someone who reminds them of their “homegirls and tías.” Her following call themselves the “mango mafia,” a reference to mango tree imagery in her first book representing love and her parents’ home country of El Salvador.

The 34-year-old stayed true to her voice, and it has paid off.

“Corazón,” her 2017 book debut, ranked as the No. 3 bestseller on Amazon’s Hispanic American subcategory. It’s a love story, initially written about a specific relationship, but one that she considers universal.

Salgado finished a short tour in late 2018 of her second book, “Tesoro.” In the poems, she revisits family stories that vilified women, questioning why they weren’t forgiven like the men. In turn, she also documents the legacies of the women in her family.

This year she has time to look for inspiration. She hopes digesting any form of storytelling will prevent her voice from becoming stale when it is time to create “Hermosa,” the last of her book trilogy, set to be published in September.

Yesika Salgado will appear at the L.A. Times Festival of books at 10:30 a.m. April 14 on the panel “Cultural Preservation Through Writing.”
Yesika Salgado will appear at the L.A. Times Festival of books at 10:30 a.m. April 14 on the panel “Cultural Preservation Through Writing.” (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Cafe Tropical is the place where she put together “Corazón” while her friends sat with her — working on their own projects — and where she sat alone and cried as she struggled to shape “Tesoro.”

Like many longtime Silver Lake spots, Cafe Tropical is in the cross-hairs of gentrification.

A changing Los Angeles is fresh in her mind. The poems in the second chapter of “Tesoro” are about how the L.A. she knew as a girl shaped her identity. The illustrated lemon tree on the cover is a reference to the tree in the front yard of her Silver Lake home.

She also gives a poetic map of the area, circa ’80s through ’90s, marked with memories of a pharmacist who sold over-the-counter medicine after closing hours if you knocked on the backdoor (now a barbershop), a corner liquor store owner who gave her store credit to buy bus passes while she waited for a bimonthly check (now a liquor-only store) and the houses of watchful neighbors who kept her parents up to date on her whereabouts or walked her late father home on his drunk nights.

Although Cafe Tropical opened in the ’70s and is connected to the making of her books, it wasn’t part of her adolescence.

“I used to associate certain places to whiteness and didn’t feel comfortable being in them. I grew up not coming here, even though it’s POC [people of color] owned, it always felt very white to me,” she says.

The ability and inability of learning to exist in places where Salgado felt uncomfortable — significantly the stage and her own body — have shaped her career.

At 18, she dropped out of John Marshall High School. Although she was a voracious reader at a young age who was often commissioned by other students to write their essays — and love letters to boys — her absences were high and credits low.

“They weren’t teaching me what I wanted to know. It wasn’t for me,” says Salgado. “I know that I was never meant to be anything else other than a writer. As much as I’m brown, curly-haired and fat. It’s just a fact.”

She took an array of day jobs in parking garages, a Papyrus stationery store, door-to-door Cutco knives, Sav-On, Subway and a CVS pharmacy. All while she kept writing every day in one form or another, using the Google Doc app on her phone during long bus commutes to the Westside, break rooms and restroom stalls of her eight-hour workdays.

My readers don’t read journals — they are homegirls that normally wouldn’t be interested in poetry.

 

Salgado first shared poetry with an audience in 2005 through the website hiphoppoetry.com and contributed for three years.

“She definitely became one of the more known people on the website. Her writing was similar to what it is today — outspoken with an edge, but you still see vulnerability,” says Erik Maldonado, poet and founder of the website.

It was also the heyday of AOL and MSN chatrooms. Salgado’s go-to guilty pleasure and escape from reality was catfishing (creating false online identities). It started with calling party hotlines and moved on to the Live Chat app on her Android phone with the screen name Eva Luna, a reference to an Isabel Allende character skilled in storytelling.

For Salgado it made sense to continue catfishing when she stumbled onto hiphoppoetry.com. On the forum, she pretended to have college degrees, kids and ovarian cancer. She used photos of a high school friend and the username Yesika Starr, which deliberately remains her social media handle.

Maldonado found her real Myspace page in 2007. Instead of being outed, she created a post titled, “Yesika Starr Has Fake Pictures.” It received 9,605 views and 277 replies, which were a mix of empathy and disappointment but mostly angry comments. “I deserved the dragging I got,” says Salgado.

Soon after, a forum user found a post she plagiarized from Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona’s pop hit “El Problema,” translating the lyrics from Spanish to English. She was banned.

Maldonado encouraged her to go to Da Poetry Lounge (DPL), a large poetry venue with a weekly open mic on Fairfax Avenue. She showed up at the lounge as herself, began performing spoken word in 2008 and joined her first DPL slam team in 2014.

“You could see in her body language there was a sense of unworthiness in her space. This was a sort of unworthiness that read as an apology in her poetry — even in poems about being fierce,” says Javon Johnson, poet and one of Salgado’s DPL slam team coaches.

Yesika Salgado is a Los Angeles poet who, at age 34, is writing her third book.
Yesika Salgado is a Los Angeles poet who, at age 34, is writing her third book. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Around the same time period, she started therapy and addressed self-esteem issues, as she explains in a TED Talk. She refers to the subsequent years as her blooming period where her personal life and writing took off. Her appearance changed to her signature look today: curly dark brown hair worn down, square black-framed glasses, hoops, a bold lipstick and stiletto acrylic nails. She performed on Tuesday nights every week for years and took notes of her mentors’ criticisms.

Although she would eventually be a National Poetry Slam finalist twice, 2015 was a turning point. Salgado didn’t make a slam team that year and needed to figure out her next step. A friend invited her to perform at La Concha, a community space ran by the Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade in Boyle Heights.

“There was a moment when the audience recognized me. It was almost like a ‘we’ve been waiting for you’ moment,” Salgado says.

The audience of about 40 knew her from a YouTube video performance of the poem “Brown Girl.” She was invited to perform at a series of local events. It led her to create the Latina feminist poetry collective Chingona Fire with poet Angela Aguirre. They held open mics giving preference to women of color.

She quit her job at CVS in 2016 to be a full-time artist, after selling more than 2,000 copies of her poetry zine “Woes” and being offered college venue gigs. The timing was unfortunate since schools were out of session. By the next year, she was broke and wrote another zine, “Sentimental Boss Bitch,” selling about 500 copies online.

The cover art of Yesika Salgado's most popular zines "Woes," 2016, and "Sentimental Boss Bitch," 2017.
The cover art of Yesika Salgado’s most popular zines “Woes,” 2016, and “Sentimental Boss Bitch,” 2017. (Yesika Salgado / Joel Jaimes)

Daniel Lisi, co-founder of independent publishing house Not a Cult, also ordered her zines and watched her perform, eventually offering her a book deal. With the success of “Corazón” and “Tesoro,” she continues to perform in venues (mostly colleges) throughout the country, taking poetry commissions like a 2017 Planned Parenthood campaign and writing a monthly column for Remezcla. Although she is well known in some local communities, she says, “to have success in your work doesn’t mean that the entire world opens up to you. I’m not Rihanna. I can’t go to a restaurant and walk out with a wine glass.”

Salgado thinks of herself as outside of the literary world, particularly when she receives backhanded compliments using the term “Instapoet” in contempt.

While Salgado admits there might be a day when she contributes to poetry journals, she also says, “I take pride in saying that I created something where institutions have to come to me. I don’t get you, you have to get me. I want to continue building a career like that. And it’s happening so far.”

Before leaving Cafe Tropical, she jokes with the weekend worker, “I’m here so much, I should start paying rent.” Salgado walks home in the night passing jacaranda trees lining the block. The trees are indigenous to tropical and subtropical regions of Latin America. Because they would thrive in the Southern California climate and landscape, the purple transplants were grown from San Diego to Los Angeles all the way up to Santa Barbara to beautify cities.

It’s early spring. The jacarandas are barren, but a branch blooms on the illustrated cover of “Hermosa.”

Add Latinx Voices to Your Poetry Collection!

Sorry for the absence. I’ll be catching up…

 

This April, celebrate National Poetry Month by introducing a child to the many forms of poetry, convincing reluctant teen readers to try a poem each day or by starting a stimulating discussion among friends through poetry that blends the aesthetic and the political. Poetry is for everyone!

For Children:

Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Felipe Ugalde Alcántara

From its birth deep in Mother Earth, Little Water climbs to the surface, passing through roots and rocks, light and darkness. Finally, the tiny bead of water makes it to the top and rests, “a sigh of morning dew,” hanging on “the tips of leaves / on spider webs / or on the petals / of flowers.” The droplet becomes a river, a lake, an ocean, ultimately climbing to the sky and turning into a cloud. Then, “drop by drop / I return singing / to our Mother Earth. I am Little Water. / I am life.”

With stunningly beautiful illustrations by Felipe Ugalde Alcántara that depict the mountains, rocks, vegetation and animals of the natural world, this poem about the importance of water reflects Argueta’s indigenous roots and his appreciation for nature. Containing the English and Spanish text on each page, the entire poem appears at the end in Nahuat, the language of Argueta’s Pipil-Nahua ancestors. This book is an excellent choice to encourage children to write their own poems about the natural world and to begin conversations about the interconnected web of life.

Desert is my Mother

The Desert Is My Mother / El desierto es mi madre by Pat Mora, illustrated by Daniel Lechón

A beautiful poetic and artistic rendition of the relationship between nature and Hispanics and Native American peoples. Rather than being an expanse empty of life and value, the desert is lovingly presented as the provider of comfort, food, spirit and life. The first picture book published by Piñata Books, this text introduces the partnership of an award-winning poet and a prize-winning painter.

For Young Adults:

Little Devil and the Rose, The

Little Devil and the Rose: Lotería Poems / El diablito y la rosa: Poemas de la lotería by Viola Canales

Cultural traditions permeate these verses, from the curanderas who cure every affliction to the daily ritual of the afternoon merienda, or snack of sweet breads and hot chocolate. The community’s Catholic tradition is ever-present; holy days, customs and saints are staples of daily life. Fond childhood memories of climbing mesquite trees and eating raspas are juxtaposed with an awareness of the disdain with which Mexican Americans are regarded. Texas museums, just like its textbooks, feature cowboy boots worn by Texas Rangers, but have no “clue or sign of the vaqueros, the original cowboys / or the Tejas, the native Indians there.” Inspired by the archetypes found in the Mexican bingo game called lotería, these poems reflect the history—of family, culture and war—rooted in the Southwest for hundreds of years.

My Own True Name

My Own True Name by Pat Mora

A major selection of new and previously published poems chosen by Pat Mora with young-adult readers in mind. Using the cactus plant as her guiding metaphor for our existence, she presents more than sixty poems grouped variously into “Blooms,” “Thorns,” and “Roots.” Each section opens with a graceful line drawing from artist Anthony Accardo, and the whole is prefaced by a whimsical and intimate introduction, “Dear Fellow Writer.”

My Own True Name, an anthology fifteen years in the making, is sure to be sought by deeply rooted and still-budding lovers of poetry.

 

For Adults:

american copia2

American Copia: An Immigrant Epic by Javier O. Huerta

In this innovative work that uses grocery stores as a guiding motif, Huerta deftly combines English and Spanish to explore his identity as an immigrant, naturalized citizen, son, brother, lover, graduate student.

Through poetry written in Spanish, a short play, non-fiction passages and even text messages, Huerta delves into subjects such as consumerism and health foods available only to a limited class of people. The diverse pieces and themes in American Copia pulsate with all that can be both communal and autonomous in everyday life. Though Huerta touches on serious subjects, many of these short vignettes are quirky and humorous. His is an original, evocative voice that articulates the immigrant perspective to create a thought-provoking look at the land of plenty. This is a must-read for anyone interested in experimental or Mexican-American literature.

Todos somos Whitman / We Are All Whitman by Luis Alberto Ambroggio

Luis Alberto Ambroggio was inspired to respond to Whitman’s work after translating a series of essays about Song of Myself. This collection of 53 poems in English and Spanish is the result.  Sometimes he includes a line from the master in his own piece, other times an epigraph introduces the verse. Either way, Whitman’s influence is notable. Many of Ambroggio’s poems—like Whitman’s—deal with physical pleasure. A native of Argentina, the poet views Whitman’s work through his Latin American lens, noting that Whitman’s “multitudes” include those who will not be denied, ignored or declared undocumented. Other poems consider nature and death.

Focusing on themes of identity, love and life, this collection will inspire readers to understand the universality in us all. Ultimately, we will all go to where we came from, “air, shadow, sun, dust.” Originally published in Spanish by Vaso Roto Ediciones, this edition includes the original Spanish text and a luminous English translation by Brett Alan Sanders.

Diaspora: Selected and New Poems by Frank Varela

In this collection of 55 poems, Varela writes about growing up Puerto Rican in Brooklyn, noting that there are two types of Puerto Ricans: “those born on the island, / others like me, / the children of exiles.” Pondering the universal sentiment of immigrant children, he notes that he was considered a spic in the United States and a gringo in the land of his parent’s birth.  “All I wanted was the impossible: / To be the who I am in a land / unafraid of the me I have become.”

Like his grandfather who cleared ten acres in Cibuco, Puerto Rico, “to wrench subsistence from red clay,” Varela loves the land and what it provides. “The land is rich with decay and past seasons. / On my best days, I can reach into the soil / and marry my soul with the green world— / tarragon, escarole, lemon balm, sage.” Expressing love and appreciation for his Puerto Rican family and culture, Varela’s poems reflect on the universal joys and pains of everyday life. This collection contains a mix of previously published and new poems that offers a survey of the poet’s work from 1988 to the present.

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

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. Mothers lose sons, their bodies beat beyond recognition. Friends’ bodies are thrown into common graves. Husbands lose wives and wives lose husbands. Argueta’s words recall the horrific violence and atrocities committed, frequently against the poor and powerless.

The 48 poems in this collection—in Spanish and English—smolder with loss and longing. Argueta’s indigenous Pipil-Nahua roots ultimately contribute to his salvation after he flees his homeland. 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. Eventually, he returns to writing and becomes a successful children’s book author. 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.

Monsters, Zombies, AddictsMonsters, Zombies and Addicts: Poems by Gwendolyn Zepeda

This collection of 62 narrative poems contains witty observations about the rituals of contemporary life. In “Cocktail Hours,” Houston Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda wonders, “What if all my nights were Christmas lights on patios with tinkling drinks / and fun conversations.” And in “Recipe for Fun,” Zepeda offers a ten-point guide to soothing away life’s frustrations, including a suggestion to get some peace by giving “everyone in your house pizza, cat food or video games.”

Musings on family, remembrances of childhood games and encounters with strangers (and ants!) fill this clever, thought-provoking collection in which Zepeda dares to express her individuality. She doesn’t follow others blindly, or do what society expects of her. Readers will appreciate this second poetry collection, which is deeply personal yet universal in its hopes and fears.

When Love Was Reels: Poetry by José B. González

Expressing his longing not to be forgotten like so many abandoned children in his native country, José B. González writes about a young boy’s life—first in El Salvador under the care of his grandmother and later living with his uncle in New York City—in this moving collection of narrative poems that uses iconic Latin American and Latino films as a guiding motif.

In each poem, famous movie and TV scenes featuring icons likes Pedro Infante and Cantinflas and modern stars such as Elizabeth Peña, Edward James Olmos and Esai Morales are juxtaposed with important moments in the boy’s life. Providing a tribute as well as a criticism of the way that film and television portray Latino lives, the collection is also notable for shedding light on the lives of so many youth raised by grandmothers in Latin America as the generation in-between went in search of the American Dream. These poems hauntingly illuminate Salvadoran immigration to the United States.

Anthologies:

¡Manteca! An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets edited by Melissa Castillo-Garsow (April 30, 2017)

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 Miguel Piñero and E. Ethelbert Miller, less well-known ones are ready to be discovered in these pages.

Looking Out Looking InLooking Out, Looking In: Anthology of Latino Poetry  edited by William Luis

The poems included in this comprehensive anthology run the gamut of styles and themes, but all are by Latinos writing from the mid- twentieth century to the present. Some deal with issues specific to the Hispanic experience, such as displacement, identity and language. In “Who Is Going to Tell Me?,” Puerto Rican / Dominican Sandra María Esteves chastises her Spanish ancestors “who captured my mother as slave, stripped her naked, / plowed treasures from her shores,” and wonders where she can learn about her African forefathers: “In whose library will I find their books? Tales of their lives?”

More than 80 Latino poets are represented in this wide-ranging collection that focuses on poetry from the four largest groups in the United States: Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans and Dominican Americans. In his introduction, scholar William Luis gives an overview of the origins of Latino literature in the United States, providing historical, political and cultural frameworks for these groups and their writings.

Click here to view more of Arte Público’s poetry collections.