New Book: In Dust & Dusk by Esteban Rodriguez

“In Dust & Dusk by Esteban Rodríguez, the ordinary and the astounding enrich and enlarge each other. These poems shimmer with surprising phrasing and dazzling figurative language. We encounter ‘pews of dirt’ and the month of June becomes a ‘fugitive outrunning spring’s custody.’ There’s emotional range, too. Sorrow and wonder, and all their synonyms, darken and illuminate the poems. Rodríguez is a gifted poet who has written an impressive and memorable book.” —Eduardo Corral, author of Slow Lightning

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of Dusk & Dust (Hub City Press) and the micro-chapbook Soledad (Ghost City Press, 2019). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Puerto del Sol, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. His reviews have appeared in PANK and American Book Review. He lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas.

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Jimmy Santiago Baca’s latest carries timely message

A wonderful article by David Steinberg for the ABQ Journal about a wonderful writer. See it here: https://www.abqjournal.com/1297830/jimmy-santiago-bacas-latest-carries-timely-message.html?fbclid=IwAR2My0mV7g7D2pRa7Xqdeiax-H1wieSOuAoSesrqAeLqKYUt8JDGdIxeKSE

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The heart of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s new book is the epic narrative poem “When I Walk Through That Door, I Am – An Immigrant Mother’s Quest.” It packs an emotional and political wallop.

The poem is written through the yearning voice of a woman named Sophia, a heroic immigrant from El Salvador. Her husband, Tonal, had been the victim of a gang murder. She musters the strength to head north to the United States with her 4-year-old son, Joaquin. U.S. border authorities separate them.

Placed inside a southern New Mexico detention center, Sophia is raped. Yet she holds her head up and perseveres. She thinks of her late husband. She hopes her son is alive and they can be reunited: “I feel like I am walking up a mountain/meditating on you my sweet Joaquin,/where are you? are you safe? do you have nightmares?/do you cry at night, are you eating, are you sick?”

Repeatedly, Sophia wills herself to ascend a metaphorical mountain. She struggles to overcome fear and the unknown, suppresses memories of death and still has the will to go on. She shows the courage of Athena.

Baca, a widely honored Albuquerque poet, said he had been initially thinking about different individual battles. “I was bemoaning the addictions of kids. I was sick of it. With ‘walking up the mountain,’ I thought of the cross those kids bear. And it turned into Sophia’s cross,” he said.

Baca said in an author’s note that he created the character of Sophia soon after helping a real-life undocumented Burmese refugee named Sae-Po. Catholic Charity Services announced it was seeking sponsors for refugees; Sae-Po was one. Baca gave him a job at his ranch outside Santa Fe until Sae-Po and his family were arrested.

“Everything we know about (refugees) is wrong, and yet they come at just the right moment in time, to define for us what Democracy is,” Baca argues in the author’s note. “They come giving, not taking. They create community. They believe in justice. They seek peace. How much more simple can that get for our muddle-brained minions who create insane immigration policies? Refugees enrich, not deplete.”

Baca’s other new book is “Feeding the Roots of Self-Expression and Freedom,” written with Kym Sheehan and Denise VanBriggle. Baca said that book is for high school students who can’t manage the conventional framework of school. “It’s geared to help students and teachers in alternative learning environments – those sequestered in juvenile facilities, for young, unwed mothers or for kids who don’t fit in the public school system,” he added.

Baca has won the American Book Award for Poetry, the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature and the Pushcart Prize.

Jimmy Santiago Baca reads from, discusses and signs “When I Walk Through That Door, I Am” and “Feeding the Roots of Self-Expression and Freedom” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, at the Farmington Public Library, 2101 Farmington Ave., and at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, at Collected Works, 202 Galisteo St., Santa Fe.

The film “A Place to Stand” will be screened at 1:30 p.m. Friday, April 12, at the Octavia Fellin Public Library, 115 W. Hill St., Gallup. At 3 p.m., Baca will give a free 90-minute Writers Workshop on “How to Write Great Stories and Poems!” in Room 200, Student Services Tech Center, University of New Mexico-Gallup campus. A live stream of the workshop will be in the public library.

At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 13, Baca will give a talk in the library on “Moving Ahead in Your Life.” The screening, workshop and address are part of Gallup’s Biennial Authors Festival – “Story, Telling & Conversation.”

The sixth annual Jimmy Santiago Baca Writing Retreat will be held in Albuquerque on June 19-20. Register at jimmysantiagobaca.com.

The Liberational Musings of Poet Mónica Teresa Ortiz

Please check out this wonderful article by Dr. Esther Liberman at BeLatina.com and show the site some love!

From her home in Austin, Texas, Mónica Teresa Ortiz writes prose that sounds like poetry and poetry that looks like prose. A first generation American, born and raised in the Texas panhandle, Ortiz’s genealogy evolved in the style of a border crossing: her grandparent’s generation grew up in México, her father on the border, while Ortiz’s own body was born into the United States, clearly bearing the signs of other places. Ortiz herself need not cross the border. She is an expert in crossing a different kind of boundary.

The places and spaces that she inhabits, just like the ones she might be barred from entering, inspire a work that is intimately tied up with geography and landscape, both literally and in their myriad ramifications. When asked how her background influences her work, Ortiz’s responseorbits around the idea of origin and locations, saying,  “I consider geography and space greatly influential in the way I think and relate to the world.” Ortiz goes on to recognize the inextricable connection between identity, the body, and that body’s location, knowing her own is both Texan and Mexican.

All that is not to say that there is any ease in the palimpsest of her identity. She stays in Texas, not for the politics of that place but rather for her urge to change them, diversify them, open them up for broader inclusivity. She notes how the conservatism of Texas is in constant conversation with some aspects of her identity (the Mexican, the child of the border) and in clear opposition to other aspects (her ideology, her queerness). If Texas has helped constitute Ortiz’s own identity, it is more so for how the place challenges her existence and the importance of her body than for how they are supported. In some measure, Ortiz mark is always her otherness.

mónica teresa ortiz Poet

The day she left, the gladiolus in the apple jug were dying. It had not yet been a week that we put them in there, half filled with water… but it doesn’t matter… the petals so dead and wilting, their corpses scatter across the table top. I guess they die so easily because they aren’t planted anymore, not growing and not rooted and not connected to the earth; disconnected from the soil, from the dirt.

When Ortiz writes about her cut gladiolus wilting out of existence, now rootless and unearthed, she is not really talking about flowers. As one of the premier Chicana writers of our time, Ortiz is particularly preoccupied with the distances that lie between nationality, race, ethnicity, location, sexuality, and gender. Especially living in her home state of Texas, she is interested in combing these threads away from each other, rather than trying to fit them under an umbrella. A gladiola is not always a gladiola.

Ortiz’s first objection, then, would be to my use of the word “Chicana.” which denotes an American-born Mexican person and is politically charged. Even though she is Mexican-American that isn’t all that she is. In her struggle against the heteropatriarchy of both her culture and her birthplace, Ortiz resists what she sees as the erasure of her gender and sexuality by a label that highlights only the color of her body but not what runs beneath.

Parsing out her layers further, Ortiz says, “I don’t identify with Chicanismo or Latinidad … I’m queer, and I’m Mexican, and I am from Texas, and I am from the panhandle … It’s very nuanced. I think Latinidad doesn’t quite explore those nuances.”Ortiz openly recognizes the racism and homophobia inherent in her home state, but she also feels love for it, always pining for a “queer futurity.”

In her first collection of poetry, muted blood, Ortiz is both “queer” and “mad,” and it isn’t clear whether she’s angry or driven to insanity by the clash between her queerness and  Tejas, where it’s set.Back are the gladiolas that fell away, rotted, when the lover left in One Night in Chile, and the themes of death and rebirth she has been using since first publishing in Latino journals like Huizache and the queer Latino Raspa Magazine, which she also edited.

In these poems, death is prefigured as the the daily struggle, the crushing defeat under the force of xenophobia, the double suicide of lovers fallen out of love. Rebirth is the dream of a new Tejas, that rises up from the current dystopia of intolerance and fear. In Ortiz’s Tejas, the formerly marginalized are now visible again, it accepts brown people, is queer, reinserts indigineity and blackness back into a wider definition of Latino. The gladiolas won’t rot so long as they are firmly planted in the soil of Texas, nodding toward a future utopia after years of resilience against the violence of bigotry.

Cowboy Poet Monica Terese Or
Photo Credit mariamagdarre
Felicidades, beloved piscian cowboy poet, la perla del sur, monica teresa ortiz. 🌹
Austin. 2018
#mutedblood

muted blood is peppered throughout with Spanish, but it’s used in diverse ways, sometimes a mark of identity, other times the shibboleth that gives Ortiz away. In On the Delta, the poet repeats the shared experience of viewing the amanecer (dawn) with her lover from their apartment window. The relationship eventually traps the poet, the lover becomes the warden. The poem quickly turns to the desperation of death as the last recourse, and the poet coaxes herself onto the ledge but the lover mirrors her, prepares to jump with her, relishing in the proximity of a graveyard. Now, the two share only the view of the passing portero (doorman) below and the only promise of the silence the poet seeks is in a coffin.

In Ortiz’s practice, on the other hand, the poet camouflages both her language and her gender offering her place of origin in a rehearsed Anglo accent, internally reciting the quasi-mantra, “never forget that to pronunciate and to imitate is to survive.” The smiling boss expects the brown girl to speak Spanish but she doesn’t really, at least not like her dead Mexican friend who refused to hide his Latinidad. The narrator instead pronounces “Texas” like the white kids from grammar school, “high and long.” “We could have been brothers,” she tells the boss, thinking, “It was true. Babel separated us.” The poet might speak Spanish, but she chooses not to.

It’s perhaps Soledad Part I that reveals the moment the tower of Babel falls for Ortiz. In the poem, the reaction of the mother to the daughter coming out as queer is to wish her dead before the time anyone else might know this. The narrator then vows to “cleave her tongue off” like the “garden snake” the mother killed with a shovel. Ortiz, who must have lived it, is reminded of the tongue incapable of expressing her grief in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. I, who am only reading it, imagine this as one of Ortiz’s “new mythologies,”a reinvention of the snake in the Garden of Eden, though now it’s having a female lover that qualifies as original sin. The tongue is like the one in Psalm 137 that says “if I forget you, oh Israel, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth…” meaning that to forget oneself is to lose one’s language, like cutting the gladiola causes her to die. By the last line, all that’s left of her mother tongue is ossified into “…the Spanish tile of your kitchen.”

Always straddling borders, linguistic and otherwise, Ortiz suffers a bifurcation not unlike that of many poets and writers, especially multicultural ones. She invokes Borges in a poem entitled burials as public spectacles, who recognized deep into his writing career that “The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to.” In “Borges and I”, he goes on to attribute some of his traits to the public persona, the man of renown, the writer, and other he keeps for his innermost self. Like someone refracting the myriad layers of the culture and language that compose them, the analysis makes the head spin, concluding for Borges in not knowing “which of us has written this page”.

But Ortiz bifurcation is not only metaphoric The loss of real, flesh-and-blood bodies and our need for memorials and remembrance to combat their erasure is a central theme in her work. burials as public spaces remembers the borderlands where poet’s “ancestors bleached by the sun rot in unmarked graves segregated by skin,” calling up the more recent racially motivated deaths, like the shooting of Michael Brown. Many of the poems in muted blood, which was published in 2018, explore prison culture, surveillance, and the ways in which law enforcement and people of color have been forced into an adversarial relationship.

In engaging with the ways in which bodies of color are imprisoned and abused, Ortiz offers a few recourses: death, exile, or sanctuary. The latter is of special interest to her and a year after families that were separated at the border are still not reunited, living in ersatz prisons thrown together haphazardly into the desert, Ortiz’s investigations into who should receive sanctuary and the enduring of what sort of violence merits it are uncannily prescient. Her poem lorcaimagines the climax of the racial tension without sanctuary, the end of empathy, the dystopia that results in the violence disappearing us all.

mónica teresa ortiz latest poetry

In her most recent book, coming on the heels of muted blood, is a series of crónicas entitled autobiography of semi romantic anarchist, centers more around the issue of gender and sexual identities. Ortiz proposes the work that would emerge “from the ashes” of the one we are in the process of burning down, the queer utopia she wills upon the future. Ortiz returns to her parents prayer that she die rather than be queer, turning the curse on its head and taking it as her chance at an afterlife. Queerness alone then becomes powerful enough to interrupt the relentless heteronormativity of our culture, panacea against the controlling and colonizing state.

Ortiz, one of our most powerful voices in the Latino community would not want to be called that. At the very least, Latinx is a somewhat more adequate tag, for revealing at least two of the elements of culture at work in Ortiz’s reading of the world. Always encompassing at least two cultures, two languages, two genres, her poetry is as lyrical as it is political. Firmly rooted in Texas, Ortiz is more a cactus than a gladiola in this second half of her life — autonomous, resilient, firmly grounded, thick-skinned, well-defended, and organically connected to her birthplace.

Houston’s New Poet Laureate Plans To Tackle Mental Health Through Poetry

Written by Catherine Lu for Houston Public Media, this article also includes audio if you go directly to the site here: https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/arts-culture/2019/05/29/334915/houstons-new-poet-laureate-plans-to-tackle-mental-health-through-poetry/?fbclid=IwAR38B2epROvYWIGsjRRem5hdkE_yEN1826rOR-CNvgxgbyP7z–6xskzPyk

 

During her two-year term as the Houston Poet Laureate, Leslie Contreras Schwartzwill teach writing workshops, with an emphasis on outreach to vulnerable populations, especially youth.

“Helping people who do direct service for homeless youth, LGBTQ youth, youth in detention, youth going through rehab – that’s a focus, but really these workshops will be available to everyone,” said Contreras Schwartz.

From those workshops, she plans to create a tool kit for people working in those communities, so that they can continue to teach writing as a way to heal and empower.

“I am trying to give people a tool to be able to use writing to recover from trauma, PTSD, from addiction, to use it whenever they feel like they are in need,” she said.

Having dealt with mental illness in her own life, Contreras Schwartz hopes to merge her personal knowledge of recovery and therapy into her new role. She says that poetry is not just about spilling feelings onto a page, but also a way to process experiences with intention.

“There’s something very particular if you approach writing mindfully with the idea that, no, we can’t control where emotions come from. But we can decide how we’re going to look at difficult experiences, we can decide how we’re going to filter that and then move on with the knowledge of this experience,” Contreras Schwartz said.

Houston Poet Laureate Leslie Contreras Schwartz speaks at a celebratory public reception on May 20, 2019 at the Julia Ideson Building, Houston Public Library.

Alarmed by the rise in teen suicide rates, Contreras Schwartz hopes these workshops will provide more resources and accessible opportunities for Houston youth in need.

She also plans to curate a digital publication of poems selected from the workshops for the Houston Public Library website and then create posters of those poems around the city.

“This post is a perfect opportunity for me to blend my love for poetry [with] my passion for bringing poetry into the community and helping people to see themselves as poets,” said Contreras Schwartz.

A native Houstonian whose great-grandfather came to the city in the early 1900s, she said she is extremely honored to serve in her new position. “I just wish that my grandparents were here to share it with me because Houston to me is associated with the idea of family because so many generations of our family have lived here,” she said.

Appointed on April 30, Contreras Schwartz is the fourth Houston Poet Laureate, succeeding Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton. Selected through an application and interview process by a literary panel and Mayor Sylvester Turner, the position receives a $20,000 honorarium, funded by the City of Houston Hotel Occupancy Tax dedicated to the arts.

Book Reading in Houston – Why I Am Like Tequila by Lupe Mendez

Is anyone going to be in Houston soon?! Make sure to check this out!

When: Thursday, June 20, 2019 at 6:30 PM

 

Where: Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery, 241 W. 19th St., Houston, TX 77008

Please join us as Lupe Mendez presents selections from his new book, WHY I AM LIKE TEQUILA. Books for sale at 17.99 and Lupe will be available after the reading to autograph. Refreshments served. Free event

 

WHY I AM LIKE TEQUILA is a collection of poetry spanning a decade of writing and performance. This collection exists in 4 parts – each a layered perspective, a look through a Mexican/ Mexican – American voice living in the Texas Gulf Coast. Set within spaces such as Galveston Island, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and Jalisco, Mexico, these poems peel away at all parts, like the maguey, drawing to craft spirits, quenching a thirst between land and sea.

Alicia Gaspar de Alba in Austin on May 2nd

https://events.attend.com/f/1383788945#/reg/0/   RSVP here – seats are limited!

 

“This is about resistance:” The Feminist Revisions of Alicia Gaspar de Alba

Thursday, May 2, 2019, 4:00pm – 6:00pm

The University of Texas Libraries, The Center for Mexican American Studies, the Center for Women and Gender Studies, and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections invite you to commemorate the acquisition of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba papers. The multifaceted Chicana queer feminist scholar will be reading from her works and discussing her career with MALS lecturer and community organizer Lilia Rosas. Archival viewing and reception to follow remarks. 

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.

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.

Poet Mónica Teresa Ortiz’s New Book Imagines a Future Where Queer Bodies Are Free

Check out this wonderful review and interview conducted by Maribel Falcón for Remezcla. By clicking on the link, you can see more photos as well. http://remezcla.com/features/culture/poet-monica-teresa-ortizs-new-book-imagines-future-queer-bodies-free/

 

Texas is a contested space. While it’s politically and socially connected to Mexico, it’s sometimes at odds with conservative Texan culture. Nearly 40 percent of the state’s population identifies as Latino, and the soon-to-be-majority of the state still contends with what it means to be from the land itself. If we wonder what the future holds for Texas, we can simply look to those who influence culture. But how does our current political situation – where anti-immigrant rhetoric runs high – affect the ideas and work of artists who live and work within this infamous southern state?

We turned to Austin-based writer Mónica Teresa Ortiz to learn more. Born and bred in the Texas panhandle, Ortiz offers a unique perspective as a queer poet and longtime cultural worker. Since 2012, Mónica has served as the poetry editor of Raspa Magazine, a biannual queer Latino literary magazine. Her first book, muted blood, debuted last year. Her writings have been featured in Huizache and the Texas Observer. In her work, Mónica incorporates the subject of death and rebirth while alluding to a queer futurity.

Her second book, autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist (Host Publications), dropped this week. We spoke to Mónica about her work, queerness, and our current political environment.

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


How do you see Texas?

Texas is my home. I was born here, and it has the reputation that it is conservative, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and tied to the old south. Is it deserved? Absolutely. If one looks at the formation of the state since it was colonized, and looks at our modern political theatre, absolutely we are all those things, historically and systematically. As much as we mythologize this place, it is important to be accurate and realistic about the development of that mythology and the way the state reproduces violence. I stay in Texas because I want to redefine its legacy and because I love this place. It is part of a reimagining of a New South that to me is queer, trans, black, brown, muslim. It’s marginalized people building futures over the ashes of the old South.

How does your upbringing influence your perspective?

I consider geography and space greatly influential in the way I think and relate to the world. I grew up post-Cold War through the development of neoliberalism and globalization, under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. It was when American exceptionalism really gained traction, and one of the reasons I am adamant about being anti-imperialist is because as a child, I watched these things the US was doing to other places, on the other side of the world, and how we controlled so many narratives.

When 2016 came about and the election happened, I remember telling my partner at the time: “This pendejo is gonna win.” Racism isn’t limited by geography. Racism and the perpetuation of white supremacy is everywhere, rural or otherwise. It might manifest in other ways in cities or small towns and the way its produced and replicated might look different. I know people in Austin who have Obama or Beto O’Rourke bumper stickers, and they can be just as racist as people I grew up with. Racism is about power and white supremacy, so you notice these kinds of things more, the more you pay more attention to them because everyday you are confronted by them in policies, in architecture, zoning, educational and financial segregation.

Given your experience, how do you negotiate your own identity?

I don’t identify with Chicanismo or Latinidad. People can identify however they want, but for me, those terms don’t negotiate racial or ethnic identities or gender. I’m queer, and I’m Mexican, and I am from Texas, and I am from the panhandle. My dad is from the border. I lived on the border. But I approach the border as an outsider. We have different histories and identities. It’s very nuanced. I think Latinidad doesn’t quite explore those nuances.

And then of course, there is the issue of anti-blackness. We’ve seen a recent commercial surge from Black artists and film, and then there comes the Latinidad, asking, “But what about us?” Aside from its assumption of competition amongst our communities, there is also a sense that there aren’t Afro-Latino/as. Latinidad tends to codify it as a brown experience, and it’s really not. Black thought has had a tremendous impact on not just my work but is directly linked to the history of the Americas.

Then, there is the discrimination against Indigeneity. You can look at Yalitza Aparicio and the way white Mexicans have treated her. Someone like Yalitza threatens whiteness, and its power and privilege, and many benefit from that proximity to whiteness.

How is autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist different from your first book?

In my first book, I talk about my great-grandfather who was killed and no one knows where his body is. I asked my grandmother, and although she has an acute memory, they have no idea what happened to his body. It makes us ask to whom do our bodies belong to? Even though our bodies are there in the ground, instead of honoring those spaces, bodies get taken out, built over. Even when we are dead, our bodies are still possessions of the state. In my imagining of a queer futurity, that no longer is the case. We are liberated and we are free, but to get there we have to build it together.

What is your new book about?

My new book is a collection of cronicas. I was really influenced by Eduardo Galeano’s work and then began reading Cameroon scholar Achille Mbembe’s On the Postcolony. The cronicas reflect my exploration of necropolitics, of the state and sovereignty, of trying to exist and survive in a space where queerness is a disruption against heteronormativity, against heterosexuality, against whiteness, against the state which controls our lives, even what happens to our bodies after we die. I think it hinges on the concept of an afterlife.

When I came out to my parents, the person that they knew me to be, no longer existed. I was treated as if I had died. I began thinking, is my queerness my afterlife? Is it a rebirth? This is how I perceive queer futurity. As Jose Esteban Muñoz says, it is imagining a future that doesn’t exist yet. We live in a colonized space under capitalism. Our lives and deaths happen within these parameters. The settler-colonial state attempts to control how we experience love and loss and grief but it doesn’t have to define it.

How does your work comment on the current political situation in the US?

Towards the end of muted blood, I introduce the ideas of exodus and sanctuary. To me, it’s a very important question, because who is offered sanctuary in this country? I think the immigrants rights movement has become really big. In my neighborhood, I see a lot of signs in front yards claiming to be a ‘sanctuary for refugees and immigrants.’ But I always wonder, what ways do people actually practice this? I think about Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen, and the micro-aggressions endured by the author. What is this actual idea of sanctuary and who does it apply to? Is sanctuary being offered to Black people, Black women, and queer and trans people in this country? If you say Black Lives Matter or bring up the topic of reparations, or condemn the actions of police departments, or even talk about displacement, people freak out. We’ve historically been pitted against each other and my work critiques that.


autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist is available now. You can purchase it online here starting Friday, March 22.

Editor’s Note: Itzel Alejandra Martinez, Remezcla’s photo editor, took the photos and video used in the article for Mónica Teresa Ortiz’s press kit.