From the Preface
Poetry is about what matters deep down inside. The poems collected in this book all focus on the US Latinx experience through the voice of my own experience as a child born in the US to Nicaraguan immigrants. It might seem a stretch to share poems by a Nica with Mexican-American students or students from a wide range of homelands, but we share a language, a culture, and an immigration history. All Latin American nations and those in the Caribbean have in common the Spanish conquest and a complex and troubled relationship with the United States. From this history arise questions concerning identity and culture. Are we Americans, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Puertoriqueños or Puerto Ricans? What does it mean to live in the United States knowing that your family had nothing to do with pilgrims or covered wagons? Which language should we speak, Spanish, English, or Spanglish? Isn’t speaking Spanglish wrong and incorrect?
From Comment on “San Martín de Porres”
In my family, we never hired babysitters. Instead we would spend time with our tías, tíos, primos, and most importantly, our abuelitas. My Abuelita Minta would take care of me all the time during elementary school. My mom would drop me off, and then hours later pick me up. Abuelita Minta made the best quesadillas with lots of gooey Monterrey Jack cheese. The poem “San Martín de Porres” contains some of my favorite memories. Once, I snuck into my grandma’s bedroom looking for candy and found my third grade picture at the foot of a statue of San Martín de Porres. In this poem, I explore the love I have for my family and try to wrap it up into a discovery of who I am and what is important in life.
Poetry is discovery. As a writer, sometimes we discover what is important to ourselves, our culture, even humanity in general. When I write, I’m on a journey poking around memories and looking into the past while thinking about who I am now. These memories, ideas, even stories, are placed into words, language, and in doing so a little bit of magic happens; that’s how a poem ends up on a page. Reading a poem is also a journey of discovery. So much can be found in a poem. Discover where words can take you by reading a poem, but don’t stop there. Read, and then read again. By reading a poem multiple times, you’ll find out how much there is contained within the words and language that relate the stories of our lives.
Writing Prompt included with “San Martín de Porres”
Think about one of your grandmothers, or an elderly woman who is important to you. If you were going to find her, where would she be? At home? In a closet? In the kitchen? In Mexico? Describe where you can find your grandmother and what she would be doing. Make sure to use a metaphor: My grandmother is X. Is she a corn tortilla, like in the poem, or is she a tiger, lion, eagle? Write about your grandmother and explore the metaphor.
“San Martín de Porres”
I found my grandmother in a shoe box
and through a mirror. She is the center of a corn tortilla
layered with leftover chicken and Monterey jack cheese.
Us cousins, los primos, are folded under
a rosary and Abuelita Aminta’s santos.
Nuestra familia at the feet of the saints
in her bedroom altar, when I was plump
as an Iowa corn fed chicken
in California, Pico Rivera, and my mother
exalted my meaty legs,
hers were thin to the bone.
As a teenager, with a new beginning
of voluptuous curves,
I spent four weeks in Nicaragua
for a quick look around at the homeland. A storm
came in and the sky
slid black. Overgrown trees, bushes,
an entire wall of green lining a paved asphalt highway,
reached up, electrified,
as though all was alive, in need
of water, of rain, in need of a storm,
la tormenta. A word
that holds within itself the tumultuous sky, how nature,
my nature, our nature
is the cause of suffering, and how an angry downpour
is always ready and willing to wipe us clean.
El clima es bárbaro.
The climate will kill you with its gentle murmurs
and violent caresses.
Nicaragua’s heat and humidity. Moist air
alive in itself. I have kept moving north and dream
of snow, quiet,
cool clear ice. I want it cold
and gray, snow angels fanned under three pine trees.
Place a finger on an ice cube and it melts back
to water, back to the essential,
back to the love of nuestra familia.
I sketched Abuelita Aminta
in a college-ruled notebook, and found
a Snicker’s bar on a curio shelf. In my mouth
melted sugary sweet chocolate as I
ventured into her bedroom.
There Abuelita had propped my picture
up against San Martín de Porres, a Dominican
Brother found suspended in air
over a church floor, ecstatic in prayer for the lost,
for the homeless and the homebound.