I Sometimes Imagine Borders

I sometimes imagine borders when I think of home. Not the physical lines that cross through the green blues of the Rio Grande, swelling against the cactus of the dry heat. No, not the obvious terrain without a bloom of roses or the branches of poincianas.

The liminal borders I pretend to imagine come to mind when my roots react, the realities of today eclipsing the limbo of my lenguajes. An imaginary border, tender thoughts slipping from my womb. I imagine my homeland out of grasp like the opal glittered with gold on Motecuhzoma’s chest.

I imagine swimming through oceans when I think of home with my relatives in our sister country, merely a river away.

Boundaries guilty of fear.

Boundaries separate of me.

My Perspective as a Poet from the Borderlands

As a poet from the Rio Grande Valley, I write about what I know – which is my family, my culture, the distinctive region I live in, and the borders that surround us. I was eight years old the first time I was taught to be ashamed of my language. Growing up in a household on this side of the frontera, it wasn’t strange for my parents to choose teaching me only Spanish when it was their primary tongue and so common in our community. (Though my now pocha tongue would tell you otherwise.)

I am a Chicana/ Mexican-American from an immigrant family, I’ve lived my entire life in the border deeply immersed in Mexican culture. My parents grew up in America as migrant farmworkers, traveling the nation every year for work opportunities and witnessing firsthand discrimination towards their language and skin color. They experienced the burlas I never have.

I look at the divide between my parents’ upbringing and mine – what I see is how their struggles and experiences are embedded in everything I do. Their storytelling of calloused hands, deportation, and empty food pantries.

I am fortunate to be a part of an artistic family of comadres and compadres in El Valle that embraces the diversity of our borderland voices, acknowledging each other’s endeavors and experiencing how a support system has helped build a foundation that opened doors for our literary and arts community to flourish in the past decade. In my work at McAllen Public Library, I have seen the passion our local librarians and school teachers have for cultivating an environment of preserving our cultures.

Recently, I had the privilege of becoming my city’s poet laureate from 2015-17, an experience that has connected me with a larger audience in my region. I have been visiting schools and community centers spanning the geographic length of the Rio Grande Valley. This role has been a humbling and enlightening experience, allowing me the privilege and opportunity of observing how residents of South Texas experience poetry with writers approaching me from the unlikeliest corners. My community has opened its doors in venues I’d never considered, such as the Mexican Consulate in McAllen, TX. This absolutely thrills me but also has shown me that even in the Valley, there’s a spectrum of literacy we have yet to acknowledge.

After all, how can I consider events I’ve attended and hosted as being an embodiment of ‘border voices’ when our peers from el otro lado haven’t been represented?

In recent years, I have seen a growing number of Mexican, Central and Latin American residents at poetry events here in the Valley. This is due to immigration surges from Central and South America and also because of the closure of cultural centers in Mexico, where our frontera neighbors are facing increased fear and inseguridad. I’ve wondered what encourages them to participate in Valley events, and it is, I believe, because of the power of the spoken word and the Latino literary tradition that runs deep through the spectrum of Latinos with very different life experiences.

I believe these events must be documented by those living it.

Times have changed. It’s been almost five years since the last time I crossed the frontera, and what saddens me most is realizing my nieces and nephews will never know the frontera as I do. Their world only consists of este la’o and they have never met or visited la familia in Mexico.

Not because of a physical border, but that invisible border called fear.

I am from the borderlands of deep South Texas. A place where a wall was built to divide one region from the other – a symbol that confuses me with theories. I jump from skin to shell with my lenguajes – that’s what my borders gave me. Infinite roads of luck and legends and memories.

But to write of life en el otro la’o…to write about life as an immigrant…I could never do that because what I have learned is that all connections I have to those experiences aren’t enough. I have learned I am ignorant and naïve. I have learned that even though I am a writer, sometimes my job is to listen and learn and embrace and support other voices who can authentically tell these stories.

Announcing the Upcoming McAllen Poets Laureate

“Do work that matters. Vale la pena.”
-Gloria E. Anzaldúa

I am at a crossroads between crying from pride and laughing because of joy. Ready to let someone share this incredible journey of being a McAllen Poet Laureate, and being tremendously grateful for this experience that has changed my life and taught me so much about my wonderful community. We are a community living through so many transitions that must be documented as we live them, from this side of the Rio Grande Valley border to el otro lado.

I often think of Gloria E. Anzaldúa and the legacy she has left for us, the bonds she has given me with other Valley writers and community activists, and her courage to speak from the heart and soul about her experiences in el valle – the heridas that remain with us even now. To me, this platform representing our community was at times overwhelming, mostly because there were so many opportunities and goals I set for myself. But more often than not, I found how our vibrant literary and arts community had already found ways in which to approach these projects – which made my job that much easier!

There are so many who have mentored me and taken me under their wings along the way, it is almost impossible to list all without failing to forget my peeps! But I can certainly list a few who have inspired me, opened up venues and networks to learn about political and social changes our gente are experiencing, and helped me find my voice along the way: Daniel Garcia Ordaz, Erika Garza Johnson, and Lady Mariposa (their craft for documenting our stories through poetry and letting me learn from them has had the most impact on me as a poet); Olga Valle-Herr (for paving the way as our city’s first poet laureate); Emmy Perez, Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, and Dr. Rob Johnson (their academic and social work, both on campus and in our region, has opened up dialogues that have had a tremendous impact on our region); Kate Horan (who has taught me so much about literacy, how it impacts communities, and has provided me with unconditional support); Jan Epton Seale (Texas Poet Laureate and a mentor as I transitioned into my role as my city’s poet laureate); Dr. Norma Elia Cantú (who has been a literary madrina to so many of us in el valle – I don’t think you understand how much your support and encouragement is valued); and most definitely, our community activists, artists, and organizers who are instrumental in bringing to light social issues one must be vocal about (Sister Norma Pimentel, John-Michael Torres, Veronica Gabriela, Celeste De Luna and many, many others). You all have truly been a blessing!

I have a tendency of going off topic, so let me reel it back in and focus! After having been notified of who was selected to take over as McAllen Poet Laureate, I am typing out this post as an informal announcement. It is my greatest pleasure to announce that not one, but two, of the greatest voices and mentors in our community have been selected to take over the next couple of years! They already have a plethora of projects planned, such as organizing readings, festivals, workshops, writing new literature, etc. They really don’t need much of an introduction…but I definitely will post their bios!

Drumroll…

As 2018 McAllen Poet Laureate

23847710_10214699761591772_327974449_oEdward Vidaurre is the author of four books. I Took My Barrio On A Road Trip (Slough Press 2013), Insomnia (El Zarape Press 2014), Beautiful Scars: Elegiac Beat Poems (El Zarape Press 2015), and his latest collection Chicano Blood Transfusion (FlowerSong Books) was published this year. Vidaurre is the founder of Pasta, Poetry, and Vino–a monthly open mic gathering of artists, poets, and musicians. He resides in McAllen, TX with his wife and daughter.

 

As 2019 McAllen Poet Laureate

RGRodney Gomez is the author of Citizens of the Mausoleum (2018), Baedeker from the Persistent Refuge (2019), and the chapbooks Mouth Filled with Night (winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize from Northwestern University), Spine (selected by Ada Limón as winner of the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize), and A Short Tablature of Loss (selected by Eduardo Corral as winner of the Rane Arroyo Prize). His work has appeared in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird, Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, and other journals. He is the son of migrant farm workers and the first in his family to attend college. A proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop and the Chocholichex writing collective, he was educated at Yale, Arizona State, Berkeley, Cornell, and the University of Texas-Pan American. He reviews poetry and nonfiction for Latino Book Review and works at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He lives with the love of his life, Sara, in McAllen.

New Border Voices: An Anthology

Borders transition for an array of reasons, time being the indicator of how a new generation comes to rely on the histories of their land(s), reminiscing about what was and accepting (not eloquently though) that change alters realities. This anthology of voices are direct proof of how recent experiences, particularly in the Southwest region, have caused a metamorphosis in our communities. We slowly alienate ourselves from our ties to el otro lado because in our minds, borders close and fears become our distances.

As a fan of many of the prolific authors who form a part of this anthology, I am delighted current reflections from the border are represented well.

Barrio Writers by Sarah Rafael-Garcia

Reading this anthology brought clarity to obstacles often overlooked that affect many of today’s youth in the barrios. Striding with hope and writing about their ambitions, ranging from careers to bonding with family, these brave writers share their diverse experiences with an honesty that is captured by their words. From their perspective, Barrio Writers is a platform that introduces participants to an outlet where their voices can be heard, and their documented stories can emerge as an inspiration to other youth.

With outlined activities at the end of each prompt, this book is a must for middle and high school classrooms!

Canicula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en La Frontera by Norma Elia Cantu

La frontera is a mystical region influenced by an embrace of cultures, the lapses of time, the economy of two countries, and the growth that comes with opportunities. To explain it is difficult because so much is lost in the intent, trying to translate a community’s language with the vocabulary that divides our accent. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to share our Mexican/American borderland because our culture is about extending a hand to the world.

Dr. Cantu’s snapshots take us back to a youth where traditions are molded and family is an expected backbone. Her stories are shared, rather than told, and the history tejanos have experienced are documented without boundaries.

Not exactly fictional or autobiographical, Canicula immerses readers into a family’s timeline that spans generations and captures the essence of life bonds.

Rant.Chant.Chisme. by Amalia Ortiz

As a child growing up in South Texas, I knew what being a hocicona meant.

It meant you were a repelona who enjoyed arguing. A chismosa who told everyone’s business. A cabrona who often picked a fight. A metiche who put her foot down when nobody asked her opinion.

Mostly, I understood a hocicona to be someone who had something to say and the best part, had an audience to listen to her.

Someday, I want to be an hocicona like Amalia.

Her chismes entertain me like a good Mexican telenovela. Ella suelta la sopa and speaks in volumes through her resonating verses, opening up conversations often suppressed, as with ‘Women of Juarez’ and ‘the short skirt speaks’.

Amalia’s poems remember. They cry. They tell on you. They don’t know how to play hide-and-seek well. They count you in when you try to blend in. And caray, do they speak!

Poxo by Isaac Chavarria

Desarraigados are those of us who have been uprooted and confused by the theories of fronteras. Confused by labels and labeled because it is logical. Regional subcultures mess us all up – so how can we associate with labels that marginalize the distinctiveness or our South Texas community?

It’s a conversation meant to have us running in circles. Jumping from being Hispanic or Latino to being Chicano, possibly Mexican-American or Tejano. I’ve lived all these labels without ever truly owning them. Sometimes, it’s all about the occasion.

And that’s what I appreciate about Isaac Chavarria’s collection of poems. In reading Poxo, I was able to identify with the author’s jumble of lenguajes, never settling between one world and the other. Aware that he can distance himself from one root and never be able to branch away from it.

Unwoven by Erika Garza-Johnson

Erika Garza-Johnson’s debut, Unwoven, is a collection of poetry that refuses to be labeled. It is an anthology that explores the author’s identity and plays with a variety of genres. At times, it is autobiographical, contemporary,a saga, or a narrative. At others, it is an observation, a mystery, a drama, or a reflection. But most of all, it is a collection of love poems.

I have known my comadre, Erika, for almost a decade. We’ve traveled together all over the valley and central Texas for poetry readings and workshops. I’ve heard her voice deliver those punches in her work up close and know the shifting of her borders are obvious with her spoken word. Erika has one of the greatest stage presences I’ve encountered because she does not shy away from the intentions of her poetry.

After reading Unwoven, I can honestly say her words vaporize from the page and into one’s perceptive consciousness. So honest and with the lenguaje that is typical of a South Texas community. The rhythm a pattern of words that make it simple for others to comprehend our Tex-Mex slang.

From writing about ‘Heridas Abiertas’ to ‘Pinche Princesses’, my comadre reveals her love. For her family, her community, her culture, her experiences. Sometimes it is not so obvious. Sometimes, her love is coraje. Sometimes, her love gives you the finger.

In all possible explorations of her work, one cannot mistake how she has unwoven her world to share it with her audience.

Beautiful Scars by Edward Vidaurre

I first met Edward Vidaurre a few years ago at a Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival – I believe it was the Poetry Pachanga at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito, TX. Every year that I’ve attended VIPF, it’s always a great opportunity to meet new poets and listen to a diversity of voices. I remember how Edward’s presence was inspiring. His poetry unique because although we have claimed him as a valle poet, his memories of an upbringing in East Los Angeles add a twist of flavor to his verses and allows for us to discover some semblances to life in South Texas that are not quite the same at all instances.

From being an acquaintance to becoming a poetry compadre I am truly inspired by, Edward’s passion in sharing his writing supersedes the idea of simply promoting his work when invited to read at events. Edward shows up to events with the intent of inspiring others to collect their own experiences into writing. A proof of this is the periodical Pasta, Poetry and Vino events he hosts to promote other poets and to open a space for the literary community.

As you can probably imagine, when his latest poetry collection “Beautiful Scars: Elegiac Beat Poems” was released, I was first in line to grab a copy. One can always count on having a great time when reading my compadre’s stuff. I know it’s a rule to not judge a book by its cover, but Edward’s book…well, the cover is enough to have made me grab a copy anyways! The photographs included in between poems offered an extra glimpse into Edward’s world and incorporated a story of their own.

evidaurreOne look at the table of contents and I knew I’d read the book in one take. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book about his “greñuda”? As a daddy’s girl, I was able to relate to the bond the author has with his Bella, and embraced the language of amor eterno flowing from those verses. Perhaps not visible to the naked eye, but his corazón bled between the empty spaces on those pages dedicated to his daughter.

I feel this was the most beautiful scar he shared with me as I read his book. Sometimes, loving is just too much!

Visit Edward’s Blog Here: http://edwardvidaurre.blogspot.com/
Purchase a Copy of His Book Here: Beautiful Scars