José Olivarez: Citizen Illegal – Frank Islam Athenaeum Symposia

José Olivarez: Citizen Illegal – Frank Islam Athenaeum Symposia


[Music] Raise your hand if this is your
first time going to a poetry reading
are any of you new to this alright cool welcome the first thing that you
should know about this poetry reading
is that first of all we’re not in the
library and so that means that you’re
allowed to react you don’t have to be
silent so some of the ways that you can
react you can snap your fingers let me see
you snap your fingers right that’s
like the classic coffee shop response
cool excellent you can also clap your hands let
me see you clap your hands that’s very
polite I feel like I’m on a golf course you don’t mean that’s like the
golf clap you gave me that’s okay you’ll get better it’s cool I’m
gonna start by reading a poem that I
did not write this poem is by Aracely
skin mine it’s called unkindness it’s after a poet named Nazim
hikmet and it’s for and after rasaan unkindness by Aracely
skim mine at the Detroit Metro Airport with
the turtle hours to spare between
now and my flight there is such a thing as
the kindness of the conveyor belt
who lends me it slow strange mollusk foot
as I stand quiet exhausted having
been alone in my bed for days now sleeping
in hotels having spent months now
without seeing the faces of my family
somehow it’s slow and quiet carrying of
the load reminds me of the kindness of
donkeys and this kindness returns me to
myself it reminds me of the kindness of
other things I love like the kindness
of sisters who send mail wherever
you are and speaking of mal there is a
special kindness of the mail lady who
says hi baby to everyone at first I
thought it was just me but now I know she
says hi baby to everyone this is
kindness – this is kindness – there is the
kindness of windows and of dogs and then there was that
extraordinary Sunday back at the house I heard
a woman screaming about how she was
lonely and so lonely she didn’t know what
she do maybe killed herself she said
over and over like a parrot in a cage a
parrot whose human parent only taught
it that one sentence I looked out the
window and saw her from behind the way she
flung her arms like she was desperate
and being killed or eaten by an
invisible predator like a tiger or a lion
in the chest and her voice seemed to
fall doubt with methadone I don’t know
something and I walked away from the
window and sat angry with her for screaming
and sad and not long after I heard I
heard her saying would you say would you
say to me and a man’s voice low I could
not tell if it was kind and she said I’ll
kill myself I’m so lonely and did I
tell you yet that it was Mother’s Day
flowers and mothers flowers and mothers all
day long and the woman saying I’m so
lonely I could kill myself and then quiet
in the man’s voice saying it’s okay
it’s okay I love you it’s okay and this made
me get up put my face again to the
window to see my landlord’s nephew outside
just hugging her so as if it were his
mother I mean as if he belonged to her
and then again quiet I left the window
but sat in the silence of the house hit him
by shudders and was amazed when the
front door of the brownstone opened up and let the tall
nephew in with his sad and couger eyes
handsome and tall in his Carolina
Brooklyn swagger I heard him start to climb the
stairs above me in my own hand open up
opened up my own front door and though
it was none of my business I asked him
do you know that woman out there and do
you know what happened next he said no the nephew said no he
didn’t know the woman out there and he
told me happy mother stay as he climbed the rest of
the stairs and I can’t stop seeing
them hugging on the street under
trees it was spring but cold and
sometimes in the memory his head is touching
hers and sometimes in the memory his eyes
are closed and sometimes she is
holding him and singing to him I love you
it’s okay I mean to tell you that
everywhere I go I hear us singing to each other
this way I mean to tell you that I have
witnessed such great kindnesses as this in
this my true life you must believe me I
mean on a Sunday when nobody was
supposed to be watching nobody at all I saw
this happen the two of them hugging when
nobody was supposed to be watching but not
a secret either public as the street not
for glory and not for a joke the
landlord’s nephew ready to stand there for
the woman like a brother or a sister
or a husband or son or none of those
things at all but a stranger a stranger
who like her is an earthling perhaps
this thing I am calling kindness is
more simple than kindness rather
recognition of the neighbour in the blue
shared earth in the common circumstance
of being here what remains living of the last
two million impossible years give it
up for out of Aracely’s yeah [Applause] that poem is from the book
kingdom Animalia which is one of my
favorite books kingdom Animalia is one of
the books that i carry with me
everywhere this next poem is by me it’s
called here it is it’s called
mexican-american disambiguation it’s after a poet
named urease Goodwin my parents are
Mexican who are not to be confused with
Mexican Americans or Chicanos I am a
Chicano from Chicago which means I am a
Mexican American with the fancy college
degree in a few tattoos my parents are Mexican who are
not to be confused with Mexicans still
living in Mexico those Mexicans call
themselves mexicanos white folks at parties
call them pobrecito American colleges call them international students and
diverse my mom was white in Mexico and my
dad was mestizo and after they crossed
the border they became diverse and minorities and ethnic and exotic
but my parents call themselves
mexicanos who again should not be confused for mexicanos living in Mexico those mexicanos might call my family
Gringo’s which is the word my family
calls white folks and white folks call my
parents interracial colleges say put
them on a brouchure my parents say que
significa esta palabra I point out that
all the men in my family marry lighter
skinned women that’s just the Chicano in
me which means it’s the fancy
college degrees in me which is also
diverse in me everything in me is diverse even
when I eat American foods like
hamburgers which to clarify our American when a
white person eats them and diverse
when my family eats them so much of
America can be understood like this my parents were undocumented
when they came to this country and by
undocumented I mean sin papeles and by sin papeles I mean
royally fucked which should not be
confused with the American Dream though the
two are cousins colleges are not looking
for undocumented diversity my dad
became a citizen which should not be
confused with keys to the house we were
safe from deportation which should not be
confused with walking the plank though
they’re cousins I call that sociology
but that’s just a chicano in me who should
not be confused with the diversity of
me or the Mexicano in me who is constantly
fighting with the upwardly mobile and me
who is good friends with the Mexican
American and me who the colleges love but
only on brochures who’s the government
calls non-white Hispanic or white
Hispanic who my parents call mijo even
when I don’t come home so much cool
thank you so much for being here yeah this
next poem is a poem called I love the
world so I’m married it make some
noise if you’ve heard the phrase if you
love it so much why don’t you marry it
yeah okay cool cool cool so when I was writing my book
for some reason that phrase got stuck in
my head so I wrote this poem I loved the
world so I married it music even on
the day my grandma died there were mangoes
though I tasted nothing but slowly I came
back to the world in carne asada better
than I remembered smoked off the meat I couldn’t
contain my happiness even though it felt offensive to smile with my
grandma buried and getting eaten by the
flowers and sometimes I look at my love
and think I would like to stay to
put a welcome mat on our doorstep with
our names – Aidid when I was young I believed in forever then my
uncle died and I knew forever included none
of my family included no friends their
stories rotting in my head until I lose
them so I know I will divorce the
world and let it keep my most treasured possessions a six-piece with
lemon pepper and mild sauce on all the
honey of a slow kiss my Apple music
playlist the way mi abuelita smiled
and called me lupito I hated that
name except when she said it yeah you
can clap or not you know whatever
you’re feeling silence is okay too all right so this next poem is
called my parents fold like luggage one of
the things that I was trying to do
and maybe we’ll talk more about this in
the Q&A is one of the things that I’ve
noticed is that the conversation around
immigration tends to be very small and so specifically like news shows are
only interested in talking about the
act of crossing right they’re only
really interested in talking about the
southern border in particular and they’re
not as interested in asking like what
happens before that leads people to
migrate to different places and they don’t
ask what happens after right they don’t
ask what happens once people arrive
wherever they’re going that’s just the
one moment that they’re interested in and
so I wanted to write poems that tried
to that tried to like break open that
type of like small frame right I wanted
to think about what other stories are
possible to tell so this poem is called my
family never finished migrating we just
stopped let me see if I can find it all right my family never finished
migrating we just stopped we invented cactus
to survive the winters we created
steel and my dad’s mill I saw a man
dressed like a Martian walked straight into the
fire the flames licked his skin but
like a pet it never bit him in the
desert they find our baseball caps our empty
water bottles but never our bodies
even the best ice agents can’t track us
through the storms but I have a theory
some of our cousins don’t care about LA
or Chicago they build a sanctuary underneath the sand under the
skin we shed so we can wear the desert
like a cobija under the bones of our
loved ones bones weren’t thin as
thorns to terrorize blue agents bones
weren’t thin as guitar strings so when the
wind blows we can follow the music home so
this next poem I read is a poem that
I wrote because growing up I never saw
this this remedy represented in literature
and it felt like a huge oversight so
this poem is called no vaporu and if you don’t know
what vaporu is I’ll tell you after
the poem no vaporu Vaporu is
pronounced Vaporu ooh like loud or chew the label
for Vaporu who says it’s for cough suppression but in my house
Vaporu is for headaches sore muscles
nightmares and everything else put some
vaporu on my dad’s diabetic toes and watch
the sugar evaporate miss a day of
church put some vaporu on your forehead and
watch forgiveness flush your cheeks
put some vaporu on our bank account and
watch the bill collectors stop calling
when I forget a word in Spanish I take
a teaspoon of vaporu under the
tongue so Vaporu in English it’s called
vapor rub but I never heard it called
that so when I went to college I
remember I got sick one time and like my
roommate was like do you want some vapor rub
I have vapor rub and I was like what
are you talking I don’t know what that
is and then he showed me the blue
bottle I was like oh whoa why didn’t you
just stop why didn’t you just call it
by its name that’s vaporu anyway
that poem is important to me hahaha okay
this next poem is called my parents fold
like luggage my parents fold like
luggage into the trunk of a Toyota
Tercel stars glitter against a black sky from
the sky the tercel is a small ladybug
traveling north from the sky borders do
not exist the tercel stops in front of a
man in green stars glitter like broken
glass the night so heavy it chokes in
the trunk it is starless my parents
protect this moment this now will folds them
into the trunk of a Tercel the belief
that the folding will end it doesn’t
dollars fold into bills my parents near
breaking broke they protect what might
unfold them to discover they are six a
family if the man in green opens the
trunk the road folds back this moment and everything that follows
disappears into the ink of a police report why doesn’t he open the trunk my
parents say God blessed us maybe they
are right but I think about that night and
wonder where God was a million miles
away in the stars in the shared breath between my parents maybe
everywhere maybe nowhere from the sky the
man in green is so small it is
impossible to see him wave from the sky it is impossible to hear whether my
parents cheer or pray as the car steals
north okay I’m gonna read some newer
poems and then maybe I’ll close out with a
few more poems from the book and
then we can have a conversation does that
sound okay yeah y’all are good okay this poem is called ARS Poetica
in ARS Poetica is a poem that is kind
of like your mission statement right
it’s kind of like it’s a poem that kind of
gets at what you’re trying to accomplish
with your poetry so this is this is
my ARS Poetica migration is derived from the
word my grave which is a verb defined by merriam-webster as to move from
one country place or locality to
another plot-twist migration never ends
my parents moved from Jalisco may
he go to Chicago in 1987 they were
dislocated from Mexico by capitalism and
they arrived in Chicago just in time
to be dislocated by capitalism
question if my is migration possible if there
is no other land to arrive in my work
is to imagine my family started
migrating in 1987 and they never stopped I
was born mid migration I’ve made my home
in that motion let me try again I tried
to become American but America is
toxic I tried to become Mexican but
Mexico is toxic my work is to do more than
we produce the toxic stories I
inherited and learned in other words just
because it’s art doesn’t mean it’s
inherently nonviolent my work is to write
poems that make my people feel safe
seeing or otherwise loved my work is to
make my enemies feel afraid angry or
otherwise ignored my people are my people
my enemies capitalism Susan Sontag
says victims are interested in the representation of their own
sufferings remix survivors are interested
in the representation of their own
survival my work survival question why poems
answer okay so I’m from Chicago I don’t
know if I’ve said that before but that’s
an important part of my identity I
think I feel most nationalists about
being from Chicago that’s like where my
patriotism shows up I’m like I am chicagan wrote this poem this is another
newish poem this is called wherever I’m
at that land is Chicago me and my
friends joke that wherever we are we’re like
in a Chicago embassy right so
wherever we’re at that’s still Chicago things
that you need to know for this poem well
I don’t know I think I think you’ll get
it if not you can ask me questions
later all right wherever I’m at that
land is Chicago forgive my geography
it’s true I’m obsessed with maps with
flags a Starbucks on the block means
migration any restaurant with bulletproof
glass is a homecoming underneath my gym
shoes is a trail of salt that last
sentence is a test does the does the poet mean
a grief B winter C diaspora D this is
the wrong question e all of the above I’m always out south of
somewhere I know the Sun rises in Lake Michigan
and sets out west I got Primos I’ve never met
there’s a word for that where did they go
all the steel mills shuttering up like
Concorde firt like Concord forts one day
there will be an urban tour through
South Chicago picture the soy
cappuccino sipping cool kids wearing
Chicago over everything branded hoodies
taking selfies in front of machines
that once breathe fire pretending the
bones are the real thing [Applause] all right few more poems all
right this next poem is called you get fat
when you’re in love which is a true
story you get fat when you’re in love you
got a little extra love on your ankles
love hanging over your belt line love
makes it hard to fit inside your pants sometimes love got you buying
bigger sizes need deeper pockets for
all this love your buttons can’t hold all
the love rippling up the middle of
your rib cage love turns those shirts
into accordions you make music with
this love carry yourself like a song when
you get skinny everyone rushes to
compliment you they want to know what your
secret is tell me they say what’s your
secret you look great call it the broke
heart diet love left you then you left
you now all you have is this
disappearing body I’ve done interviews where
people are like you know the book there’s a
lot of poems about immigration but then
like what’s what’s like you get fat
when you’re in love what’s that about
and I’m like what you don’t think you
don’t think we fall in love if you
don’t think we get fat this next poem is a
poem I wrote from my dad my dad you
know like I said my parents are from Mexico
I was born here in the United States
in Chicago my dad is like a very traditional Mexican dad and what
I mean when I say that is that my dad
is not very good at expressing his
feelings with words right like he does
other things to express his his
feelings like he pays the bills that’s how he expresses his feelings so that
makes it hard for us sometimes because
you know obviously I write poems so I’m a
little more sensitive I need to hear
the words right so anyway this is a poem
that I wrote trying to imagine what it
would be like to have a more verbal
relationship with my dad this one was called
getting ready to say I love you to my
dad it rains I love you dad I say to
the cat I love you dad I say to the sky I love you dad
I say to the mirror it rains and my mom’s
plants open their mouths my dad stays
on the couch maybe the couch opened its
mouth and started eating my dad I love
you dad I say to the couch its tongue
working my dad like a puppy I hear the
rainfall and think the city is drinking or
making itself clean I’m here with my
dad and the TV and the TV drones on and
on so I’m not sure I hear it my dad
grunting and nodding not the mushy stuff
I was expecting neither of us cry no
hug or a kiss just a grunt and denied I love you dad I say to my dad
we sit together and watch TV outside it
rains my dad turns the volume up the
city is drunk the city is singing badly
in the shower I killed the plant once because
I gave it too much water Lord I worry
that love is violence my dad is silent and our
relationship is not new or clean I killed the plant once because
I didn’t give it enough water my dad and
I watched TV on a rainy day we
rinse our mouths with this water so I read
you a poem that I wrote from my mom
this poem is called nation of domination
what you need to know before I read this
poem is 1 so before the rock was a movie
star he was a wrestler and when he was a wrestler he was in a group
called the nation of domination and he
betrayed that group and the leader of
that group was called Farouk so you’ll hear
those names in this poem and then the
other thing is the poem mentions a
rock group called those bukis los
bukis are my mom’s favorite or my mom’s
favorite band so that’s who they are nation of domination my mom hugs
me and wants me to stay I have my foot
on the pedal a fake gold chain on my neck I
confess I’m a sucker I never want
magicians to reveal their secrets I want to
live in the unknowing where everything
is possible my mom dances with me to los
bukis she thinks this makes me her baby
still perspective is a magic trick I hit my brother with the rock
bottom and I bet you can guess what I
leave out ask for ook if you need a hint
the brain is full of magic I don’t
understand no one signs up to take a dive in
wrestling there’s a team of writers who
decide who wins and who loses the metaphor
is obvious my mom wasn’t born to play the
role of mom I don’t care how many baby
does she played with I danced with my mom
to los bukis and you’re a fool if you
believe it’s her son she’s trying to
hold on to okay y’all so good all right
let’s see what do I want to read you now
oh I know what I read so the next poem
that I’ll read is called I tried to be a
good Mexican son which is also a true
story let me see if I can find that
poem here we go I tried to be a good Mexican son
I even went to college but I studied african-american studies which
is not the law or medicine or business
my mom still loves me so I invented her
sadness and asked her to hold it like a
bouquet of fake flowers she laughed through it all I
didn’t understand wasn’t immigration of
burden what about the life you left I
asked my mom she planted flowers only
house on the block with flowers for
closure came like a cold wind it took her
flowers but that was a season new house
bigger garden mijo go get some tomatoes
from the yard is something my mom
really says I tried to be a good Mexican Sun
went to a good college and learned
depression isn’t just for white people I
tried to be a good Mexican Son but not
that hard sometimes my mom’s texts get
dusty before I answer even worse I
never shared that Jesus Christ memes
she sends me on Facebook if there’s a hell
I’m going Express I hope they have
Wi-Fi I hope I remember to share my
mom’s Jesus Christ memes maybe God believes
in second chances but I doubt it I
tried to be a good Mexican son I came
home for the holidays still a disappointment no
million-dollar job or grandkids Spanish
deteriorating English getting more vulgar I
tried to be a good Mexican son but I kept
fucking it up my mom still loves me even
when I can’t understand her blessings she makes me kiss her on the
cheek before I leave the house she
tells me to quiet down when she’s watching
her novellas she asked me if I’m
okay she tells me I’m getting so skinny
and I need to eat more frijoles she
has the pot ready I tried to be a good
Mexican son but all I know how to do is
sit down for a good second and leave
before a bad one y’all are great thank you so
much for being here all right I think
I’ll ready maybe three more poems and
said does that sound okay all right
cool so this poem is called gente
fication raise your hand if you’ve heard
of the word gentrification all right cool so people know
what that means gente fication is a word
that my friend Nate Marshall invented
Nate is a poet from Chicago we were
hanging out together in the neighborhood
that’s like going through gentrification and
we were sitting at a bar and you know
maybe we had had a few drinks and they
turned to me he was like yo Jose were hint
defying the bar right now and I was like
yo that’s it that’s what we need
gente fication so this poem is called
gente fication shout outs an a gente
fication I plant a grain of sand in the
new organic juice pot in El Barrio
soon donkey shit big stinky shits on
carrot containers our deals ETS smoking cigarettes and taking up all the
plugs the grain of sand grows into a
cactus and my Abuelita Jacinta is back
with the living she’s kicking the juicers
out of kitchen in making masa the whole
block heard what’s happening and
outside the hydrants open and flood the
streets the bad news is the property value
is going down again the good news is my
boy nate is teaching poetry workshops in
the shade Gwendolyn Brooks smelled
that demolish and came down to write
rejoice in the good news my dad comes
through with the cooler of beer and no
one gets drunk enough to fight my mom’s
French braid gets longer every minute soon it will be long enough to
toss to our cousins in Mexico in LA in
Texas there are Mexicans in DC who got
the call Salvadorians bringing
pupusas from the cactus we get a steel mill
from the steel mill we get more tortillas
the bad news is the economists say there
is ZERO economic value on our block the
good news is we threw away the
economics textbooks we trade tortillas for haircuts nopales for health
care poems for groceries and if all you can
do is eat the food we ask that you
wash your dishes the donkeys bless
everything we grow from the tortillas we get
more desert and from the desert we
get lowriders cars bounce our
cousins and gangs get their bendición is the
whole block is alive and not for sale
the Treaty of Guadalupe I’ll
go rescinded it’s happening on our
block and maybe it’s happening on your
block the bad news is the president
sends the National Reserve the good news
is they’ll never find us we pack
everything into the trunk of a Toyota
Corolla when La Migra comes there dogs bark
and spit but all they find is grains of
sand [Applause] all right two more poems this
poem is called I asked Jesus how I got so white
I have fun when I titled my phones I’m
like what some ridiculous shit I
could say alright I asked Jesus how I got
so white I just remembered that they’re
recording this now I feel woops yikes I’m in the moment
you know I’m like oh it’s just us and now
I’m like wow this is going to be on
TV forever my bad I asked Jesus how I got so white depending on the population of
the room in question I get asked what I
am my mom told me I’m Mexican but because
Mexican women can’t be trusted some
people want to know if I’m really Mexican
because I know I’m a questionable narrator
when it comes to my own life I asked
Jesus how I got so white and Jesus says man
I’ve been trying to figure out the
same damn thing myself [Applause] all right so this will be my
last poem this poem is called Mexican
heaven in my book it split up into eight
poems across the whole book I wrote it that
way because this is my favorite poem
and so I wanted the poem to be like a
kind of course that people kept coming
back to but I’ll read you all eight
parts together right now once again
thank you for listening I’m excited to
hear your questions thank you so much to
the college for having me out I’m
really really genuinely happy and my
heart is full being here with you this
poem is called sure you can clap this
poem is called Mexican heaven one all of
the Mexicans sneaked into heaven st.
Peter has their name on the list but
none of the Mexicans have trusted a list
since Ronald Reagan was president to
st. Peter is a Mexican named Pedro but
he’s not a saint better awaits at the gate with
the shout of tequila to welcome all the
Mexicans to heaven but he gets drunk and
forgets about the list all the Mexicans
walk into heaven even our no-good
cousins who only go to church for baptisms
and funerals three it turns out God
is one of those religious Mexicans who
doesn’t drink or smoke weed so all the
Mexicans in heaven party in the basement
while God reads the Bible and thumbs
of rosary God threatens to kick all the
Mexicans out of heaven si no paran con
las pendejadas they had us so the Mexicans
drink more discreetly they smoke outside
where God won’t smell the weed God
pretends the Mexicans are reformed hallelujah
this cycle repeats once a month amen for Jesus has a tattoo of la
virgin de Guadalupe covering his back it
turns out he’s your cousin Jesus from
the block it turns out he gets
reincarnated everyday and no one on earth
cares all that much five all the Mexican
women refuse to cook or clean or raise
the kids or pay bills or make the
bed or drive you to work or do anything
except watch their novellas so heaven
is gross the rats are fat as roosters in
the men die of starvation six there are
white people in heaven too they build
condos across the street and ask the
Mexicans to speak English I’m just
kidding there are no white people in
heaven seven tamales tacos tostadas
tortas posoles sopes watches menudo
horchata jamaica limonada agua eight st. Peter let’s
Mexicans into heaven but only to work in the
kitchens a Mexican dishwasher polishes
the crystal smells the meals and
hears the music they dream of another
heaven when they might be allowed in if only
they work hard enough cool so if you have a question I
think the mics on either side are
turned on so you can just walk up to the mic
and we can have a conversation no
questions okay cool thank you so much no
I’m kidding please just turn the mic on okay
cool thank you yeah cuz of the
recording okay cool thank you for people who
are interested in getting into
poetry more and writing more often what
would you suggest how how did you get into
it and how did you keep it consistent
if you did yes so there’s a few
questions there right I’ll start with how I got
into poetry I started writing poetry
when I was in high school and the way that I saw it was in
an auditorium like this so yeah I
was sitting down and I had no idea
what it was to see something called
poetry slam and I had no idea what poetry
slam was but you know I was like they’re
offering us free pizza and they’re
offering us a chance to get out of school so I
was like alright cool i’ma go and
the people who were performing were like
classmates of mine there were other
teenagers and it just it immediately kind of
it cracked me open in a way because
one like I was a good reader I’ve
read a lot of books but I didn’t realize
that you could be an author you know what
I mean like I didn’t know like my
parent my dad is a steel worker and my mom is
a janitor like there were no
authors that I knew of walking around our
city right and so to find out like we could
do more than just read books we could
make books that felt very powerful
especially as someone who loved books right so that was powerful and then to
like the Poetry Slam that I that was the first time that I
saw adults be quiet and listen to
the students right it was the first
time that I saw like the adults
listen and the in like the students got to
be the the people with the answers and
the people with like you know not
who were educating but the people who
were the Masters of that space right they controlled what was said and so
that was very powerful to me and I think
I was really hungry for that I think
that it helped me ask questions that I
you know no one else was asking me which
was like my parents were shaking were
shaping me for one particular type of life
and no one had taken the time to ask me
if that was also the life that I wanted
right or if you know I would have gone my
whole life just like quietly following
my parents wishes and there’s
nothing wrong with that necessarily but when I
asked myself like is that the life
that I want I was able to kind of say no and
then start asking myself well what
type of life do I want what would really
inspire me and make me feel good and
make me feel happy and so poetry like
opened up all of that for me and so that’s
how I got into it when I was 15 in
terms of like what would my advice be to
somebody who wanted to write poetry and
wanted to get into it I would say my two
biggest pieces of advice are one try to
read as much as you can and whatever you
like to read so if you like to read
comic books that’s dope right if you like to
read poetry already cool read poetry
if you read novels fine but I think
reading is important because it teaches us
the different ways that we can speak
right it kind of teach it kind of
shows us what’s possible and then my
second piece of advice is being a writer is a
lot harder if you’re trying to do it
by yourself so you really I think
it’s a lot easier if you have people
that you trust that you can show your
poems to that you can show your writing
to that can tell you like yes you’re on
the right path you have something here or you know no
this still needs work because especially
when you’re starting out there’s like
a difference between what you
imagine like what you’re trying to write
right you have a vision in your head but
when you’re starting out like you
can’t quite build your vision yet right so
you need people that can help you see if
you’re getting closer to your vision or
not so those are my two big pieces of
advice yeah sure thank you other
questions yeah and not just beer and in a book
like what steps do they need to take
do they have to you know gain a degree
in that or just have the money to be
able to publish it yeah that’s a good
question so one there’s no one path for
writing right I I don’t have my MFA in
creative writing I know other writers who
have gone that path and have
benefited from it right but you have to decide
for yourself what type of writing
life you want for yourself and so do you
want to publish books if you want to
publish books then there are a bunch of different pathways that you can
take to accomplish that goal right you
know one is that you can self publish
your own books right if you decide I
don’t want to wait for people to publish my
writing I believe in my vision people
are already asking me for my books
you can make your own books before I had
this book published I used to like
make little books of like ten poems
and I would take them to Kinko’s and I
would like staple little books myself and I would take them to my
shows and that’s how I started to build
you know a little bit of you know I don’t
even know if you could call it a following
but it was just a way that I started to practice the art of making a
book right you don’t have to wait to have a
book deal to practice making books
for yourself now if you’re
interested if you’re like I want to publish
and I want a publisher I want you know a
publisher is basically a partner in making
your book it’s someone who believes
in your vision and they’ll kind of front
the cost for making your book and
then you you know you split the profits a
certain way if that’s the path you want
to take then you you know my suggestion
is always find artists who you love
and then see if you can figure out
the path that they took and then then you
can try to copy some of those paths
right so one of the poets that I really love
is a poet named Jessica Salgado who’s
a Salvadoran poet from Los Angeles
she also doesn’t have her writing
degree but she’s been able to like build a substantial following by working
with the publisher that’s locally
based write for me the way that this book
came about was like I tried to go the
quote-unquote literary route so I submitted
some literary journals and did that
whole process and eventually built relationships with people that
my publisher you know and they
asked me to see a manuscript what I’ve
always found is that I am most successful
when I am trying to build things on my own
and then if people want to partner
with me that’s cool but like I’m going
to do I’m going to build the work that I
want to build regardless does that make
sense so I would say you know maybe my
biggest piece of advice is like figure
out what your vision is make that work
and then see if people will invite you
were like try to get a part of that vision
but like have that vision for
yourself thank you no problem thank you hello hi I know as far as I hear
you’re talking about your family’s a
very important part of your life what were their opinion when you
tell them you’re becoming a writer
and if you the words from them support help
you to continuing your idea yeah thank you for your question
when I told my family that I was going
to become a writer they were like guess I so he I
was the first person in my family to go
to college and I’m the oldest so I
was like the first first and and I got
into Harvard University so my parents
showed you can file my parents wanted
me to become a lawyer or a doctor or
whatever and so when I was like yeah you
know that’s really good but I think I
think I’m gonna write poetry you know
they were confused for sure it used
to be when I would go home you know my
dad would pick me up and he’d be
like so mijo when are you going to law
school and I’d be like no dad I told
you I write poems and he’d be like but
you can do that and become a lawyer
right which is true but I would you know I
was not trying to do that but now my
parents are much more supportive I tell
everyone that there’s like a particular
hour every day where I get like 55
facebook notifications and it’s just my
mom liking everything I’ve posted in
the last 24 hours you know what I mean and she
shares all of it too it could be a selfie
if my mom will be like me Tommy mijo
tahuapoa you know I mean it doesn’t matter
what I post my mom will share it 100%
so now they’re they’re much more
supportive and I think that they they still
like they wish that I didn’t tell so many
family secrets you know but at the same time I think they’re
proud and and my brothers are really
proud they they helped me edit my book
so they helped me kind of make sure that
I’m telling the story in a way that
makes sense but yeah I think that
they’ve become much more supportive now
yeah thank you [Applause] other questions oh boy I had a long this is for
as a prelude to what I’m going to say
and had a long conversation with Jose
while we were waiting for the program to
start and I was very proudly telling
him how diverse our institution so when
you read your poem about colleges and
diversity on the brochure it touched a
spot and my question is really to ask you to
talk a little bit more about what it
means to become the token successful
immigrant the token good Mexican Sun and a
lot of the varied experiences that
migrant children face in straddling
worlds that they leave behind that they may
not have even been a real part of and yet
are forced to represent yeah that’s
a good question I think I won I try to
avoid spaces where I’m tokenized in
that way because it doesn’t feel good and
it doesn’t feel real you know what
I mean it feels like a trap so you know
I I don’t like those types of
situations in the first place I’m more interested in so like
one of the things that I think is
important about my book is that none of
the words in none of the Spanish words in
the book are translated and that’s on
purpose right because thank you it’s on
purpose because when I was writing the
book I didn’t want it to be like an
explanation of Latinas odd for white people
you know I mean it wasn’t gonna be like
this is la fenix culture for you know
for dummies or whatever I wanted it
to be really I wanted it to be a
conversation first and foremost with other la
fenix people and then if other folks
wanted to have conversations after that
then they’re invited to take part you
know and if they you know if that
means that they have to like Google a
particular word then then that’s okay right sometimes I get asked like what
about the white people who are reading
your book and my response is always
if they don’t like my book that’s cool
there’s like a hundred thousand other
books for white people you know I mean
like it’s cool so anyway it’s also wide
like a lot of the conversations I think are
kind of tort-like its inward looking
right it’s conversations about machismo and
about gender and about colorism like
to me those are the important
conversations that we need to be having in
part because we can’t count on you
know white institutions to change and all
of a sudden realize that they need to
be nicer to us right if we’re
waiting on that then we might wait a really
long time but what we can do is we
can already start to have
conversations with each other we can already start
to think about what it means to build
power as a community how we can begin to
within our own communities start to address
our own issues right because it’s not
like it’s a dichotomy where like the next
people are perfect and white people are
not right like we have our own
issues that are very much you know that
are just as deep as as white folks
do right so I’m not interested in being
the token I’m more interested in like you
know let me let me be in conversation
with other Latinas people with other people
of color bright because we have our
own conversations that we need to
have between us to think about where
we can join forces and ways that you
know maybe we can be better to one another
and be better in solidarity with one
another but the tokenizing thing i just
it feels like not useful to me and then i
already forgot what the let what the
second part of your question was I got it ok
cool thank you any other questions
yes so my question is as your poems
your parents were immigrants do you
ever saw like growing up the difficulties
that they had because you know
sometimes with jobs or anything like that how
was it that you experienced that and
how you overcome you know to become what
you are now that’s a good question so there’s a couple of big
moments that stand out to me so my mom for a
while was working in a sock Factory
and I remember that there were
particular days where she would stay home
because she heard that there were rumors
that immigration was going to be
there and so like that was one of the things
where like if my parents heard that a
raid was happening then they would stay
home and they took me awhile to
understand why like what exactly what’s
happening right because I was still little
another thing is that until my so my my mom
still is not a citizen she has permanent
resident status which is great except
like she can’t vote right she’s never
voted and she can’t vote my dad has citizenship now but
before my dad had citizenship we spent
just about every Saturday going to an
immigration lawyer’s office like in the
basement of a building and my mom and dad
would talk to the immigration lawyer and
then me and my brothers for like three
hours would just hang out in the lobby
and it was years before my parents told
us why we had to do that right like
they didn’t tell us that we were at a
lawyer’s office so there are just like
all of these little silences that would
happen that you know that sometimes big silences in our in our lives
that we didn’t find out about until
afterwards in terms of like overcoming it I
don’t know I still kind of feel like that’s a process right like I
think I don’t think that that’s like
I’ve overcome it and now I’m healed
like I think it’s ongoing like I still
try to like be a better communicator
with my parents and I still try to be
even more understanding like when we get
into conflicts right I try to not I
try not to judge them too much because
there’s just I feel like there’s a lot
that I don’t know and so I try to be I try to be graceful about that [Applause] oh hi so I don’t actually have a question I just wanted to say
thank you for you know sharing your poetry
with us not just us your book obviously
um I don’t read poetry much and yours
really opened my eyes up to a lot you
know thinking it takes a very special
type of thought process to be able to
put together the stories that you
have in that type of way because
sometimes storytelling does get boring but
you have made a very interesting
thank you for coming and being yourself I
think that is very important as well
and being yourself in your poetry thank
you I appreciated as a son of
immigrants what would be or how did you find
your identity especially for many of
MCS students are also immigrants or
sons and or and others of immigrants what
process did it take to find who you are
and well because I’m pretty sure you had conflicts between being Mexican
and being American and what it was
being like mexican-american and how
poetry has helped you to find it thank you yeah that’s a great question
alright so one quick story is you’re right
I did have like these identity crises
of sorts so when I was 16 my parents let
me go to Mexico for a month because
there’s like fiestas in the small town where
they grew up in and so my plan was
like I’m just gonna stay like I’m I’m not
gonna tell my parents but I’m just
gonna stay in Mexico and that’s where I
live and my whole plan was it’s basically like the reason I
don’t the reason I don’t feel good in
the United States is because I’m not supposed to be in the United
States so if I just go back to Mexico then everything will make sense and
I’ll be okay right so that was my plan and I went
and I went to Mexico and in my head I
thought it was gonna be like a parade it
was gonna be like oh my god Jose like the lost son of ganas
the Obregon Jalisco Mexico he came
back this is great we love you we miss you
right and instead it was like you know
I’d be hanging out with my cousins
there and they’d be like but you know
you’re not Mexican right you’re American
and it really it messed me up at the
time because I didn’t want to hear
that right because up when I was in America
I heard that opposite right I would be
you know my classmates would be like but
you’re not really American you’re
Mexican and so I think for a while I thought
that that was the issue right I had
to choose between Mexico and the United
States and it always felt like no matter
what I chose I came out losing what
I’ve learned and I think in part it
was from studying and reading like
Chicano Chicana next theorists like
Gloria anzaldúa but also like poetry hella
poetry was there’s a beauty in the
in-between in what like anzaldúa calls me
Pantera right like there’s a beauty in
being from the middle and being in the in-between for me the beauty is
that I get to kind of I get to claim
it’s not that I have to choose one or the
other I can claim both right and so for
me there’s like a real beauty in
that and I think in part that’s like what I
found as I was writing my book was
like you know the question isn’t am i one
or the other the question is it’s not a question it’s really about how
much of both I am and so for me that’s
been a real joy to figure out in terms
of like the process like I said I think
a lot of it came from reading you know some of it came from
being in therapy and just like getting
older and like learning to be a little bit
kinder to myself so I used to like be
very embarrassed to speak Spanish
because I was like what if I mess up and
now I’m like yeah I might mess up but I
love speaking Spanish and I love the
like Spanish was my first language so
even though English is my better
language now in terms of like my ability to communicate when I speak English
it still feels like I’m talking
with rocks in my mouth like it doesn’t it
doesn’t feel quite natural the way
they’re like when I’m speaking Spanish it
feels natural so yeah I don’t know I
think I’m still figuring it out maybe I’ll
have a different answer in like 15
years I don’t know whoo oh we still have some time
I was like is it 8:30 no it’s 816 yay more questions citizen how long did the process
taper them to provide him a
citizenship um I think it took him probably like
12 years maybe more maybe like maybe 15
in total now that I think about it my dad
before he settled in Chicago he would
you know in the early 80s he would cross
back and forth he was working as a
migrant farm worker for a time he worked in a
circus for a while and so he would go
he would work and then when the job was
over he would go back to Mexico and then
when him him and my mom decided to
have a family that’s when he started to
keep an eye out for like where was their permanent work and so that’s how
he ended up in Chicago was because
you know this was before the internet so
through the migration network somebody
you know let the city of the town of
Canada’s know that there was like
full-time jobs in the steel mills if people
were willing to move to Chicago and
so that’s when my dad moved to Chicago but probably like yeah between 12
and 15 years total all right well I think if you
all don’t have any more questions is it
cool if I read one more thing yeah all right cool excellent yeah
and then we’ll close and then you know
I’ll be at the reception so we can if you
have like a question you want to ask
one-on-one we could do it there all right let
me pull this out real quick let’s see if
this works ok so this is my first
time reading this this is a new new
new like super new thing Chicago Magazine
asked me to write about Mexican
grocery stores so I tried my best and so this
is like I said this is the first time that
I’m reading this out loud my
hometown Mexican grocery stores are el
roble in Lupita’s in Calumet City
Illinois Lupita’s is bigger and has more
produce but on the weekends nothing
touched the carnitas you could get from El
Roble inside the smell of the pork fat
is mouth-watering you can follow
your nose to the big chunks of meat under
the glowing heat lamps there you can
take your Pig do you want Guerro or torta de bas do you want a
mix of everything and Roble on
Saturdays was one of the unofficial official
Mexican reunion spots in Calumet City
there my mom would pull me away from the
magazine rack to say hi it’s adonia chela
e 2 e e Mancha Amiga itro jr. e Lupe
Lupita Annina later when I moved to the
East Coast for college and became inconsolably homesick my friends
asked me what I missed about home
there was so much I missed I missed Harold chicken and in the open mics at
young Chicago authors and asking for
ground beef and nacho cheese to be
added to my bag of chips do you all do that
in DC no okay and I miss Mexican grocery
stores I miss hearing the roll call of all the
names we chose for ourselves I missed el Milagro tortillas
Mexican grocery stores are a sanctuary
somewhere you could walk in and listen to rancheros for a moment or maybe
the teenager working the cash
register were put on WGCI WGCI is like the
local hip-hop station in Chicago if you are like me maybe you hit
a two-step before sliding to the
produce section to pick up a huacatay
tomatillos manzanas these names are a bomb
like hearing my own name prawns
pronounced correctly the way my mom said it
today I graduated from college mijo Jose
Makeda though hijo saw most an or go so
sleepy the aisles at the store are
filled with Melek with Mexican delicacies
and remedies like gansito snack
cakes moussaka vibora in hot cheetos and all
the peppers bell peppers serrano
chiles jalapenos chile de árbol and
more what I love the most about Mexican
grocery stores has nothing to do with
the Gans ethos they sell or the fact that
the produce is more affordable than
in other grocery stores it’s not the
decade or post it up in some corner of the
store serving up some of the most
delicious tacos in town it’s the people
who work in the grocery stores women that
call me mijo and tell me you’re skeptic
we there when I say goodbye it’s the men
who call each other canal and DAP me up
when I buy God Natal pass toward from
them these men and women are my safe
space in every town I visit I’m saying
the dude who cut up the carnitas knew I
didn’t like the RIBA so he always
picked them out for me I’m saying Mexican
heaven is a real place and you can find it
if you know where to look [Applause] [Music]

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