La Virgen de Guadalupe Defendiendo
los Derechos de los Xicanos, 1975
“Because We Come from Everything: Poetry & Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.
During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present guest posts by CM fellows at Letras Latinas Blog that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.
Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas
One Broken Line at a Time: Notes on Poetry and Migration
by José Angel Araguz
I have come at last to Mexico,
the country of my parents’ birth.
I do not expect to find anything that pertains to me.”
In his essay, “India,” Richard Rodriguez tells of a visit to Mexico City, slipping in the above statements (lineation my own) at the beginning of a city tour. From there, he meditates on the troubled relationship Mexico has with its dual indigenous and European heritage. He notes that Mexico values the indigenous by placing artifacts in museums, while
in Mexican Spanish,
indio is a seller of Chiclets,
a sidewalk squatter.
This seemingly innate self-hatred reflects a fear of brown skin, one that migrates out of my childhood memories as I remember how
I drank only white milk at school
because my aunt told me
it would keep me from being so dark.
The Japanese haibun is a form that combines prose and haiku. The poet Matsuo Bashō and others wrote travel diaries in this form, incorporating details from daily life into their reflections. This form more and more makes sense to me, since one is always traveling. I think of my uncles who travel back and forth over the border, following seasons of work. What would they write, given the opportunity? What do I write, with all this opportunity? I consider an editor’s curt response to some recent haibun of mine: “You need to work on your haiku.”
A twig / a man
Rodriguez goes on to speak of brown skin in regards to Our Lady of Guadalupe, explaining that there are two views on her origin story. The first that she was created by the Spanish to trick the indigenous peoples into converting to Catholicism. The second view is that the joke is on the Spanish, that the indigenous people recast the Virgin Mary in brown skin to look more like them and, thus, subvert the forced-upon religion to reflect something of their own identity.
Here are the bare bones of the story as I understand it: In December of 1531, a man named Juan Diego sees a figure pacing on a hill, and when he approaches, he sees that it is the Virgin Mary. She charges Juan with asking the Spanish bishop to build a chapel in Tepeyac “where his discovered Lady may share in the sorrows of her people,” as Rodriguez phrases it. Juan does as he is told; the bishop, in turn, demands proof. So Juan returns to the Virgin, who sends him back with Castilian roses to show to the bishop; the roses are remarkable because not only is it winter but these roses are not native to Mexico. Upon seeing the roses tumble from Juan’s cloak, the bishop falls to his knees; as he does so, he finds himself before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe which is imprinted on the cloak, complete with
the sun and moon and stars
around the figure
of a mother in prayer.
My own Our Lady story involves me getting kicked out of the Boys and Girls Club as a teen. As often happens, I bristled against my Catholic upbringing. Yet, when a friend of mine began to be bullied for wearing an Our Lady of Guadalupe t-shirt, I found myself shouting and then getting into one of those fights that are more awkward shoves, grunts, and braced bodies than actual fists and kicks. I cannot recall the logic behind it, only remember my reaction coming on fast, immediate. All for a story. A story flipped for its meaning; a story, that for me, speaks of many migrations. Not only does the Virgin Mary migrate and become Our Lady of the Guadalupe, roses also miraculously migrate between countries to become proof and talisman. I find in all this movement a reflection of my family’s migration to this country, and how their stories find their way on the pages before me. Poetry is my own way of honoring what my family’s been through for our survival. Or, to put it another way, there is always some element in my poems of the kid who charged ahead when he felt someone challenged this story he knew was bigger than any possible politics behind it. For this reason, I am happy to travel from flawed poem to flawed poem, working hard to
find what pertains
one broken line
at a time.
José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of six chapbooks as well as the collection Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press). His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in RHINO Poetry, New South, and The Volta Blog. A current PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati, he runs the poetry blog The Friday Influence. A second collection, Small Fires, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.