Monday, May 9, 2022

The preliminary judges have spoken...

  

Adela Najarro and Ariel Francisco,

the preliminary judges of the 10th edition

of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize,

have completed their work.

 

Final judges

Alexandra Lytton Regalado

and Sheila Maldonado

are now undertaking theirs.

 

FINALISTS

 

Eucalyptus………………………….Lupita Eyde-Tucker (Melbourne Beach, FL)

Bodypolitic…………………………Aerik Francis (Denver, CO)

La Kapital…………………………..John Infante (New York, NY)

Ghosts in Training………………….Bertha Combret (Tallahassee, FL)

The History of the Earth…………….Miguel Garcia (El Paso, TX)

La Casa Roja………………………..Alonso Llerena (McClean, VA)

Papi Pichón………………………….Dimitri Reyes (Kearny, NJ)

Red String on a Saguaro Cactus…….Kimberly Vargas Agnese (Fresno, CA)

The Cats of Old San Juan……………David M. de Leon (Jersey City, NJ)

Santa Tarantula………………………Jordan Pérez (Decatour, GA)

Little Love……………………………Cristi Donoso (Alexandria, VA)

Almond Songs………………………..Vinnie Lopez (Salida, CA)

Devotional……………………………Sarah Yanni (Encino, CA)

Epilogue to Paradise…………………Ryan Clinesmith (New York, NY)

California Silence…………………….Stella Santamaria (Miami, FL)


SEMI-FINALISTS

 

In the fields and in the barrios………....Yelisa Ambriz (Fresno, CA)

Casa de Negro / House of Black……..…Karla Maravilla (Granger, WA)

The Day Buries Itself…………………...Luisa Caycedo-Kimura (Bloomfield, CT)

Tell Me, Fantasma…………..……..…...Guillermo Filice Castro (North Bergen, NJ)

We Carry Wela’s Waters…………….…Gisselle Yepes (Bloomington, IN)

Self-Immolation Diaries………….……..Paloma Martinez-Cruz (Columbus, OH)

A Grito Contest in the Afterlife…………Vincent Rendoni (Seattle, WA)

The Magician……………………………Jose Hernandez Diaz (Norwalk, CA)

 

 

 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

A House of Our Own: Muscle Memory by Kyle Carrero Lopez

Photo Credit: PANK via https://pankmagazine.com/shop/muscle-memory/

“spanish chunks twist en mi mind’s mix—too few sprinkled / to shut latinx snobs up. they call it our native speech. ¡jajaja! our? / yorùbá says hi, and nice try cuttin’ her all the way out.”
—Kyle Carrero Lopez, Muscle Memory (PANK, 2021)

Kyle Carrero Lopez’s debut chapbook Muscle Memory challenges social, economic, and historical authority, combining compelling sonics with diverse poetic forms to discuss Blackness, capitalism, and the implications of historical oppression on culture.

In “Black Erasure,” the first poem of the collection, Carrero Lopez replaces the word “Black” with the letters “[POC],” a device as visual as it is metaphorical that demonstrates the minimization of the Black experience in the U.S.: “[POC] Lives Matter to the public / for about a week at a time.” Replacing Blackness with a vague cloud of identities refutes the shared history of Black people in the Americas. The phrase “POC” also conflates the Black experience with that of Latinxs in the diaspora who may harbor internalized anti-Blackness. “The conception of Latinidad…has necessitated…a sort of homogenization,” said Carrero Lopez when we spoke. “We're white, Black, Indigenous…Many people still are uncomfortable with the idea that there’s a difference.” This idea is espoused by lines such as the epitaph and in “From an Agnostic,” which explains the importance of the Afro-diasporic religion Santería as a unifying factor for Afro-Latinxs using parentheticals: “(Because Yemayá’s portrait in any home / brings me home).” As a white Latina, I was taught that Santería was mystical and antithetical to the Christian beliefs that saturated my extended family. However, Muscle Memory is part of a growing collection of Afro-Latinx books that challenge these cultural notions. As Carrero Lopez said, “there isn’t Latin American culture without Blackness.”


One way this cultural interplay arises in these poems is through the discussion of labels. “Mi Gente Estadounidense” reads: “‘Latino’ is a vintage, oversized sweater—not for everyone.” This line shows the over-simplifying nature of certain labels: “I’m not Mexican, but whatever, aren’t we all, here?” This ties back to the use of POC to lump together a swath of disparate experiences. In “(SLANG)UAGE,” hyphenation (as in “Afro-Latinx”) is a possible solution to the muddling of individuality that results from the term POC, intentionally acknowledging the two cultures it conjoins. But the hyphen can also “rotate / to a wall,” appearing to some as an intra-cultural division. “[People] who are very strongly American don't even want to hear about your African-Americanness,” said Carrero Lopez. However, hyphenation can help people recognize the consequences of historical subjugation and challenge the prevailing discourse about them, something that several authors featured in Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed touch upon as well. “In order to build new things,” said Carrero Lopez, “you have to understand how the old things worked.” Muscle Memory identifies problems with these “old things” by illustrating the carceral state.


“There's muscle memory involved in in the perpetuation of slavery,” said Carrero Lopez. “When you've had a particular system working in a particular way for such a long time, you have to abolish the system entirely.” The poem “After Abolition” presents similarities between slavery and the prison industrial complex, making the case that the U.S. police state is just another iteration of slavery. This idea is reinforced in the poem “Petty,” where the speaker jumps a train turnstile and is confronted by a man “who kneel[s] to a state’s boots for licks.” This kneeling symbolizes the repeated empowering and subjugation of the same groups; Carrero Lopez described how New York police target subway stations near Black and Latinx neighborhoods when “there's actual white collar crime being committed constantly.” This selective misuse of authority echoes the original purpose of police: slave patrol. But targeted policing is not the only evidence of slavery discussed in this collection; In “Modern Fiction,” an English professor teaching at a university that used to be a plantation reads the n-word and students glorify a slave owner while the speaker is the victim of a racially-motivated verbal assault (“what strikes breaks skin, soars past bone, / through each lobe and out). These poems explore repeated patterns of abuse, which will be replicated unless the existing system is replaced. Muscle Memory, then, is a series of tableaus that challenge readers to question “whether or not we want to keep [what we've been handed],” as Carrero Lopez said.


Racism in the U.S. is not only historical, but also economic. Capitalism, Carrero Lopez says, is “inextricable from how [he] understand[s] racism.” In “Note to Lightness,” the speaker admits the advantages that having light skin granted him, both in the workforce and as a man; “If manhood gave me a stage, / you got me the mic.” This quote shows that, while being a male can be an economic privilege, racism negates this privilege to Black men. His lighter skin allows the speaker to reclaim some of this advantage, although it’s still not enough in the poem “Monday,” where “some white guy / on [his] team, same experience level, got hired / a whole title ahead.” Muscle Memory also touches on the commodification of Black bodies in poems like “Beauty Examined,” which asserts that, when disenfranchised, people become symbols and are capitalized upon by corporations to sell items like the Black excellence t-shirt worn by a white man in “Black capitalist wet dream.” Carrero Lopez refers to this “cooptation” of Black culture and expression as “the story of Blackness.”


“These are not hypothetical questions,” Carrero Lopez told me. “[A poem can] ask people to decide for themselves what [they’re] getting from [it].” And Muscle Memory succeeds in this respect, saying it like it is when necessary while still granting readers ample room to reinterpret poems with each new reading. Featuring playful rhymes and haunting images, these poems challenge readers to question what they’ve been taught, lest systems of oppression return under “with new names.”


Thanks to PANK for the review copy and to Kyle Carrero Lopez for the Zoom interview!




Brittany Torres Rivera is a Puerto Rican writer whose work deals with culture, family, and (un)belonging. She has a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Florida International University. She is based in Orlando, FL.





Saturday, April 30, 2022

Letras Latinas invites applications for its Poetry Coalition Fellowship

 POETRY COALITION 

PILOT FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR FELLOWS

 

LETRAS LATINAS, a founding member of the Poetry Coalition, is accepting applications for a paid Poetry Coalition Fellowship position. This position is 20 hours per week from September 5, 2022 to June 30, 2023. The stipend is $18,720 plus $1,000 toward health care. 

 

The Poetry Coalition is a national alliance of more than 25 organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. Members are nonprofit organizations whose primary mission is to promote poets and poetry, and/or multi-genre literary organizations that serve disabled poets and poets of specific racial, ethnic, or gender identities, backgrounds, or communities. All members present poets at live events. All members present poets at live events. Each March, members present programming across the country on a theme of social importance. The Poetry Coalition is coordinated by the Academy of American Poets and we are grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its support of this work.

 

The Poetry Coalition Fellowship Program is a three-year pilot program. The goals of this are to help:



  • diversify the leadership of the nonprofit literary field by encouraging more inclusion of individuals from under-represented communities;



  • develop future literary leaders regardless of educational background; 



  • introduce the individuals who are interested to nonprofit literary arts management, fundraising, programming, and editorial work, providing experiences that will be useful as they seek jobs and inspiring them to consider working in the literary field; and 



  • increase the capacity of our individual organizations by having additional assistance. 

 

Paid fellowships will not “level the playing field.” Opportunity in our country is not equally distributed across ability, class, ethnic, gender, and racial lines. And we alone cannot erase and undo the biases, barriers, discrimination, and prejudice that exist in our country. But we hope poetry organizations can be out front in building equity and inclusivity in literary arts organizations and spaces. 

 

 

 

 2022-2023 POETRY COALITION FELLOW 

POSITION DESCRIPTION

 

HOST ORGANIZATION MISSION:

 

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the Institute for Latino Studies (ILS), strives to enhance the visibility, appreciation and study of Latinx literature both on and off the campus of the University of Notre Dame. We put an emphasis on programs that support newer voices, foster a sense of community among writers, and place Latinx writers in community spaces. 

 

For more information about Letras Latinas, visit:

https://latinostudies.nd.edu/news-events/letras-latinas/

 

POSITION OVERVIEW:

 

The Poetry Coalition Programs & Communications position supports the planning, publicizing, and carrying out of select initiatives, including but not limited to: “Curated Conversation(s): A Latinx Poetry Show;” “Afro-Latinx Poetry Now;” and Letras Latinas Blog. Letras Latinas seeks someone who can think creatively and collaboratively while also being able to work independently. An ideal candidate will have substantive knowledge not only of contemporary poetry, but also a particular interest in Latinx poetry. An ideal candidate will also have some experience with literary programming, which could include: editing, curating, event planning, as well as the skill set to deploy social media for the purpose of amplifying a literary program. The Poetry Coalition Fellow in Programs & Communications reports to the Director of Letras Latinas.

 

FELLOWSHIP LOCALE:

 

Although Letras Latinas is part of the Institute for Latino Studies (ILS) at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, the candidate is not required to be present on site. But the candidate must be able to work remotely with reliable access to the internet and phone, and be willing to do some Poetry Coalition and Fellowship-related travel.

 

FELLOW RESPONSIBILITIES


Committing to 20 hours per week for the entire ten-month fellowship

Adhering to rules and policies of Letras Latinas as appropriate 

Assisting substantively with the following:

 

·       production of season 2 of “Curated Conversation(s): A Latinx Poetry Show.”

·       Content production and regular writing for Letras Latinas Blog.

·       Assisting with “Afro-Latinx Poetry Now,” a mini-conference slated for the Fall of 2022.

·       General administration

  • Assisting with the host organization’s Poetry Coalition joint programming in March
  • Attending and participating in meetings
  • Attending and participating in monthly Zooms with other Poetry Coalition fellows and Academy staff to foster community, professional development, and create a peer learning group to learn about the following:

·       Community outreach

·       Marketing and promotion, including materials development

·       Grant writing and/or fundraising

·       Content production for websites or social media

·       Programming and curating live events, such as poetry readings and workshops

·       General administration

  • Participating in the Poetry Coalition’s fall convening and professional development trainings
  • Completing evaluations at the end of the fellowship year

 

FELLOW QUALIFICATIONS: 


*Passion for poetry and/or knowledge of contemporary poets, and interest in, Latinx poetry

*Interest in literary arts programming, administration, and management

*Exceptional organizational skills and attention to details

*Ability to multi-task and chip away at more than one project at a time

*Solid knowledge and experience with social media and information technology

*Being comfortable with regular, camera-on ZOOM consultations and check-ins

*Some experience with, and/or being willing to do, public speaking—such as introducing writers 

*Some graphic design skills

*Demonstrated experience in the areas listed above

 

For more information about “Curated Conversation(s): A Latinx Poetry Show,” please visit:

https://www.writer.org/curatedconversations/

 

Note: We welcome all applicants, including those who are enrolled in or have recently graduated from MFA programs in creative writing. 


TO APPLY:

 

Please submit a cover letter, resume, and names and contact information for 2-3 references to: faragon@nd.edu (please put in the subject line:  “POETRY COALITION FELLOWSHIP”. No calls please.

 

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY:

 

The University of Notre Dame is dedicated to equal employment opportunity and to the implementation of positive programs designed to ensure the prevention of any discriminatory practices, either intentional or inadvertent, with respect to race, color, national or ethnic origin, disability, veteran status, age, or sex. The University is completely committed to full compliance with the letter and spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246, the American With Disabilities Act of 1990, the Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1972, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and all other federal, state, and local laws concerning equal opportunities.

 

For more information, visit:

https://equity.nd.edu/equity-resources/equal-employment-opportunity/


 

Friday, April 1, 2022

A House of Our Own: ¡Ándale, Prieta! by Yasmín Ramírez

 
Photo credit: Lee & Low Books via https://www.leeandlow.com/books/andale-prieta

“Would I be like Ita, a huge wall of tough exterior protecting her from whatever made her eyes shine when she sang?”
—Yasmín Ramírez, ¡Ándale, Prieta!
(Lee & Low Books, 2022)

Centering on her relationship with her grandmother, Yasmín Ramírez’s debut memoir ¡Ándale, Prieta! touches on everything from gender violence to food politics to the importance of religion.


Ramírez’s grandmother, Ita, is the focus of the first section of Ándale, where readers learn that she was forced to defend herself against several of her husbands, who physically abused her. Young Yasmín imagines her grandmother as a cool greaser chick fighting men, but, in our interview, Ramírez described how this romantic idea faded: “That marriage was an escape…not necessarily out of love,” she said. “...she couldn't deal with her mother and the horrible things that she would say.” Ramírez described the cultural pressure on Ita to conform to a maternal role and to “look the other way no matter what.” By putting these expectations on women, Latinx culture had a hand in this abuse, as it did in the abuses suffered by both of my grandmothers. However, neither Ita nor my grandmothers stop searching for love, a persistence that leads Ita to teach Yasmín not to look for a fight, but to “be ready if someone starts one” (chapter two).


This lesson is an effect of generational trauma explored in Ándale. Communication among the women in Yasmín’s family is strained, a struggle made visual in one conversation between Yasmín (on behalf of Ita) and her mother, Leticia. Leticia’s words climb diagonally as Yasmín’s trickle down, rendering the emotional distance between Leticia and Ita. However, they are more alike than they’d like to think. Ita’s mother disapproved of Ita’s first husband just as Ita did Leticia’s. And both show their love through gifts. “Even though they…didn't get along, they did truly love each other,” Ramírez told me. This is especially visible after Ita’s death, which I read about having just returned from my own grandfather’s funeral, making the scenes feel even more intimate and powerful: “My mom…curled herself onto her side, knees pulled into her stomach like a child, and began to cry,” writes Ramírez in a scene that parallels Ita’s reaction to her mother’s death (chapter 29). In many ways, these women carry on the legacy of their foremothers.


Another aspect of this memoir that I related to was the women’s conscious rejection of tradition. Leticia refuses to rely on anyone but herself. Ita lived with several men throughout her life, worked multiple jobs, and made the difficult decision to have abortions when she had no other options. The same spirit leads Yasmín to cut her hair, confront her absent father, and prioritize her happiness by pursuing writing. This career was subtly supported by her mother, who would “never take [her] books away” as a punishment (chapter 17). “I think [it was] because of my mom's own educational limits,” Ramírez told me. “My mom saw reading as an extension of [education]...she knew…where reading would lead me.” As I read about these women, I thought about the ways I’ve rejected tradition. I can’t cook, which, ironically, Yasmín does to feel close to Ita.


In Ándale, food is a prism of Yasmín’s culture. It’s a vehicle of sexism when Ita only serves her son his plate: “as much as [Ita] went against the grain, she clung to this business about men” (chapter 12). I recently witnessed the same treatment of men in my family; my cousin’s husband, who sat playing dominoes with the other husbands, was admired for waiting for his dinner to be served so his wife could finish her game of dominoes. And yet, food is also a symbol of love and tenderness, from the way Ita arranged cheese on Ramírez’s breakfast plate to the way Ramírez watches people enjoy her food. Whenever I prepare food, I also wait to watch the first bite. As Ramírez put it during our conversation, “It's such a pleasure to know that I put love into this and then someone’s enjoying it, and I think that's what would happen with my grandma…[food] was also her love language.”


However, food isn’t always positive in this memoir. The most unique chapter uses food to criticize the emptiness of religion. Yasmín eats a church, describing the flavors and textures of the pews, the windows, and God, but never feels satisfied. “That’s not God! He won’t fill you!,” she thinks as she hosts the communion at Ita’s funeral, which wasn’t held in her church because they disapproved of her cremation (chapter 28). Another negative culinary experience occurs at a dinner Yasmín has with her father’s family, who are surprised that she doesn’t put salt on her salad. Ramírez told me that was the first time she’d ever asked herself: ‘Wait, am I not Brown enough?’” This echoes the idea of only ‘half-belonging’ present in a lot of first-gen literature and highlights that, while food can bring one closer to their family and culture, it can also be a factor of separation.


As I read Ándale, I was surprised by how deeply I was able to relate to Yasmín, from her fear of her mother dying at work to the way she dressed as a teenager. After telling this to Ramírez, she shared her thoughts on diasporic literature: “I wrote a book that I needed to find…Sometimes I feel isolated from first-gen stories…but then we have some similarities… I hope more people…connect with parts of this story.” The implications of culture are definitely present in this memoir, but, at its core, this is a book about love– its anger, its care, its pain, and all the ways we choose to love others and ourselves.


¡Ándale, Prieta! comes out April 19 (pre-order here!). In the meantime, check out another heart wrenching and intimate memoir about familial love: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.


Thank you to Lee & Low Books for the review copy and to Yasmín Ramírez for the Zoom interview!





Brittany Torres Rivera is a Puerto Rican writer whose work deals with culture, family, and (un)belonging. She has a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Florida International University. She is based in Orlando, FL.




Tuesday, March 1, 2022

A House of Our Own: x/ex/exis: poemas para la nación by Raquel Salas Rivera


Photo credit: The University of Arizona Press via https://uapress.arizona.edu/book/x-ex-exis

I don’t want myself like this, / but this is the way you love me.* / *I don’t love myself like this, / but this is the way you want me.”
—Raquel Salas Rivera, x/ex/exis: poemas para la nación (The University of Arizona Press, 2021)

Raquel Salas Rivera’s poetry collection x/ex/exis entangles culture, government, and gender in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. Drawing from historical and personal events, x/ex/exis is a psychedelic amalgamation of themes that eludes straightforward explanation, giving readers a peek into the experience of a trans person on an island plagued by colonialism.

Each poem in x/ex/exis appears in Spanish and English, a unique linguistic experience for bilingual readers. In “notes in time,” walls of medieval castles “absorbed stenches / that not even the wind.” In English, it feels like a word is missing, but read the Spanish version (“que ni el viento”), and the message arises. This syntactical suspension implies that not even the wind would approach or deal with the stenches. Salas Rivera employs this flexibility to play with meaning, as in the epigraph, whose Spanish version reads “no me quiero asi, / pero asi me quieres,” using the double meaning of the verb querer. Still, Salas Rivera doesn’t shy away from the violence of the Spanish language. “The requirements for being amadx / are: being amada,” they write in “the cut.” Using first a gender-neutral form of the adjective “loved,” then the feminine, these lines define the exclusionary nature of gendered language. Salas Rivera writes about rejecting love over a word split “in halves / that don’t complete” them. This is one of several instances where they use a dichotomy to exemplify the tenuous relationship between Puerto Rican culture and their trans identity; another is found in extreme temperatures. 

In this collection, heat is associated with the island: “i fight with my girlfriend because she opened the window / and it was cold…because it’s cold and i’m not in puerto rico…because it isn’t the rio piedras sun.” The heat is physical here, but it is also cultural, emotional. Contrary to their experience in the U.S., Salas Rivera said that “[In Puerto Rico]…there’s a sense of belonging but also a sense of people in your business…it can become stifling.” Latinx culture at large tends to value tight-knit families. However, this warmth is not always comforting. “The heat of the coveted embrace / always suffocates,” writes Salas Rivera, expressing the complicated feelings of rejection without hatred, of a family that loves but does not accept. “I love being around [my family],” they shared in our interview, “but I always feel like there’s a part of me I have to sacrifice. We don’t talk about my gender.”

Another complex interplay investigated in this collection is that between Puerto Rico and the U.S. The poem “a beach exists” compares Puerto Ricans leaving for the U.S. to mermaids amputating “their singular leg / wanting to be bipeds…for the future children / to be born without gills.” This calls upon one of the prevailing ideas from last month’s column: the erasure of culture to ensure success. However, Puerto Rico’s unique relationship with the U.S. also influences this discussion of culture. In “the word resources selects us,” the author juxtaposes moments of cultural immersion in Puerto Rico with the threat of U.S. influence: “the word resources selects us…saying / i need you ornamental lover of the territory.” “Territory” refers to the commonwealth status of Puerto Rico in the U.S. that makes the former susceptible to plundering by the latter. This poem follows “a long procession of loudspeakers in mourning,” which emphasizes the importance of Puerto Rico attaining agency; it’s culture and economy under the threat of colonialism and capitalism.

The final lines of  “the word resources selects us” read “and i keep planting translucid fences / around the plaza del mercado.” These fences are a final defense against the encroaching power of the U.S., but they also represent internal conflicts. “I’m obsessed with names,” Salas Rivera told me. “The names of streets and highways of Puerto Rico are the story of our history.” Including them was a conscious choice with historical implications. “[Luis] Muñoz Marín … would build a housing project next to a rich condominio…[so] the people in the housing project would be inspired to better their lives…this kind of twisted colony stuff.” By voicing their experiences, x/ex/exis denounces attempts to erase and exclude underprivileged/underrepresented communities within Puerto Rico.

Yet another institution of exclusion in these poems is the Catholic Church. “The history of the Catholic Church tied in with conquest in Puerto Rico, with colonialism,” Salas Rivera said. Nowhere is this connection clearer than in “in puerto rico we inherit your wars,” which equates the violence of the state (and Church) with the betrayal of history. In this poem, “the father” asks “if it’s worth / destroying faith” to recover Taíno bones discovered beneath a church. Based on a true story, this poem examines the Church’s willingness to abandon people like those in trans communities, who Salas Rivera says the religious ultra right view as “the enemy”: “gender inclusive language [is called] as an oppressive thing…trans people are the target.” Again, the author’s culture denies their right to be.

Toward the end of our interview, Salas Rivera admitted that this collection paints a bleak image of transness, but they also point out that it captures a moment in their life they needed to document. And it does just that. It presents a complex web of relationships between government, culture, and gender, asking readers to question the systems that define their culture, their country, and their self.

If you enjoy(ed) the themes and episodic narrative of x/ex/exis, I recommend Carmen Maria Machado’s, In The Dream House. If you enjoy(ed) its visceral diction, check out blud by Rachel McKibbens. 

Thanks to The University of Arizona Press for the review copy and to Raquel Salas Rivera for the interview!




Brittany Torres Rivera is a Puerto Rican writer whose work deals with culture, family, and (un)belonging. She has a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Florida International University. She is based in Orlando, FL.




Tuesday, February 1, 2022

A House of Our Own: Wild Tongues Can't Be Tamed edited by Saraciea J. Fennell


Photo credit: Macmillan Publishers via https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250763426/wild-tongues-cant-be-tamed

“What a strange thing it was: To be so close to a culture…to be so removed from the parts of it I needed to feel whole and safe.”
—Cristina Arreola, “The Land, the Ghosts, and Me” 
from Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed
, edited by Saraciea J. Fennell (Flatiron Books, 2021)
 

In Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed, authors from various Latinx cultures share their diasporic experiences. Edited by Saraciea J. Fennell, a Black Honduran Indigenous American, this anthology centers underrepresented Latinx voices. These pieces explore hyphenated identity and intersectionality to broaden the canon of Latinidad.

 

Most authors in this collection express a longing for language. Mark Oshiro’s “Eres Un Pocho'' tells of a man trying to reclaim his Mexican heritage by learning Spanish, and Natasha Diaz references “a language” she knows “only in lullabies.” This lack leaves some feeling unable to claim their culture. It’s something I’ve heard before; my classmate once said she wasn’t a “real Puertorican'' because she didn’t speak Spanish. Not speaking the mother tongue creates a painful reality for second-generation children hungry to connect with their heritage, but it also highlights linguistic discrimination in the U.S. Sometimes, as in the case of Zakiya N. Jamal, the lack of language comes from parents’ fear that their children wouldn’t assimilate, that their opportunities would be limited, that they wouldn’t be respected if they spoke another language. This severed connection, then, speaks to linguistic privilege, as immigrant parents might feel forced to choose between their children’s belonging and their success.

 

For Janel Martinez, writer of “Abuela’s Greatest Gift,” Spanish is one of two missing mother tongues. The other is Garifuna, spoken by the Garinagu, an Afro-Indigenous community living throughout Central America. By including this and other essays in Wild Tongues, Fennell accomplishes a specific goal. “When we look at the Latinx canon,” Fennell said, “it lacks several experiences that Wild Tongues centers, like Black, queer, and Indigenous experiences.” As a white Latina, this anthology put me face-to-face with ugly truths about the culture to which I cling so tightly. “Not only does Latinidad erase Blackness and Indigeneity,” writes Martinez, “but it also relies on one’s proximity to whiteness, as well as how much privilege one has based on gender… language spoken, and mobility, among other things.” Other writers reflect upon the same sentiments.

 

One recurring idea is the prevalence of mental health issues, especially for Latinas. Elizabeth Acevedo writes: “So many young Latinas struggle privately and inwardly with being overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, and those feelings are met with the external expectations of boca cerrada te ves más bonita.” This might be explained by a socioeconomic issue brought up by Lilliam Rivera in “More than Nervios”: “Essos son los blanquitos…seeking medical help for anything dwelling in the mind is really meant only for a privileged few.” Here, whiteness and money are privileges that differentiate Latinx experiences. Rivera mentions needing to “maintain appearances” and the stigma around mental health therapy. These may be intensified for Latinxs striving to present as a “model citizen,” something Naima Coster references in “The Price of Admission.” One cause of stress in the lives of young Latinas may be a sense of displacement, whether due to their spoken language or the language they use to refer to themselves.

 

For instance, Afro-Latinxs may have a unique linguistic experience from other Latinxs. Jasminne Mendez, a Black Dominican, describes feeling like a “circus sideshow” for speaking Spanish. Many BIPOC authors in Wild Tongues detail a complicated relationship with their hyphenated identity. In her piece, Fennell writes that, upon learning she was part Hispanic, some peers would be “excited” that she wasn’t “just another Black girl.” In “#Julian4spiderman,” Julian Randall writes that half-Black-half-Puertorican Spiderman Miles Morales’s “least believable power” is that he doesn’t feel pressured “to prove his Latinidad.” Wild Tongues expounds on people with hyphenated identities not feeling sufficiently either. Although many U.S.-based Latinxs feel that push-and-pull regardless of race, Wild Tongues highlights the added effect that racism has on this, both in the diaspora and within Latinx cultures. Authors point out the lack of Afro-Latinx representation in popular media, making characters like Miles Morales all the more significant. As Randall writes: “I was born into a country of no rain, so when it drizzles, I see a river; I see my face in every drop.”

 

As I read this anthology, I was struck by its thematic similarities to last month’s read, Ariana Brown’s We Are Owed., especially regarding the issue of labeling. On the pages of Wild Tongues, authors change, embrace, and reject labels depending on their experiences. Names bear a similar power to labels, as Jamal describes feeling “inauthentic” for having an African name rather than a “Spanish” one. She describes this dual-culturality as “two halves…at war.” I relate to this, although my name (along with my sister Tiffany’s name) is often associated with whiteness (have you seen White Chicks?). My name separates me from my culture, a sensation compounded by my diasporic upbringing. Of a similar experience, Cristina Arreola writes: “I haven’t been steeped in the culture long enough to make me strong with its flavor, but just enough that you couldn’t hide the scent.” I do, however, want to differentiate these experiences, as my discomfort with not being coded as Latina carries the privilege of whiteness and not the burden of racism. However, I think the significance of labeling can be seen in both cases. “[Labeling] is used…to define who we are at that given point/moment,” said Fennell. “[Y]ou can’t really [label] people, especially communities of color because we are always evolving.”

 

When I started this column, I wanted to view Latinidad from unique perspectives separate from my (very privileged) one. Reading Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed, and last month’s We Are Owed., has greatly contributed to this education, and I am excited to see where else these stories take me.

 

Thank you to Flatiron Books for the review copy and to Saraciea J. Fennell for making time for an interview!





Brittany Torres Rivera is a Puerto Rican writer whose work deals with culture, family, and (un)belonging. She has a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Florida International University. She is based in Orlando, FL.