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The Complex And Fascinating Borderland Chicano Experience In 4 Poems

Por: María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards 6 de septiembre de 2017

How does the Internet portray your culture? Is it through stereotypes that no matter how hard you try to scrub away, people always seem to latch onto them, or is it through your history and stories? One of the powers of the great web is that more voices are being heard and more groups are being represented, and these have the power to show their own life experiences and perspectives. Yes, "inclusivity" is the word of the day but we have a long road ahead when it comes to reaching equal representation, but for today, let's cast our net wider and catch a glimpse of groups that explore their identity through the arts. For decades, the Latino community has been ridiculed in film and television, and it has found a haven in the powers of the written word.

It’s been proven that one effective tool to make a group progress and become stronger is through representation, by creating important role models for younger generations, and in order to achieve this, leading characters are showcasing their experiences, struggles, roots and history through stories. Here we have four poems written by Chicano poets exploring the cultural experience and struggle of not feeling fully related to either the American or the Mexican culture. 

Photo by Alma López

To Live in the Borderlands (1987) - Gloria Anzaldúa (Excerpt)

To live in the borderlands means you

are neither hispana india negra espanola

ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed

caught in the crossfire between camps

while carrying all five races on your back

not knowing which side to turn to, run from;

To live in the Borderlands means knowing that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years,

is no longer speaking to you,

the mexicanas call you rajetas, that denying the Anglo inside you

is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black.

As a scholar, Gloria has explored subjects like feminism, queer theory, and of course, the Latino experience in the US. How does one live when you're on the border between Texas and Mexico? This question is one she continuously grapples with and in her quest to pin down her identity and that of her peers, she encounters a deep void. Many believe Chicanos are only discriminated by Americans who see them as invaders, but what Anzaldúa’s poetry shows is that, in fact, they’re often marginalized in both countries. In Mexico, chicanos are traitors and in America they're pegged as aliens. Her work is a stunning reflection of multiculturalism and the blending of traditions.

A Chicano Poem (2013) - Lorna Dee Cervantes (Excerpt)

They burned the sacred codices

And the molten goddesses rose anew

In their flames. They tried to silence a

Nation, tried to send The People back

To the Four Corners of the world. They drew

A line in the sand and dared us to cross it,

Tried to peel off our skins, Xipe Totec

Screaming through our indigenous consciousness.

They tried to brand “America” into our unread

Flesh, the skull and crossbones flying at

Half-mast. They tried to put their eggs in

Our baskets, tried to weave the Native

Out of us with their drink and drugs, tried to

Switch their mammy-raised offspring, beaded and

Unshaven, as the colorless pea under our mattresses

In a cultural bait and switch, hook and bait.

Considered to be one of the best Chicana poets of all times, Lorna Dee Cervantes uses her poetry as an activist weapon to make people aware of the injustices she and many others endure every day. As a response to the law passed in the state of Arizona to ban all Mexican-American literature in schools, Dee Cervantes responded with a fierce and severe poem about how colonization and racism are depriving people of their traditions and culture, but more importantly, about how by doing so they’re covering up all the injustices Latinos have suffered throughout history.

Image by Israel Rico.

Stupid America (1969) - Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado

stupid america, see that chicano

with a big knife

on his steady hand

he doesn't want to knife you

he wants to sit on the bench and carve christfigures

but you won't let him.

stupid america, hear that chicano

shouting curses on the street

he is a poet without paper and pencil

and since he cannot write

he will explode.

stupid america, remember that chicanito

flunking math and english

he is the picasso

of your western states

but he will die

with one thousand masterpieces

hanging only from his mind.

As one of the main representatives of the Chicano Movement during the sixties, Delgado and other poets, artists, and intellectuals led a protest, defending Chicano’s civil rights. His poetry, which is extremely political, deals with subjects of abuse and racism. It also pretends to change the perspective people have towards Chicanos, who are still seen as criminals. He has also devoted most of his life to the education of Latino immigrants and helped them in their quest to obtain their American citizenship.

Yo soy Joaquín (1967) - Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzáles

Yo soy Joaquín,

perdido en un mundo de confusión:

I am Joaquín, lost in a world of confusion,

caught up in the whirl of a gringo society,

confused by the rules, scorned by attitudes,

suppressed by manipulation, and destroyed by modern society.

My fathers have lost the economic battle

and won the struggle of cultural survival-

As one of the founders of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, this poet-cum-boxer, helped create the Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, a pro-indigenous and Chicano manifesto calling for the community to unite against inequality. It is a document praising the Chicano culture, along its traditions and beliefs. In his poetry, he talks about confusion and division, about manipulation and exploitation.

Art by Yolanda M. Martínez


If you want to know more about the Chicano experience and culture, take a look at these:

A Photographic Journey Into The Early 90's Chicana Experience

The Underground Comic Series That Portrays The Life Of Punk Rock Latinas In LA


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