In an era where being Latino in America is more dangerous than ever, here are five slam poets who are not afraid to speak up about the beauty of their heritage.
Have you ever felt neglected, abused, silenced, or diminished? Have you ever felt all of these at once? Now, imagine if your own government thought it was okay to treat you like this. For many people in the United States, there is no need to imagine such a scenario. As a result of one of the biggest refugee crises in recent times, the US has passed cruel and ruthless laws that have relegated Latin Americans to second-class citizenship. This has encouraged various sectors of society to express their intolerance and hatred of minorities, saying things like “Go back to your country,” or “If you want to be here, you better speak English.” So, Latinos did. These are their words.
Photo from The Miami Today News
Five different slam poets give an account of their experiences as members of the Latino community in the US. These women are not afraid to speak about the struggle and the beauty of being Latino. They explore and embrace their culture with no shame and give us moving poems of stories we all know, we've all heard, or we've all felt. Through the basic elements of slam poetry (orality, performance, and storytelling) they portray experiences such as what it's like to have an accent, the identity crises that can arise from not speaking Spanish, the absurd construct of race, and the fact that the American Dream “reserves the right to refuse admission.”
Photo by Adam Rubinstein
It is no surprise these authors have found in poetry slams a space to raise their voices. Originally created in the eighties in Chicago, slams had the main purpose to give back poetry to people. It is a space where anyone can compete no matter their age, race, sexual orientation, class, or gender. Slams are quite popular in countries such as Mexico, Spain, France, Brazil, and the US, and once a year, international competitions are held all around the world. Poetry slams still struggle to find recognition from academia, but most poets don't really care. They focus more on people's acceptance, since it has given an opportunity to those voices that had not been heard before.
“Accents” by Denice Frohman
“My mama don't know 'quiet.'
Her voice is one size better fit all
and you best not tell her to hush;
she waited too many years for her voice to arrive to be told it needed housekeeping.”
“My Blood Is Beautiful” by Mercedez Holtry
“My blood is a story of nine million Americans
who like me check the “other” box on the census.
I’m the walking definition of rape, kill, and conquer.
I am birthed from oppressed and oppressor.”
“My Spanish” by Melissa Lozada-Oliva
“My Spanish is an itchy phantom limb.
It is reaching for words and only finding air.”
“Afro-Latina” by Elizabeth Acevedo
“I know I come from stolen gold,
from cocoa, from sugar cane;
The children of slaves and slave masters;
a beautiful tragic mixture,
a sancocho of a race history.”
“The Star Spanglish Banner” by Angelica Maria Aguilera
“Miguel hears the marimba and learns the word 'home:'
hears his mother's accent being mocked and learns the word 'shame;'
hears his mother weeping and learns the word 'sacrifice.'
He asks “what does 'America' mean?”
“What does the word 'dream' mean?”
I say two words with the same meaning or what we call synonyms.
You could say America is a dream:
something we all feel silly for believing in.”
Cover photo: Arielle Cottingham by Bundanon Trust.
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