Thursday, April 21, 2011

Floricanto en DC: Part II

Ed. Note: This is in the new issue of Brooklyn & Boyle and reflects on a trip made several months ago. It seems to be gestating and gelling in parts. There will be in the end, three parts, I believe. And when they are finished, I hope to collect them in one complete monograph or chapbook. Please accept my humble gratitude for your patience and your willingness to follow along, even though there will be other posts that don't necessarily adhere to a specific chronological order.

While leaving the ballroom auditorium where Zurita has just delivered a series of epic poems, I am able to greet LA translator and poet Jen Hofer briefly before Francisco Alarcón, Odilia Galván, Javier and I must rush to prepare for the official Floricanto in DC, which is being held at the True Reformer Building on U Street in the U Street arts corridor. Dedicated on July 15, 1903, the building was the first in the nation to be designed, financed, built, and owned by the African-American community after Reconstruction.
Spacious and well appointed with all the modern conveniences, it now serves as the home for the Public Welfare Foundation. The second floor auditorium is nearly full by 7 p.m. Poets from across the country have gathered for an event being presented by Acentos Foundation, Poets Responding to SB1070 and Split this Rock, the organization behind the annual Split This Rock Poetry Festival built on the premise that poets “have a unique role to play in social movements as innovators, visionaries, truth tellers, and restorers of language.”

Looking around it has become obvious that more than just the two-dozen or so previously confirmed writers have gathered to share poetry in protest of Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation. In addition to the confirmed list, which includes Francisco X. Alarcon, Tara Betts, Sarah Browning, Regie Cabico, Carmen Calatayud, Susan Deer Cloud, Martín Espada, Odilia Galvan Rodriguez, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Aracelis Girmay, Randall Horton, , Dorianne Laux, Marilyn Nelson, Mark Nowak, Barbara Jane Reyes, Abel Salas, Craig Santos Perez, Hedy Trevino, Pam Uschuk, Dan Vera, Rich Villar, and Andre Yang, Chicago area poet and activist Susana Sandoval, has jumped on board to lend her voice and her considerable experience as a press liaison. Roberto Vargas, the honorary poet laureate of Bay Area Mission District has actually flown out from San Antonio, Texas where he now lives, to participate.

It is thrilling to see that even literary luminary Sonia Sanchez, who had appeared earlier on a panel celebrating the work of Langston Hughes at the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference, has come out share her words and her support for the wellspring of poetic action as well. On a personal note, I am moved almost to tears when I see my older sister Gloria in audience at the back of the room. Because we are scheduled to read alphabetically, I take advantage of being near the end to slip out and grab some chili at Ben’s, across the street. The weather is cold and damp. According to my sister, the residual snow that still glistens on the ground is from a storm that has blown through several days before.

Ben’s Chili Bowl is an institution. The crowd at the dining counter is three deep, yet the small bowl of chili and a small order of thick steak fries come pretty quickly. Back in the True Reformer, the poetry is round and full and powerful. By the end of the evening there is a sense of joy and euphoria that floods the room. People don’t seem ready to leave. It is the first opportunity that many of the Facebook Poets Responding to SB1070 have had to meet face-to-face.

A group of us spend the next hour looking for a restaurant where we can all eat together. Because the group is large, we are unsuccessful. Every place is packed, and it’s nearly impossible to seat us as a party of 14 during the late evening rush. It’s Friday night in U Street section. Walking by a restaurant called Poets & Busboys, a place named in honor of Langston Hughes, we see LA poet/author Luis Rodriguez, founder of Tia Chucha’s Café Cultural in Sylmar. The handshakes and hugs between him and so many of his long-time colleagues and contemporaries from around the nation are contagious. Luis is in D.C. for the AWP Conference and a meeting with the author of a book Tia Chucha Press is preparing to publish.

After finally giving up on the possibility of finding a restaurant nearby, we are invited to the home of Carlos Mauricio and his wife Ruth Goode. who live a short drive away. Their apartment is in a classic older building, which feels very New York or Chicago. Our hosts are both very involved in cultural affairs here and outside of the U.S. Ruth is a consultant on several U.N. projects and Carlos is a photographer with roots in El Salvador who spent many years in San Francisco where he documented murals and became acquainted with the Mission District Latino arts community. I say goodbye to my sister and those of us that are left begin sharing poetry around a living room coffee table. Ruth and Carlos have gone on a grocery run and I’m later enlisted to help prepare a modest dinner as well as a salad.

The poetry and the pasta are incredible. I feel so entirely privileged to be part of a new poetic family. We listen to jazz music and sip red wine while we listen to each other share. Am I dreaming? It this real? In the middle of it all, I wonder if I won’t wake up back in our own beloved Boyle Heights barrio where all of this began. To Be Continued...

1 comment:

Pamela Armstrong Escarcega said...

Such a long time ago...I knew you and your sister when I stayed with Mr. Salinas in Austin. It would have been in 1987 or 88? A wonderful time. You describe east of the freeway as he would have. I left there, went to Santa Cruz where I worked with Nane Alejandrez, met Francisco X. Alarcon, Cruz Zammaron, and many other people. I went to St. Louis from there, worked with Eugene Redmond with the E. St. Louis Writer's Group. I'm in Ocala, FL now. I've heard your name from time to time, and wondered if it were you. I remember having much respect for you and your sister for the work you did, and the deep commitment you both had for the struggle. Carry on. Be well, Pam Armstrong Escarcega