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Central Americans Unicorns in Space

December 20, 2011

Revisiting my blog I found this draft of a post from a year ago that I never published. I will post it now even though I could and should continue writing about it. I’ve always written slowly and hate to post anything that isn’t polished but that is probably why I don’t publish often enough. So here is this unfinished draft in the hopes of documenting moments like these and pushing myself to write more.

Back in November (2010) I participated in a reading of Central American poets in Leisy Abrego’s U.S. Central American Studies class at UCLA. Professor Abrego is the first tenure track professor in Chicano/a studies at UCLA with an emphasis in Central American Studies, and has always been for me a big inspiration. There are many of us who go to college and would love to take a class that focuses on the history and experience of our own culture. At least one class, which is of course not enough to cover our culture, history, literature and legacies…especially in such metropolitan cities with huge populations of Central Americans…

One of the many ways she marked the occasion of her first semester at UCLA was to invite as many of us as were willing and able to read together and present in her class. Some of us have been friends for more than ten years, and a few of those present were writers who had heard of this group of poets and found a way to connect with one of us.
It is rare these days that we read together, maybe once a year if at all. (Maybe it was always rare, but there was a time somewhere between 2000-2004 that it seemed like more). Sometimes the work we have done together in the past may seem mythological because it isn’t easy to track us down, but the fact that we used to gather as a group to write and talk and put on events, still to many people, especially those hungry for our version of diasporic Central American-ness feels powerful, impactful and dare I say inspiring… I always have the sense that reading together with any number of the poets I have known from this loose collective contextualizes each other in a way that reading alone does not. Many of us touch on themes of home, migration, identity, dictatorship, civil war, displacement and loss, but also we write love poems that challenge gender roles and play with sexuality, or a  snapshot of city life or about the hybrid existence of being from both here and there- we then are, momentarily, in this someplace new that is not new, at home, recognizing the possibilities,  providing a broader picture, revealing our complexity, and adding voices to a chorus of individuals with chris-crossing existences. These voices add nuance to the one dimensional or barely visible images you rarely see, even if you are paying attention. When we are together in this context the laughter and longing seem that much sweeter and fuller, as it was this day.
The poets present were myself (Maya Chinchilla), Rossana Perez, Leyda Garcia, Gustavo Guerra-Vasquez, Arely Zimmerman and Oriel Siu. Professor Abrego also read a poem after much urging from her class and read a beautiful about the transition from living in one bedroom apartment with her husband and two sons, always living in close proximity to her family and noisy neighbors with questionable activities, to owning a home and her discomfort at the new experience as a new professor mingling with different levels of privilege at wine and cheese events.
This poem marks the moment of an immigrant child, 1.5 generation Salvadoran woman feeling the conflict between success, upward mobility, while remembering her roots and all the struggles she and her family made to get her to this place. It was maybe uncharacteristically “real” for what is expected of a professor with a background in sociology facilitating her first class. That is why it was so powerful to hear from this hardworking, soft spoken overachieving professional. This is one of the markers I think, of this group. None in the group would only identify as poet or artist, except maybe me and I still tack on graduate student, filmmaker and educator.
After the reading, the poets met to “convivir un buen rato” and Arely or maybe Oriel asked the group what would it take to support your writing. What do you need? The answer was a resounding need for space, that is no less urgent a need than ten years ago: a gathering place and time. To be encouraged. To be valued for this work. Somehow we know in the back of our minds how valuable the space to create is as all the community and family work each one of us does, but unfortunately gets pushed back down the list of priorities when making rent and picking up a child at school comes first.

I often dream about ways to cultivate and support these voices and create the space and time to build on what was, what is…. Until then I give thanks for another brief moment in time to play with other Central American Unicorns who are willing to jump right in and pick up where we left off.

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