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Culture

5 Latinas Using Poetry to Help Women Like Them Feel Seen

#WeAllGrow Latina poets
Photo Credit: Robson Muzel @muzel_la

Poetry is an art form that is both highly regarded and regulated by Western- European standards. If you google “good poetry” the authors that come up are all unsurprisingly dead white men like William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, and T.S. Eliot. Even the limited scope of white female poets that are widely read, represent an upper class that had the privilege, leisure, and education to write and seek publication. Historically women of color have been, of course, underrepresented and for the most part, their stories have been ignored. But today the tide is changing and although academic spaces still remain the tastemakers of what is considered American canon, BIPOC women specifically, are deciding for themselves what stories resonate with them. Five of the poets that performed at the #WeAllGrow Summit: Yesika Salgado, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, Melania-Luisa Marte, Kim Guerra, and Nicoletta Daríta de la Brown are just a few of the Latinas that are changing the game by creating their own lanes of expression by re-claiming their voices in and out of academia. Their art creates the kind of complex narratives that not only challenge the confines of the genre but also challenge concepts related to womanhood, identity, race, sex, love, relationships, machismo, intergenerational trauma, and all of the nuances of the Latina experience left out by the old dead white dudes. We wanted to know, in their own words, in what ways their art has helped them, healed them, and impacted their readers.

Yesika Salgado

#WeAllGrow Latina Poets
Photo Credit: Robson Muzel @muzel_la

Yesika Salgado is a Los Angeles based Salvadoran poet who writes about her family, her culture, her city, and her brown body. She has shared her work in venues and campuses throughout the country. Salgado is a four-time member of Da Poetry Lounge Slam Team and a 2017 and 2018 National Poetry Slam finalist. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Latina Magazine, Univision, Vibe Magazine, Huffington Post, NPR, TEDx, and many digital platforms. She is the co-founder of the Latina feminist collective Chingona Fire and an internationally recognized body positivity activist. Yesika is the author of the Amazon best-sellers Corazón and Tesoro, published with Not a Cult.

Which of your poems was the hardest for you to write?

Of my recent poems, I think “Knives” is the most difficult. It is a piece that talks about sexual assault and how most women have a story about it. It was hard to see all I have survived spread out on the screen and then have to reclaim it.

What about your experience as a woman of color has your poetry helped you heal through?

Everything. I write to survive, heal and celebrate. Poetry has gotten me through my father’s death, my miscarriages, and relationships gone bad. I have written when I found love and success and needed to make sense of it. It’s how I process life.

Which of your poems has been the most impactful? And has it revealed anything about the connection you have with your audience?

I have been writing and publicly sharing my work for about 17 years. I have been fortunate to have had poems be very loved by my audience. I think one of the poems that surprised me most was “Fat Girl Wants Love.” I didn’t realize how universal the feeling of not being worthy of love was. I’ve had folks tightly grab my hand at a reading, the mall, a bar, the grocery store and with eyes full of tears tell me how much they saw themselves in my work. I have learned that we all just want to be seen.

What was the first poem you were proud of? And when did you know you had to write?

The first poem I was proud of was in middle school. My teacher said I reminded her of Sylvia Plath and I kept the poem with the note in a plastic protector in my binder. I have always known I was meant to write. I can undeniably say that I was born a storyteller and have been one all my life.

Melania-Luisa Marte

#WeAllGrow Latina poets
Photo Credit: Robson Muzel @muzel_la

Melania-Luisa Marte is a first-generation Dominican American. She was born in the Bronx and raised in the Lower East Side of New York City. Her multi-cultured upbringing inspires her to write about navigating the world as a native Spanish speaker of Afro-Dominican descent. She is also a member of the 2017 Dallas Poetry Slam Team currently ranking 5th in the nation. She has performed, featured, and competed in cities across the country. Marte was a finalist at the 2017 Texas Grand Slam Poetry Competition and ranked 5th in the 2018 Women of The World Poetry Slam Competition. She has done speaking events, panels and shared poems at New York University, Paul Quinn College, Texas A & M University, Deep Ellum Arts Festival, National Dominican Student Conference, Women of Color in Solidarity Conference, and People Magazine, among others. She works as a Teaching Artist and Creative Workshop Facilitator. Marte’s poetry explores many subjects including her Afro-Latina roots and culture, intersectional feminism, and self-love. She is currently working on her debut collection of poetry, “MELA.”

Which of your poems was the hardest for you to write?

Writing “Afro-Latina” has probably been the hardest poem I’ve ever written because it required me to unpack my own feelings of invisibility within the Latinx community. That is still something that I’m working on healing and un-learning: this feeling that if my existence isn’t validated in media, if my beauty is not celebrated on magazines, if my stories are not considered worthy of being told, do I and other Negras even exist? Are we so out of the ordinary or magical, others can’t see us? And although I love embodying this idea that, “Yes, I am magical, fierce, and powerful!” I am also human and have the same needs as anyone else. One of those needs is true representation in media. My hope is that this poem helps to continue the conversation around what it means to Black and Latina.

What about your experience as a Black woman/woman of color has your poetry helped you heal through?

My poetry has been my shield, my machete, my love letter. It has allowed me to take up space and carve out a lane for guerreras like me who fight for what and whom they love. My poetry has allowed me to validate my existence as a Dominican-American and an Afro-Latina, in a time where my story and my culture isn’t talked about much.

Which of your poems has been the most impactful? And has it revealed anything about the connection you have with your audience?

I believe my poem on Afro-Latinidad has been the most impactful because it not only defines what Afro-Latina means but it also addresses the repercussions of living in a society whether in America or especially in Latin-America that refuses to make room for true inclusivity. Many of my poems make folks uncomfortable because I push my audience to address their own biases, to see me not only as angry because (yes, erasure, anti-Blackness, sexism are all things that I fight with all the fire in my belly) my poetry is human, is love, is tired. I find that this poem is passionate and vulnerable in a way that helps listeners understand that we are all the hero in this story if we step up. All we need to do is help each other get to the other side of what true inclusivity and equality looks like.

What was the first poem you were proud of? And when did you know you had to write?

The first poem I was proud of was honestly a rant that I wrote that accidentally became a poem. It was addressing misogyny within rap culture and it’s laced with humor and hip-hop culture references that I find make it both educational and entertaining. It’s also my first viral poetry slam video and I was super excited to have my words shared by so many beautiful people I had never even met! Feel free to take a listen:

Writing has always been my passion. As a kid, I spent a lot of time journaling and when I discovered poetry, I fell absolutely in love with the craft. I honestly don’t know what else I would be doing if I hadn’t discovered poetry, I think I would still be a writer of some sort!

Kim Guerra

#WeAllGrow Latina poets
Photo Credit: Robson Muzel @muzel_la

Kim Guerra is an artist, writer, and entrepreneur. She is the creator of Brown Badass Bonita, a brand and movement she considers a revolutionary act of self-love and love for our Latinx community. She wants people to wear her shirts as a statement and shield. She wants people to feel like a walking and living revolution when they wear a Brown Badass Bonita tee. She creates apparel that celebrates our culture and empowers mujeres. She also writes pieces and creates art that celebrates and explore the complexities of being a Latinx, mujer, PoC, survivor, and guerrera. She considers her art and work to be her responsibility to her community of Latinx and mujeres.

Which of your poems was the hardest for you to write?

The hardest poem for me to write was “Mija”. I feel it’s a living, breathing poem that will never be done. It is open for all of us MIJAS to contribute to and pass on. I had to tune in to the messages I wish I heard as a daughter. This also meant I had to feel the wounds of not hearing those messages. It opened up deep, intergenerational wounds I hope to heal through for me and future generations.

What about your experience as a woman of color has your poetry helped you heal through?

A lot of my writing talks about healing from abuse, trauma, microaggressions, racism, as well as being responsible and accountable for colorism, privilege, and knowledge I hold.

Which of your poems has been the most impactful? And has it revealed anything about the connection you have with your audience?

“Mija” and “I am a privileged Latina” have been most impactful to me and our community. They speak to the importance of the messages we receive and pass on. They speak of the power of who we are as mujeres and the importance of self-love and accountability in our communities. I believe these are the main keys to healing.

What was the first poem you were proud of? And when did you know you had to write?

I’m proud of each poem because each one took courage for me to write and share. I felt I had to write as soon as I realized my voice was important and no one else could tell my story.

Melissa Lozada-Oliva

#WeAllGrow Latina poets
Photo Credit: Robson Muzel @muzel_la

Melissa Lozada-Oliva is a nationally-recognized writer & performer living in New York City. Her poem “Like Totally Whatever” won the National Poetry Slam Competition in 2015 & promptly went viral. Her Amazon-best-selling book Peluda (Button poetry) explores, interrogates and redefines the intersections of Latina identity, feminism, hair removal & what it means to belong. She has performed her poems in hundreds of universities & venues across the country. Her work has been featured in REMEZCLA, The Guardian, Vulture, Bustle, Glamour Magazine, The Huffington Post, Muzzle Magazine, The Adroit Journal, and BBC Mundo. She is an MFA candidate at New York University where she teaches. She lives in Ridgewood, Queens.

Which of your poems was the hardest for you to write?

A poem that was the hardest for me to write was “Mami Says Have You Been Crying” because I had to reflect a lot on intergenerational trauma & depression and just face things that are hard to face.

What about your experience as a woman of color has your poetry helped you heal through?

I think maybe just like…  feeling valid in what I’m saying. Feeling smart and like my voice matters.

Which of your poems has been the most impactful? And has it revealed anything about the connection you have with your audience?

I guess I still see “My Spanish” making rounds a lot even though it’s a couple years old now. I think I was able to capture a feeling of someone snapping their fingers trying to figure out what that word is. I’m doing what most poets are trying to do I guess, which is trying to name and explain the unnamable.

What was the first poem you were proud of? And when did you know you had to write?

I wrote a poem called “Black thong underwear” about my underwear getting stuck in my pants & falling out of my pants during an interview. I was proud because it was the first time everything came together for one clear message, like some mysterious part of me, knew what I wanted to say before I knew how to say it. I knew I had to write or be a writer when I kept doing it even when I didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t that I loved it, it was that I needed to do it to keep making sense of things.

Nicoletta Daríta de la Brown

#WeAllGrow Latina poets
Photo Credit: Robson Muzel @muzel_la

Nicoletta Daríta de la Brown is a producer, host, performance artist, interdisciplinary fabricator, mother of four, self-love champion, and unicorn. Nicoletta is the founder of Vida Mágica Love LLC, providing healing-centered engagement through interactive workshops, immersive activations, and multi-sensory experiences. Nicoletta is Black Latinx; proud to be a first generation Panamanian born in the United States and comes from a long line of healers.

Which of your poems was the hardest for you to write?

The piece that was most moving, and provided me the most experience to grow, was a poetic letter to my younger self. I placed myself in the space of thinking about how I felt as a girl, Negrita, Afro-Latina, first generation daughter born in the United States. I asked myself to feel how the younger version of me felt. I thought about what she needed to hear. I thought about what I wanted to tell her. It was vulnerable, and powerful, at the same time.

What about your experience as a Black woman/woman of color has your poetry helped you heal through?

My writings, and performances helped me claim my identity. Helped me re-claim my power. It helped me heal moments where I felt a lack of worth, lack of value, lack of being enough. It helped me remember that I am important. What I have to say matters. Existence, me existing, is a gift. I am a gift.

Which of your poems has been the most impactful? And has it revealed anything about the connection you have with your audience?

My piece about giving to myself first, so that I can give to the world with love, is the most impactful. I find that it truly moves the audience, who also have felt (or still feels this way) This line: “I once believed that the more I gave the more I actually mattered in this world. Unless I gave all of me how else would anyone know that I exist?” — Is one that people come up to chat with me about over and over again. Women, with tear-filled eyes, thank me for reminding them that they (we) are not alone.

What was the first poem you were proud of? And when did you know you had to write?

The first piece I was proud of I wrote when I was 17. It was published in a book of female writers. I felt proud because I wrote it as a way to heal. It was an honor to have my work appreciated and shared with others in print. My work is cathartic, and at that moment I realized that if we as artists, share our art, we have the power to make change.

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