Spoken word is the art of performing poetry. It brings to life the words these artists have put to paper and adds dimension to already powerful writing. This loud and expressive performance style serves as the perfect outlet for Latinas to bring to the forefront issues and commentary that—often due to marianismo and social norms—have been kept quiet for far too long. At times, just merely expressing our desires has been seen as “too much” or not right for a woman to do. The act of Latinas engaging in spoken word directly challenges these machista thinking patterns. The concept of “calladita te ves más bonita” is thrown out the window by the sheer talent and power of these women using their voice. Poetry and performance that not only empowers themselves but also the community of women that surrounds them.
These 8 spoken word performances explore the complexities of Latina identity. Although we have a shared identity, these poets show how there isn’t one singular or “correct” way to be Latina. From tapping into discourse on not feeling “Latina enough” to speaking out against injustices in the community, these Latinas do not hold back in expressing their point of view to the world.
“My Spanish” by Melissa Lozada-Oliva
Guatelombian writer Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s performance of “My Spanish” is exemplary of the pressures and expectations for Latinos when it comes to language. Throughout the poem, she ties questions about her Spanish back to memories of her childhood and family. For many young Latines, the term “no sabo” is often thrown around to minimize their cultural identity—to make them feel not Latinx enough. Lozada-Oliva’s performance is a love letter to the language that also counteracts these preconceived notions of what it means to be Latinx.
“If you ask me if I am fluent in Spanish I will try to tell you the story of how my parents met in an ESL class. How it was when they trained their mouths to say I love you in a different language…”
“Dear White Girls in my Spanish Class” by Ariana Brown
Ariana Brown is a queer, Black and Mexican writer and author of “We Are Owed”. In this performance, Brown takes her audience through the experiences of Latinx students in a Spanish class. With the history of anti-Latinx discrimination in schools and the stigmatization of speaking Spanish to this day, her exploration of this classroom setting is especially moving. The last line encapsulates the tone and message of her poem: “How does it feel to take a foreign language for fun? To owe your history nothing?”
“Hair” by Elizabeth Acevedo
Elizabeth Acevedo’s “Hair” is a powerful response to notions of “pelo malo” within the Latinx community. Anti-blackness and Eurocentric beauty standards often drive standards in our community, making their way into our households and hair salons. She makes an important point of what is unspoken, “fix your hair” being another way of saying “straighten it” or “whiten” it. Acevedo fights against these calls for assimilation to embrace her ancestry and culture, further empowering other Afro Latinas.
“You call them wild curls. I call them breathing. Ancestors spiraling.
Can’t you see them in this wet hair that waves like hello?”
“Fat Girl Wants Love” by Yesika Salgado
Los Angeles native and Salvadoran poet, Yesika Salgado shares experiences and sentiments all too familiar to many plus-size Latinas. Wanting love and romantic relationships as plus-size women can be challenging with fatphobia influencing perceptions of beauty—even at a cultural level within the Latinx community. From the shame, comparisons, sadness and fatphobia that seep through our romantic relationships and interactions, her poem captures the nuances of being a plus-size Latina in the dating world. As she delves into relationships for plus-size women mean confronting these situations when searching for romantic love and ultimately self-love.
“He tell me he loves me. He keeps me a secret. I love him. I am a fat girl. This is the same this time.”
“Accents” by Denice Froham
“Accents” by queer Nuyorican Denice Frohman is a loving tribute to her mother and Puerto Rican heritage. She speaks proudly of her mother’s accent and language as they come together to make her mother who she is. Frohman’s voice is in tune with the experiences of many first-generation Latines coming to understand their parents’ perspective and meshing of two languages. By playing with language and evoking her mother’s voice through pronunciation and Puerto Rican slang she points to her mother’s connections between language and home.
“My mama doesn’t say “yes” she says “ah ha” and suddenly the sky in her mouth becomes a Hector Lavoe song.”
“Afro-Latina” by Melania Luisa Marte
Dominican American writer Melania Luisa Marte’s viral poem “Afro-Latina” begins by noting that the term Afro-Latina does not exist in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. This is the jumping point for her performance as she addresses the erasure of Afro-Latinas through anti-Blackness in history, media and within the Latinx community. She recently released her debut poetry collection, Plantains and our Becoming, and chose to open the book with this powerful poem.
“I am not Black and Latina, I am a Black Latina.”
“At The Wall, US/Mexican Border, Texas, 2020” by Paola Gonzalez & Karla Gutierrez
Mexican American poets Paola Gonzalez and Karla Gutierrez share the realities and injustices faced by Mexican immigrants. They paint a grueling and true picture of the border including the difficult journey many immigrants have made in hopes of attaining the American Dream. From the racism and xenophobia that come at the hands of American citizens to the exploitative labor practices many immigrant workers endure, Gonzalez and Gutierrez bring awareness to the oppressive ways of the system and highlight the challenges our community has faced.
“Standing amongst the dirt and the barbed wires, the faceless crosses lay across its rusty surface a la Frontera, a la Pared,
running from the Pacific to the Gulf…”
“My Blood is Beautiful” by Mercedez Holtry
Chicana writer and poet Mercedez Holtry speaks to the duality of belonging to two cultures. She describes herself as a “walking history lesson” in this poem, which resonates with the concept of mestizaje and identity within the Chicanx community. She highlights invasive questions and assumptions on identity as well as tracing the history of European colonization and violence experienced by Indigenous communities as a result. Her poem gives readers/listeners the opportunity to reflect on their own thoughts on identity as she proclaims “my identity belongs to me”.
“My blood belongs to me, and I’ll be damned if anyone calls my blood anything but beautiful.”