Yesika Salgado Talks Love, Loss, and Gentrification in New Poetry Book

Yesika Salgado‘s signature curls, bold lipstick, and acrylic nails exude confidence and when she felt lost and frustrated while developing her latest poetry collection, she let that persona shine through


Photo: Image courtesy Yesika Salgado

Yesika Salgado‘s signature curls, bold lipstick, and acrylic nails exude confidence and when she felt lost and frustrated while developing her latest poetry collection, she let that persona shine through. The Los Angeles writer attributes the direction of her latest book to friend, prominent Puerto Rican writer Gabby Rivera who motivated her over a lunch date.

“She pushed our pupusas to the side, leaned over the table and pointed at my acrylic nails, ‘I want to see this Yesika in a book,'” Salgado told HipLatina. “I went home and wrote as this Yesika, who bloomed as is, ready to take on the world.”

Salgado is a self-proclaimed “fat, fly Salvadoran poet” who recently released the final book, Hermosa, in her three-part trilogy, where she’s shared her stories of love, family, and coming into herself.

Her trilogy began with Corazón, which published in March of 2018 followed by Tesoro published later that year and it’s now concluding with Hermosa. In the introduction, she describes the book as the final chapter of the collection that makes her readers whole and beautiful and signs off with, “in full bloom.”

The 34-year-old poet is closing the collection sharing wisdom that only comes with age and experience — through the lens of a woman of color.

“All of the complications of love and heartbreak will always be something I grapple with. It’s human. The shift for me is that I am no longer worried about what my lover does,” Salgado said. “If he is going to leave, he will do it no matter what. I am now more concerned with what I do with my love and how it’s still beautiful, even if my partner is gone.”

Both the first poem, “Diaspora Writes to Her New Home” and the last “A Beginning” center around a birth of sorts and in between lie the stories of her life thus far.

“Many of these poems were written, hoping to get as close as possible to the most authentic version of me,” the poet said. “Not that I am not myself any other time, but I wanted to capture my complex heart, my humor, my nostalgia. I wanted my reader to feel that I am truly at home within myself.”

Glancing at the table of contents conveys the main themes of the collection: her exploration of romantic love, familial love, love of herself, and love for her native City of Angels.

When it comes to L.A., which she lovingly refers to as “my city,” her poems center around the gentrification she’s witnessed after growing up in Silver Lake. “I return to you with open arms, my beautiful city. Los Angeles. I choose you in this life, in my parents’ lives, and in the lives they left to bring me to you,” Salgado writes in “Casamiento.”

Silver Lake, located northeast of downtown L.A., was once a neighborhood home to working-class Latinx and Asians but is now known as a white hipster hotspot. The gentrification affecting Latinx communities like in Boyle Heights located on the Eastside can not only be seen in real life but are also commonly depicted in other forms of media, like the Starz show Vida.

“Gentrification is why I write so damn much about my Los Angeles. I say mine because it IS mine and I need to preserve my neighborhood the way I remember it, before the displacement,” Salgado said passionately. “This is how I take and do not give back. This is my x on the map. We, black and brown folks, are this city. We built it with our own hands.”

The city comes into play in lines where she mentions Nipsey Hussle’s death, experiencing heartbreak in the midst of unusually rainy weather, and the significance of the bus lines she rode where she wrote her first book.

The cover of Hermosa itself is an ode to the city with the purple flowers of the jacaranda tree vibrantly painted on a mustard yellow backdrop. The trees line the streets of L.A., including the one she was raised on and she considers them her favorite part of the city.

As much as the cover art has a deeper meaning, the title does too. Like her two previous books, the titles were inspired by her late father.

“Each of my books is titled after terms of endearment. Hermosa is how I first heard the word beautiful, and it was from my parent’s mouth,” she said.

Her parents are featured throughout Hermosa in both loving and painful ways that touch on alcoholism, immigration, and death.  Her father’s love is front and center in “Tontita” where she recalls his “amor tan grande” writing: corazón/dime/que te trae/tan mariada/por un hombre/que jamás te amo/ como te eseñaron a amar/dime, que yo no lo entiendo.

“I usually place poems about my father next to pieces about love and heartbreak because I don’t think you can understand one without the other. I love the way I love because of him, for better or worse,” she said.

Whether it’s bad sex in “Punchline,” smoking weed for the first time for a boy who likes her friend in “Eden,” or listening to the drunk words of a lover in “Costumbres” — these poems are sandwiched between odes to her father.

Like in her previous books, he’s ever-present but this time — for the first time —someone who has also been present throughout her journey in words is identified by name.

“The most significant love poem I wrote is in the acknowledgments. I wrote my lover’s name, and for a long time, I went back and forth about it. But I really meant it when I wrote [in “Ever After”]: ‘go be happy and come tell me about it someday.’ I had to see his name in print to really drive it home. Then I called him and asked when I’d see him again, so that doesn’t change either,” she said.

This remembrance of their love is achingly evident in poems with sometimes painful other times sweet but always fierce one-liners that reiterates why her readers, whom she lovingly refers to as her “mangoes,” connect with her work.

In “Boomerang,” where she talks about an ex trying to come back into her life, she writes, “know that I haven’t fallen into the fire/instead, I became it.” But in the midst of the heartbreak, there are sweet and tender moments of love as well as honest depictions of sex.

In “Florecer” she writes, “you kiss my neck/and/all my pores/ sprout/flowers” while in the more sexual “Daggers,” she writes about a first date when she’s asked about her nails: “ever clawed up a man’s back with those?/ we excuse ourselves/to take them/for a drive.”

“Sex can be a very public act or secret sin. I wanted to push that boundary, especially because fat women don’t get to move that needle very often,” Salgado explained. “For me talking about sex isn’t vulnerable or brave. We’re all having it.”

Salgado’s readers are mainly Latinx millennials who gravitate to her work but also her overall persona as a confident chingona who speaks her truth.

She’s a part of the Mami Collective that includes Diosa Femme and Mala Muñoz of Locatora Radio and she’s one half of Chingona Fire, a Latina Feminist poetry collective with poet Angela Aguirre. She calls herself “Oprah rich” in the friendship department, saying her girlfriends inspire and push her.

According to Salgado, Corazón posed the question “Am I worthy of love?” and Tesoro asked “How do we survive those we have loved”? while Hermosa asks no questions.

Hermosa just is. Some questions don’t have answers, and some answers arrive before the questions. Hermosa is the space between both,” she said.

If there’s one line in the book that she feels encapsulates the core message of the book, it’s “I take and do not give back.”

“I want my readers to go and take the world in, turn it into whatever they want and keep it fiercely for themselves,” she adds. “Do some good loving and make a few messes.”

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El Salvador latina poets latinx poets poetry yesika salgado
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