I met Jacinta in the migrant camp where we grew up. I remember that it was the beginning of June, a few days into the start of the harvest. At that time, Jacinta had lived for nine springs—she was two years younger than me—and for obvious reasons she still used her given last name, López del Campo. Those of us who saw her timidly climb the stairs and enter the last shack, which served as our classroom, with her butterfly notebook pressed to her chest and her gaze glued to her sun-toasted legs, never imagined that in less than ten years she’d be proclaimed the artistic heir to Joaquín Murrieta, a figure shrouded in dustbut fondly remembered within the Mexican communities settled in the central lands of California.
This feature is part of our print and online portfolio of writing from the immigrant farmworker community. Read more online or in Issue 26.
The early life of Juan Felipe Herrera (b. 1948), the U.S. Poet Laureate emeritus, was shaped by the farmworker’s cycle of seasonal work. His poetry, rich in Mexican pop culture, distills a unique music. He is the author of Akrilica (1989), Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (1999), and 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971-2007 (2007), among other books. In this dialogue with Ilan Stavans, Lewis-Sebring Professor at Amherst College and the editor of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature, which took place in Los Angeles, California on April 19, 2023, he reflects on his formative experiences as a poet defined by an itinerant childhood.
Farmworker Days: Ilan Stavans in Conversation with Juan Felipe Herrera
Translation is home. Whenever I travel, I seek it either by reading translations, or by translating as a grounding exercise. Lately I have been translating into English poems from Jewish Latin American poets, specifically works by conversos or those written in Yiddish and Ladino by immigrants and their offspring. And—in a room of her own—Alejandra Pizarnik, whose life makes me think of Emily Dickinson. I recreated these two poems while visiting my mother, who has been suffering from Alzheimer’s. Pizarnik distills the fibers of existence so as to reveal the madness that palpitates underneath. Her poetry is contagious. The toughest part is to convey her silences. I wish I had met her.
The end of romance was what the teenage girl
was telling you about on a bench in the Jardin
in San Miguel de Allende, giving you T.M.I.,
but you realized she might need a Father who is not in heaven.
She gasps: Tinder is even sleazier in Mexico, how could it be nostalgic? You listened, like your poems do when you write
them down in the cafes of Kerouac’s time here. You are Angelico
Americano with Instagram—troubled children of your own back home.
“There were moments when I didn’t need to tell my body how to move,” poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo writes in the opening passage of his memoir, Children of the Land. He’s introducing a scene in which armed ICE agents arrive at his house. He’s a senior in high school. The agents are looking for his father, who isn’t there. They leave. Yet their presence, a longstanding threat finally realized, creates a shift. Hernandez Castillo can no longer act without thinking. He explains, “Even laughter required some kind of effort. I had to remind myself: this is funny, this is how you laugh—laugh now, laugh hard, spit out your food.”
Review: Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
A, E, I, O, U. The rhythmic concatenation of these five vowels is the tachycardic pulse of Mario’s poetry, and it cannot be imitated in English. Feeling for correlative patterns in the jangle of our consonant-frontal idiom is something like transcribing the pitch values of a Max Roach drum solo for honkeytonk piano. I do what I can with alliteration but even the relatively long decay of the M or the out-hissing S does not match the multi-textured overtones of a hard O spilling through the rails of its word-cage when struck, trailing a foam of soft E’s across the rubble.
Mario Santiago Papasquiaro: Two Poems in Translation
Like many translators, I grow weary of talking about “faithfulness” and “betrayal,” about whether it’s “possible” to translate poetry, about what gets “lost” in translation. These queries quickly become platitudes, and platitudes are tiresome. But what’s always relevant, always urgent, and always exhilarating to me about translation is the idea of respect. The practice of care. One of my favorite translators, Sophie Hughes, recently said in an interview: “I approach a text that is already complete, mature, sure of itself, and it’s my responsibility to look after it, to respect it for what it is (its nature or essence), whilst protecting it from linguistic butchery, from translationese, from too many mistakes or outlandish mis- and reinterpretations.” And how can we respect anything for what it is until we truly listen to what it has to say about itself and how it sees the world?
We stayed with your mother in a tenement made of metal and painted stucco during the high holy days of August, the little chapel of La Virgencita a vision from our bedroom window. Flanked by powerlines and pigeons, its white façade projecting shadows on pedestrians as they strolled past. Each day we woke before dawn to sip bitter coffee and watch men in stiff robes ring the chapel bells, tracking their steps as they ascended the tower. Together they tugged the ropes to rouse the townspeople—to check they were alive.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, “Open Air, Relational Architecture”, 2012. Commissioned by the Association for Public Art, Philad
Twenty-four searchlights, all high-powered, were set on rooftops around Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway last September and October. They were programmed, however, to avoid shining their spotlights on any physical objects: no buildings, no naked windows, no trees. Instead, they glimmered straight up into the sky: twenty-four columns of light responding — here solid, there faint, twitching and beating and sweeping across the sky together, then separating — to the voices of Philadelphia residents.