Poetry for children is like eating a great burger and savoring the completeness that it gives our tummies. As I discover this new poetic lens (writing for children), I look stronger at the poetic lens of being a Latina poet. As always, I seek advice from the Abuelitas or Godmothers poets of color like Gloria Anzaldua and Audre Lorde.
As Lorde puts it: “For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action,” (Article from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, page 36. Published by Crossing Press, 1985.)
In 1985, Lorde was thinking about us, the future poetas (poets) of future generations. She thought of the children we write for. Speaking directly to black women, she broke down the need for poetic politics as the light where hope is born. Hope is the cornerstone of Children’s Literature. When writing for Latinx (for the purpose of all gender inclusion I will be using Latinx throughout this writing) children, how do we write for them so they can see themselves?
Lorde says, “When we view living, in the European mode, only as a problem to be solved, we then rely solely upon our ideas to make us free, for these were what the white fathers told us were precious. But as we become more in touch with our own ancient, black, non-european view of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with, we learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge and therefore lasting action comes.”
Often I feel that my European lens/view makes me an alien in my own land. Like a problem needing to be solved in a middle class life style: messages that we receive to conform to an American culture that in the end rejects us. This is an illusion. Children of color dream in many ways and if we use our European lens to write to them, we will not be able to speak to their reality.
They know their lives do not need solving or rescuing. They are very much in touch with their non-European view of their homes, neighborhood, family, friends, church and so many other factions of their lives. Stories and poetry about Latinx children need to speak to their “hidden sources of power,” and how their “true knowledge” has come to be.
In my writing, I want to honor Latinx children and their own fantastical dreams that are based in their reality, regardless of class. Their reality is culturally specific. The reality reflects not just a mirror reflection, but a connection so true that when they read it, it’s their story, their lives.
“Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” (Article from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, page 36. Published by Crossing Press, 1985.)
Setting, secondary characters, folklore, dichos/sayings, the news, enemies, are all a part of forming the “rock experiences” for Latinx children. Latinx characters and Latinx poetics are needed in children’s books and many Poetas/Poets work every day to remedy the lack of basic book space Latinx children see in public spaces (libraries, health clinics, waiting rooms, schools, classrooms, and so many other spaces).
The next time you hold a Latinx children’s book, I hope you read all the hard work that created each word, each sentence. When you are writing for Latinx children, I hope you honor their point of view through Lorde’s description of non-European lens. They are not problems to be solved, but visions that want to be lived.
Some (very short list, please do your own research) recommended Latinx authors;
Pat Mora Margarita Engle, Meg Medina, Yuyi Morales, Rene Colato, Monica Brown, Isobel Campoy, Joe Cepeda, Sandra Cisneros, Maya Christina Gonzalez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Rafael López, Sonia Manzano, Angela Dominguez, Duncan Tonatiuh, Gary Soto, Luis Rodriguez, Julia Álvarez, Alma Flor Ada, Gloria E Anzaldúa, and Francisco X Alarón.
Before Francisco died, we talked about this project on the poetics of Latinx Children’s literature. I know he would be proud that I decided to review these words and publish it for us writers and poets.
Araceli Esparza is a Latinx Poeta. MFA graduate from Hamline University, with strong migrant farmer roots, and recently published in the Astri(x) journal. She was also named one of the 2015 Women to Watch by Brava Magazine. www.wisconsinmujer.com