The last show of the festival was like the first two, packed crowd, so many people some had to sit on the ground, stand near the door, but there was a certain energy in the room, a quiet spark before the show started, that stayed throughout the show, that got bigger and bigger till it burst into the clapping and standing ovation we got at the end. The audience was at the edge of their seat the entire show. The writers gave their all, the festival came to a close with a joyous high note and we are incredibly grateful for the experience. At the end when all the writers were on stage against the back drop of such incredible art with so many people clapping as hard as they were, it felt so perfect. It felt like, I will insert what it felt like later. This whole journey started out with a simple question. For years I (Baruch Porras-Hernandez, program director) would go to spoken word shows, poetry shows, poetry readings and ask where are all the Latinos? I would go to a poetry slam and sometimes find one, like Christina Perez, or if I was lucky two in the same space, like Gabriel Cortez and Kay Nilsson. But almost always I would find myself asking that question, ¿Donde Esta Mi Gente? Where are the folks like me?, and I am so incredibly and eternally grateful to Galería de la Raza for helping me answer that question, for supporting me in this journey, this quest to gather up 22 different Latino writers from different backgrounds and bring them together to celebrate the Latino voice and to, get to see them do their thing.
We of course started the show with a note from Galería de la Raza’s Executive Director, my jefa, the lady in charge Ani Rivera. I have to take a moment to thank this lady. From the beginning, since the moment I entered the space she has been incredibly welcoming and supportive. She spoke to the audience of Galería de la Raza’s mission, about the Regen Artist fund and got us off to a good start. Then we began the show with our sacrificial poet Estela de la Cruz, who was one of our poets in the festival, she featured the second day when we performed at Magnet but was in the audience so I asked her to do one piece to break the seal, and or in slam terms, “spread the blood.” haha. She did an excellent job. After that the night for me was intense. I jumped back and forth from organizer host, to someone who just wanted to sit back and enjoy the show, listen to every single poet, but that was hard cause as an organizer you have to make sure everything is going smoothly, so you’re awareness of everything, every detail, every thing that might go wrong, everything that is going right is on full blast. But then the poets would perform and I would be moved and I would find myself just relaxing and enjoying the show. Sarah C. Jiménez, a Program Specialist at Mission Girls, a community organization that targets the growth and development of young Latinas, who is getting her MFA in creative writing at Mills College showed off her stuff as she read to us from her work, it was a wonderful story and the audience loved her. Then we had Marisela Treviño Orta. Marisela is one of the oldest friends I have here in San Francisco. She is one of the first writers I met when I moved here. She is now primarily a playwright, her work is being produced all over the place, but she has an MFA in Poetry and I love her poems, so I when she agreed to join us for the night I was very excited. Then something really special happened, my mother Victoria Hernandez came up to the stage (she nearly killed me, she is very shy and was trying to chicken out, but I was very pushy) she took the mic like a pro and recited one of her pieces by heart, and killed it. Took the room and won them over from the moment she stepped on stage. It was amazing. I was so moved and touched. I’ve been organizing poetry shows for a long time. It had always been one of my dreams to have my mother recite one of her poems at one of my shows. This was one of tbe best gifts an organizer could ask for.
Then the room to had to fan themselves cause the very handsome Tomas Moniz came to the stage and not only is he sexy, he is a badass writer, he read to us from his collection of small poems, and broke some hearts. Tomas and MK Chavez are two of the curators and organizers of Lyrics and Dirges in Berkeley and I was very happy to work with them during this festival. Then MK Chavez took the mic and did some of my favorite poems.
After MK, we had Gabriel Cortez take the stage. Gabriel Cortez is one of my favorite writer performers right now, like all of the folks in the line up, he is also an organizer, educator, and is bringing a lot of attention to the work that Latino writers performers do. He did some poems first about hie grandfather then his grandmother and did an incredible job. After Gabriel Cortez we got some more poetry in Spanish from the adorable Kay Nilsson. Kay is young, (the youngest writer in the festival actually) young, but mighty, he took the mic and made everybody swoon with his words, I was so happy and proud to see audience fall in love with his writing as much as I am.
After Kay performed we were blessed with Christina Pérez. Christina was one of the first Latina slam poets I ever encountered in the scene, back when I was transitioning out of my life as a full time actor and into wanting to be a spoken word artist, she was there, she was winning points and audiences over, she has ran numerous slams herself and is an educator, a mother. Her writing is incredible and when she performs the room is changed. That night she wowed the entire audience. It is an incredible feeling, only curators know, when you love an artist’s work as much as I love Christina Pérez‘s work, to see an audience fall in love with it instantly, to see then freak out, and be scared and moved and get tears in their eyes, the way you did when you first heard the artist’s poetry, that feeling is why curator/organizers do what we do. Christina Pérez did what I admire in artists, made them laugh, cry and think all in one set.
I did some pieces myself, I was a little out of it, cause even though I spent some time putting my set list together, organizer stress and running around getting ready for the show I forgot my set list and my poems on my kitchen table, so I did some poems I had sort of memorized and some that I had in my bag, it was still a good set, and I was happy with the performance. I started with my poem titled Resting Gently on her UniBrow. Then did a series of poems I’m currently calling the Where Are They Now poems, which are poems about Aztec/Mexica gods that envision them as they would be now in 2014, asking what are they doing now? What have the transformed into? Then ended with a poem titled Que Digan Que Estoy Dormido, which is also the title of the manuscript I’m working on.
Then the legendary Guillermo Gómez-Peña took the stage and rocked the house. I was very very honored to have him be a part of this show. I have known about his work for a very long time, but I never ever thought that I would meet him. Then I took the Performance Art workshop with him and the Pocha Nostra group and the way I see performance art was turned upside down. During the workshop Guillermo Gómez-Peña asked some of us that are writers to begin the session with a poem, a recitation, an incantation into the universe and sometimes he read some of his poems that I thought, were fantastic, so when I was putting this show together I thought I had to ask him to participate. When he graciously accepted I was over the moon. He had Denise Benavides open for him, Denise is also a festival poeta, she performed with us the first day of the festival at Books Inc. She was great and the audience fell in love with her again. Then Guillermo Gómez-Peña did his thing and was a true rockstar. The audience was taken on a journey and one of the best parts of his performance was when he screamed into the air “God Bless?” a question, and lead the audience in a call and response, on countries, things, places that God should bless, he would scream “God Bless?” and someone from the audience would answer “Uganda!” then he screamed “God bless, my left testicle!”, then the part came when he screamed “God bless?!” and someone from the audience responded “Your right testicle!” making the room explode with laughter and then, being the true performer that he is, without skipping a beat Guillermo responded “And your left chi chi!” It was pretty epic. After everyone had a change to perform their poetry the surprise part of the evening happened.
When I first envisioned doing this project, I knew I wanted 4 poets to perform with me and a musician doing poetry and music together, then the show turned into a festival and then I added 18 more writers. But I still wanted to keep the original 4 and rehearse with music, so we did. At the end of the night Daniel Owens walked up to the stage with his guitar and MK, Gabriel, Kay, Christina and myself all recited a poem while he played the guitar. MK Chavez read her poem The Patron Saint of Wayward Girls, which I think is just beautiful, and went so well with the music that Daniel picked. Gabriel Cortez then performed his poem called Machete about his great grandfather, and crocodile hunting, and violence and trauma. After Gabriel, Kay Nilsson did a beautiful piece in Spanish called Silencio, then Christina Perez brought the house down with her poem called The Worst Day. Everyone was moved, a lot of people were in tears.
At the end of the show I did a piece currently titled The Temple of Cigarette Smoke. I am very grateful to Daniel Owens for joining us this evening. Him and I have been working together a long time, he is a highly talented musician, singer song writer, and I knew the writers would be in good hands with him.
This entire festival has been a wonderful experience. I am so happy that Galeria de la Raza decided to let me put it together. I have seen writers make discoveries, I’ve witnessed writers discovering each other. I’ve seen audiences share a breath, be at the edge of their seats, cry together, I’ve seen Latino writers network, share stories, help each other, support each other. One of my favorite parts of this festival was how diverse the audiences were. I was very focused on having an all Latino line up each night, but I was hoping to share Latino writer’s work with more than just a Latino audience base, which is why I decided to branch out away from the Mission in those first two shows. But even the audience in at the Galeria was very diverse, we had folks of all ages, sizes, we had straight folks, queer folks, all races, I was very very happy with that.
I am want to thank Ani Rivera, Mark McBeth who took all our pictures on the 19th, Blythe Baldwin who took our pictures on the 12th, Dylan Amaro-Mcintyre for volunteering his time and his car, Bob Guter, Evan Karp, Korima Press, The Marsh, Magic Theatre, Alec White, Books Inc, Magnet, Yosimar, Sarah Dopp, all the folks who donated to the IndieGoGo campaign, Peet’s Coffee and Tea for donating some coffee for our show on the 12th, and a big big thank you to Carrie Gocker, thank you to all the writers that participated, especially Alejandro Murguia, Avotcja, and Guillermo Gómez Peña, and a very very special thank you to Wonder Dave, for all his time and hard work that he put into making this festival happen.
There is so much more to come folks, this, hopefully will not be the last you hear from us, if we get more funding next year, if there is a big call to make it happen again from the people, we will having a festival like this again. Till then stay tuned, I will be updating our Donation page to praise all the funders with infinite gratitude and will be adding a new page to show off the videos of the poets doing their poems.
thank you to everyone that came, everyone that helped me spread the word and to all the people that inspired me and encouraged me to make this show a reality, but most importantly, thank you to Galería de la Raza. Without their Regen Artist grant and all of their support this festival would have not been possible.
Much love, hasta pronto
Baruch Porras-Hernandez, Festival Program Director.