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Un Trip to El Valle

From: American Book Review
Volume 34, Number 5, July/August 2013
p. 9 | 10.1353/abr.2013.0102

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

On the other end of the border, where it empties into the gulf, is the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, which has over the past five years has been undergoing a literary renaissance like it has never seen. For years several individuals who have promoted poetry in the Rio Grande Valley such as Amado Balderas-Tijernia, Daniel Garcia Ordaz, and the Narcisco Martinez Writers Group, but none could have foreseen the direction it has taken in the past few years. Currently, there have been poets such as Edward Viduarre, who just recently published I Took My Barrio on a Road Trip (2013), Brenda Riojas and her Ortas Voces Press recently put out Writing to Be Heard/Escúchame: Voices from the Chicho (2011), which is anthology of Rio Grande Valley writers, and Meliton Hinojosa’s Selected Chicano Poetry: ¿Y Què? (2011) as well as many others. Amongst this group is a collection of poets who are challenging the status quo of Chican@ and its poetics. Poets like Isaac Chavarria and Gabriel Sanchez have for years been pushing and promoting the publication of chapbooks and Chican@ poetry. Recently, with the collaboration of Rossy Lima and myself, there is a new quest to discover what the current incarnation of Chican@ poetics has become.

Isaac Chavarria has over the past few years begun to embrace and change the definition of one term in particular, “Pocho.” Commonly known as a derogative term for Mexican Americans who are seen as too Americanized, there are many who don’t want to be called a Pocho, but Chavarria has taken the term and labeled himself, “Pocho.” By doing this, he is forcing the conversation about the changing the makeup of the Chican@ community. According to Chavarria, “I use “pocho” to describe the sum of my experiences and identity. Pocho translates as “overripe” and “spoiled fruit” but also as an Americanized Mexican American who has lost his/her culture and language. I disagree; this definition is inadequate and oversimplifies the dynamics of the pocho identity. I am not an assimilated individual with an identity which excludes my Mexican and valley upbringing.” The traditional definition of Chican@ has not allowed for different identities to coexist, but by admitting that definitions are fluid and change with the people who embody the identity then being “pocho” and being “Chican@” do not have to be mutually exclusive. In his premiere collection of poetry, poxo, published by Slough Press, Chavarria changes “pocho” to “poxo” further changing not only the definition, but the word itself. In his poem, “No se terminan,” Isaac Chavarria writes:

a border wall
aplastando la tierra
separating you from me
me from them

a border patrol station
in Falfurrias
every trip we answer
“Yes, sir” to
Are you a U.S citizen?
Alton, Mission, Rio Grande Valley
las tierras desgraciadas, to
Where are you coming from?
“Yes, sir” to
Is this your car?

The growing presence of the Border Patrol and the influx of white supremacist groups like the Minute Men began to awaken poets politically in a way that had not happened since the 1960s and ’70s. It is along the border that many poets really felt the pressure of the Right Wing anti-Latin@ism. Chavarria expresses this when he writes; “My poetry is influenced by popular music in the RGV, including Norteño, Banda, Tejano, Huapango, among others. I have loyalties to both Mexican and regional ideals. It is a back and forth between living within and reacting to the North American and Mexican cultures.”

Gabriel Sanchez began his poetic activist work in the late 1990s with the formation of Raving Press with Isaac Chavarria. Throughout the years, Chavarria and Sanchez have published several chapbooks for various poets and social activist organizations. Gabriel Sanchez is also someone who would not be considered Chican@ in the traditional sense since he was actually born in Mexico and comes into the poetics as an immigrant, but because he has lived in Chican@ communities for most of his life, he has embraced the identity. “The soul of the Chican@,” Sanchez writes, “is the same as the Chicano/a; the same as the Mexican/American; the same as the Pocho; the...



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