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  • Let’s Talk About It
  • Jan Garden Castro (bio)
Every Day We Get More Illegal
Juan Felipe Herrera
City Lights Publishers
96 Pages; Print, $10.47

The “Firefly on the Road North” — the child who has been detained in a cage or who is in a precarious situation — is the key to appreciating Juan Felipe Herrera’s new book Every Day We Get More Illegal. As this book was published in September 2020, the dire straits for DACA and illegal immigrants, especially children, became less and less visible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming Presidential elections, and the rise of authoritarian regimes worldwide. Herrera wrote these stories of suffering, hardships, and deaths among diverse Latin communities during his travels throughout the United States when he was US Poet Laureate, 2015-2017. Herrera dedicates the book to everyone he has met on his life journey, starting with “the migrants, immigrants, and refugees suffering from the border installations within the United States, at the border crossing and throughout Latin America.”

The format is deceptively simple: the book’s six sections each have the same title — “Address Book for the Firefly on the Road North” and are numbered #1-6. The first piece, a journal entry from 2017, is a meditation about finding America:

America We Talk About It    Summer Journals — August 8 2017— every day of the week. It is not easy.     First I had to learn. Overdecades — to take care of myself. Are you    listening. I had tolearn. I had to gain, pebble by pebble,     seashell by seashell, thecourage to listen to my self. My true inner    self. For that I had topush you aside. It was not easy I had pushed    aside my mothermy father my self in that artificial stairway    of becoming you tobe inside of you — after years I realized    perhaps too late therewas no way I could bring them back I could     not rewind theclock. But I did — I could do one thing. I    could care. Now we    — are here.

Starting with this prose poem, the reader must navigate where each thought begins and ends, any deeper meanings, and what the nouns and pronouns refer to. Sometimes the “you” in the poem is America, sometimes it’s the “self,” and sometimes it’s the reader. Which “you” is the narrator pushing aside? In its own way, this work asks us each to find and bring back an America that values the individual. This poem asks big questions. How does the poet, as the child of migrant workers, grow up honoring his parents yet also not following exactly in his parents’ footsteps by living the life of a migrant worker? How does a child enter the American dream if the dream has left him/her/them out? If he somehow grows up to become Poet Laureate of the United States and a representative for America, how does he call on the “we” in the poem to care, to rethink America’s history and to see lives already lost or those presently marginal and endangered? This piece ends “Now we — are here,” and these four words are loaded with ambiguity. Will the “we” join the “I” that cares? Are the “we” human targets of hate and bigotry or people who see and care about the targeted group? Is “here” the present situation or a platform for Americans working to solve issues related to immigration, xenophobia, and racism?

The poems in this short section intermix little signs of nature — a leaf; the poet Chinese Basho (1644–1694) walking the narrow road to the deep north (or the interior); Nelson Mandela, who protested segregation in South Africa; and Elias Canetti, whose 1960 book Crowds and Power addresses what Herrera calls “a hunting pack” mentality — bloodless yet out for blood. The poem “You Just Don’t Talk About it” addresses the gulf between Americans who seem oblivious and illegal immigrants who face:

…the rape the assaultthe segregation the jailing the deportationsupon deportationsthe starving the ones curled up on thefreezing detention cornersbecause they wanted to...


Additional Information

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pp. 20-22
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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