Happenings at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh: Celebrate Our Hybrid Culture with Letras Latinas

by    /  June 28, 2010  / 1 Comment

Brenda Cárdenas of Letras Latinas

Earlier this month, law enforcement officers pulled over a vehicle that ran a stop sign on Pittsburgh’s South Side. One passenger was arrested after he failed to produce immigration papers. According to immigration rights activist Sister Janice Vanderneck, the arresting officer scoffed,  “Welcome to Arizona.”

Arizona’s new immigration law gives police sweeping powers to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally and makes failure to carry immigration papers a crime. State Representative Daryl Metcalfe is proposing a similar bill in Pennsylvania. Opponents of the bill say it will lead to harassment of Latinos and racial profiling.

At a time of growing hostility toward Latin American immigrants, it is all the more important to celebrate the voices of Latino writers and poets and acknowledge their contribution to American letters.

On Wednesday City of Asylum/Pittsburgh will host a reading in partnership Cave Canem and Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. In addition to providing nationwide literary programming, Letras Latinas sponsors a poetry prize, residency, and an oral history project. They also run writing workshops for Latino youth.

Letras Latinas director Francisco Aragón

Letras Latinas director Francisco Aragón will read along with poet Brenda Cárdenas, a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Aragón is the author of two books of poetry, Glow of Our Sweat and Puerta del Sol, as well as the editor of The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry. Cárdenas earned her MFA at the University of Michigan. Her works include From the Tongues of Brick and Stone and Boomerang.

Both Aragón and Cárdenas write poetry that deftly weaves together multiple influences.  Robert Vasquez said of Aragón’s work, “[It] synthesizes William Carlos Williams’ appreciation for the local with Pablo Neruda’s trajectory toward the infinite.” Cárdenas’ poetry braids together Spanish and English in innovative forms, reminding her readers how Latin American influences are threaded into American culture. In her poem “Report from the Temple of Confessions in Old Chicano English,” she writes,

Se Cruzan canyons             en el templo de confessions.

Languages lies            across the barbed lines,

piles of its limbs          pierced y pinchados.

Here language is embodied as limbs torn by the barbed wire that stretches across borders. Language is a liability under the Arizona Law and the law proposed by Metcalfe. Because these laws empower police to detain someone merely on the suspicion that they are illegal, an accent can mean a night in jail—or deportation as is the case for the man arrested in Pittsburgh.

Francisco Aragón and Brenda Cárdenas will read on Wednesday at 7:00 at the House Poem (408 Sampsonia Way.) Click here to reserve a seat.

Read Elizabeth’s bio.

One Comment on "Happenings at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh: Celebrate Our Hybrid Culture with Letras Latinas"

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