Why I Am Not A Humble Latina But I Am Very Performative and Dramatic

My first diary came with a lock and key. I got it for my birthday. I spent the entire afternoon decorating the diary with words like “PRIVATE!!!” I drew a very mean skull with my pink glitter pen to let the world know that I meant business. After this, I promptly told everyone in my house, including my Abuelita, who doesn’t know how to read, where the key was.

I am what you would call an “over-sharer.” I don’t like having secrets. I would much rather perform them on stage in front of strangers. As a spoken-word poetess (PLEASE remember the “-ess” it is the only way people will know I am a mere woman), I am a big time show-off who craves attention at all times. However, as a woman of color who performs for a living, my instinct for taking a compliment is “Oh, that was such a mess, I was so nervous. I’m an idiot. I don’t know what I’m doing. Why am I here? ” It is disturbingly easy for me to world-build about how theoretically incapable I am. I just don’t know how to deal with compliments.

I find myself negating remarks like “you are so genuine” or “you are so real,” just because I think they are slapped on to praise in the same way iceberg lettuce is slapped on to a frozen veggie burger as a means of “nutritional value.”

(I hope you enjoyed that comparison. I am, after all, a poetess.)

I’ve started watching people I admire take compliments and have begun taking notes because it seems so practiced. I say this admirably. I believe humility is, like most things, performative. Now, what do I mean when I say performative? I mean when your friend has a crush on someone and that someone is around and you say something to your friend and your friend tilts their head up and lets out this bubbly, life-of-the-party laugh and you’re like, “Wait so did you do well on your final or not? I can’t … tell.” We’ve all been this friend. There is nothing wrong with being this friend. This friend is awesome. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be seen and projecting a version of yourself in the world that you wish people to remember you by.

For a long time, I did not believe this. For a long time, modesty and assimilation meant survival to me. I did not want to take up too much space with my body or my voice. The affluent, primarily white town that I— who was neither—grew up in, taught me how to code-switch. If someone asked me if I knew about a certain pivotal cultural moment, I’d say “It’s my favorite!” even though I had no idea what they were actually talking about. This, obviously, ended up being detrimental to me because I never wanted to ask for help. I wanted to keep up the facade of being just as smart as everybody else. Everybody else, of course, had the benefit of private tutors and multiple-degree holding parents whose first language was English. So, I didn’t exactly work harder to get ahead. I didn’t get ahead. I failed my senior year math class and almost didn’t graduate. I just became really good at pretending.

I see my mother do the same kind of pretending. As a beautician, her performance is customer service. Her listening voice is the best I’ve ever heard. When her client is all, “Anyway, you know so-and-so place where so-and-so famous white person once had a coffee?” My mom is like, “Yes! Love it!” And the customer believes her.

To some, this is being fake. To me, this is the performance of survival.

I believe that pretending is how I found my voice. Now that I am not pretending I am a smart white kid, I am as performatively and dramatically myself as I choose. While performing has helped me find myself because I am a woman of color, I am expected to do copious amounts of emotional labor for people who are paying attention to me. As a woman, if I don’t do this, I am ungrateful. I am a diva.

Case in point: once at a poetry show, a man turned up after sending me a creepy message. He scared me. I had campus security escort him away and then they had to escort me to an uber. At the time I felt dramatic as if I were selfish in thinking that anyone would want to harm me. Like I might as well have asked the hosts of the school to give me a green room with a pool of hummus inside of it. Later, this man found my email online and sent me a message saying that he was disappointed because I wasn’t as “down-to-earth” as everyone seemed to think. Because I did not give him my time, because I reacted instinctively to a feeling of fear: I wasn’t down-to-earth. Not only was I stuck up, I was disappointing.

(Dear everybody: when we tell feminine people that they are being dramatic or overreacting when they feel unsafe, we are calling upon our internalized misogyny. When we tell feminine people of color that they are overreacting we are making space for violence.)

While humility is a performance it can also be a dangerous performance, the kind that tricks us into thinking we are safe. I see people, particularly cishet men, say the right thing so articulately, so poetically, so performatively that it overshadows the very real, violent thing underneath. Yeah, I’m talking about Junot Diaz. Yeah, it makes me sick to see the way men use this learned language to continue taking space that’s being taken away from women of color.

I was in a taxi with my ex-boyfriend after a dinner we both went to. He was really quiet afterward and said to me, under his breath, “It’s always The Melissa Show, huh!” Immediately, I felt bad for talking too much, for telling too many jokes, for being myself.  I was being one of those girls! I did not want to be like one of those girls! Now, in retrospect, this is incredibly anti-femme. At the time, I did not “see the point” in getting dressed up for a party or to take pictures. It was as if by asking, “Who is going to see you?” I was shaming myself and whoever chose to perform for others, whoever chose to wear a pretty dress in hopes that they would simply be noticed.

One of my Dad’s ex-girlfriend said to him, “Women don’t dress up for men. We dress up to impress each other.” While this comment is rooted in heteronormativity, what I extract from it now and place dearly on my femme mantel is that I am always trying to impress people. Whether it’s my crush with my Instagram story or my best friend with a poem I wrote just next to her, I want people to be impressed with me. Yes, I post on my Instagram story 30 times a day.

Yes, I tweet about wearing a dress that I was fingered in once to my niece’s first communion. Yes, on stage I look down at my pants and say out loud, “Wow, thank god those are zipped up.” I take up space with the information you don’t need because I want to show off being alive.

Once, after we found out my Abuelo had cancer, my Abuelita kneeled before her altar for la Virgen de Guadalupe. She put her hands together, wailed, then made this dramatic, drawn-out speech to la Virgen. My sister and I didn’t know what to do because this loud display of emotion was a lot for us, even though the circumstances were understandable. We didn’t know if she was doing it just because we were there. I think in some ways, her grief was a show. In some ways, I think she wanted us to watch. I think that she could only fully understand her grief, her fear, her love, through a performance.

I don’t keep a diary with a lock anymore but I do leave it around whenever people are over in hopes that someone rifles through it. What is the point if I can’t share it? It kind of echoes that question: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, did it make a sound? Obviously, it did, but it probably felt lonely. It made a sound, but I’m sad I wasn’t there. I’m even sadder that it wasn’t me, cutting it down through gritted teeth, being the one who caused all the noise

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13 Poetry Books To Sneak Into Your Families Stockings This Christmas

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13 Poetry Books To Sneak Into Your Families Stockings This Christmas

Latinx poetry is passionate, proud, and provocative and for the holiday season, it’s also the perfect gift. The beauty of poetry is that there’s something for everyone and this list is a mix of the best Latinx poems for a multitude of experiences. From folklore to love to family and roots, there’s a poet out there that’s covered it. Here are 13 of the best collections of poems by some of the most acclaimed and empowered poets in the game.

“Loose Woman” by Sandra Cisneros

Instagram @officialsandracisneros

Beloved Mexican writer/poet Sandra Cisneros released this collection in 1995 and it still holds up today. She doesn’t shy away from the erotic or the downright graphic writing in a candid and reflective style. You can expect explicit language and an all-around IDGAF attitude in these poems from one of the fiercest Chicana writers.

Buy it here.

“Virgin” by Analicia Sotelo

Instagram @analiciasotelo

“Virgin” is Analicia Sotelo’s award-winning imaginative debut that fuses autobiography with mythology while tackling aspects of femininity. From the young girl who is hopelessly in love to a modern-day Ariadne with a diverse mix in between, the stories illustrate a multitude of sentiments that women experience at different stages of life and love. Throughout the collection, she refers to folklore, history and even cuisine to deliver her insights on the ways of women.

Buy it here.

“Corazon” by Yesika Salgado

Instagram @yesikastarr

Beloved poet and social media queen Yesika Salgado is known for her raw honesty and “Corazon” exhibits that vulnerability in relation to love. From deep love to heartbreak, Salgado feels it all and lets her heart spill over onto the pages so that you feel the truth in her words. She released a follow up to “Corazon” called “Tesoro” that revolves around similar themes on love particularly the idea of surviving heartbreak. Learn more about “Tesoro” by reading FIERCE’s interview with Salgado.

Buy it here.

“Migrare Mutare” by Rossy Evelin Lima

Instagram @gladytas

Rossy Evelin Lima is an international award-winning Mexican poet and “Migrare Mutare” is her third poetry book published in 2017. She grew up in Veracruz and at the age of 13 emigrated to the U.S. and this collection chronicles her evolution and acclimation as an immigrant. The bilingual collection has been praised for its depiction of the modern-day immigrant.

Buy it here.

“Nostalgia And Borders” by Sonia Guiñansaca

Instagram @thesoniag

“Nostgalgia & Borders” is a chapbook by queer migrant poet Sonia Guiñansaca that paints a vivid image of the migrant experience. Born in Ecuador, she discusses the shift from undocumented to documented and migrant rights.  This is the third reprint of the book and it includes 18 poems.

Buy it here.

“peluda” by Melissa Lozada-Oliva

Instagram @ellomelissa

Melissa Lozada-Oliva went viral with her spoken word poems like “My Spanish” and her poetry collection “peluda” is just as captivating. The book is an exploration of femininity specifically regarding body hair while also touching on family, immigration, Latinidad and class. She’s funny, self-deprecating, blunt, and unapologetically confident, drawing the reader in with her powerful words just as well as she does during her performances on stage. Learn more about her and other talented Guatemalan writers by checking out our roundup.

Buy it here.

“Love, and you” by Gretchen Gomez

Instagram @chicnerdreads

Anyone who has ever been in a toxic relationship will appreciate this achingly honest collection by Boricua poet Gretchen Gomez. In 142 pages she takes you through the devastating lows in the midst of the turmoil of getting out of an unhealthy relationship to the highs of finding self-love. Learn more about her follow-up “Welcome to Ghost Town” by reading Fierce’s interview with Gomez.

Buy it here.

“The Verging Cities” by Natalie Scenters-Zapico

Twitter @nascenters

This debut collection from Natalie Scenter-Zapico straddles the border between sister cities El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. The poems revolve around the drug war violence, border patrol agents, undocumented immigrants, and the trauma of the residents.  Published in 2015, the book has won several awards and her second publication “Lima :: Limón” is set to be released in 2019.

Buy it here.

“Bright Dead Things” by Ada Limón

Twitter @adalimon

In “Bright Dead Things”, Ada Limón examines the formative  moments in life that bring both happiness and heartbreak.  Limón delves into the identity-building experiences as she moves from New York to rural Kentucky including falling in love and losing a beloved parent. Released in 2015, the book was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Buy it here.

“Karankawa” by Iliana Rocha

Twitter @la_ilianarocha

Iliana Rocha’s debut collection “Karankawa” delves into personal histories and the ways in which we can sometimes fill in the blanks to reconstruct memories. The title is inspired by the now-extinct Karankawa Indians whose history worked in omissions. Taking this concept of mythologizing memories, Rocha writes about the burdens and desires  in life. The book won an AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and a Society of Midland Authors Award.

Buy it here.

“The Pink Box” by Yesenia Montilla

Instagram @jessiepoet144

Afro-Caribbean poet Yesenia Montilla’s collection alludes to “the pink box” throughout which is meant to guide the reader through the sensitive subject matter. As the poems progress, it becomes apparent the box is meant to be a vessel through which to discuss the commodification of art made by women and the myths surrounding female artists. The topics she discusses include food, family, race, NYC city life, addiction, and pop culture.

Buy it here.

“Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths” by Elizabeth Acevedo

Instagram @indigonerdFollow

Dominican poet Elizabeth Acevedo’s first poetry collection brings together folklore poetry centering around mythological, historical, gendered, and geographic experiences of a first generation American woman. Alluding to how some exist as “beastly” beings, Acevedo’s characters travel from the Dominican Republic to New York City. This 32-page chapbook is full of homages to Acevedo’s roots, family, and body positivity all in her characteristic passionate and eloquent style.

Buy it here.

“Landscape with Headless Mama” by Jennifer Givhan

Instagram @springeralexis

Mexican-American poet Jennifer Givhan’s award-winning collection, “Landscape with Headless Mama” illustrates what it’s like being a mother battling mental illness. Givhan describes the book as a “surreal survival guide” and incorporates folklore  and Latin American fine art. It views motherhood through the lens of cultural and familial myths incorporating surrealism and magical realism to weave together an achingly honest depiction of motherhood.

Buy it here.

Read: These 13 Books On Self-Care Will Help You Start the New Year Right

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Yesika Salgado Talks Poetry, Love And Heartbreak in Her Latest Book


Yesika Salgado Talks Poetry, Love And Heartbreak in Her Latest Book

Salvadoran Yesika Salgado is a self-proclaimed “Fat Fly Brown Poet” based in Los Angeles who just released her second collection. “Tesoro” which follows in the heels of the success of her 2017 debut “Corazón”.

Salgado was a member of Da Poetry Lounge in LA, which touts itself as the country’s largest weekly open mic, and she is a co-founder of Chingona Fire, a feminist poetry collective with best friend Angela Aguirre. Her journey to the top of Amazon’s bestsellers list for Hispanic Poetry started out on Instagram where she posted her work and has since then developed an organic following that’s now grown to more than 50K followers. Her poetry is sprinkled throughout her feed but followers will also find screenshots where she exposes the harassers she encounters on dating sites. This characteristic vulnerability and honesty about love is what she’s become known and loved for and a key part of both books. “Tesoro”, which translates to “treasure”, is broken up into five sections with poems that touch on nostalgia, food, family, and even phone sex.

In her latest interview with FIERCE, Salgado spoke about the making of “Tesoro” and what she hopes her fans will get out of it.

Q: What was the inspiration behind “Tesoro”?

A: The women in my family. The older I have gotten the more I have understood their impatience, their anger, their fierce fight. The men in my family, like in many families, take and take. I wanted to write about the women who survived all that taking.

Q: “Corazón” dealt with heartbreak, love and healing, what are the main themes in this collection?

A: Both books carry a lot of the same themes but from different lenses. “Corazón” poses the question “Am I worthy of love?” and “Tesoro” asks “How do we survive those we have loved”?

Q: What do you want readers to take away from Tesoro?

A: I have learned that my readers will take what they want and end up teaching me what the book really is about. I am excited to hear how each person interpreted [it] and to rediscover this story into womanhood through them.

Q: Your debut collection was such a success and really resonated with people, do you feel the pressure of achieving the same level of success with “Tesoro”?

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????❤️Happy Birthday Corazón❤️???? my sweet baby turns a year old today. this little book that could. this book that is my messy heart. this book changed my life. I meet so many people who have connected with its love story and in turn share with me their own. I have cried with other broken hearts while reading from Corazón in venues throughout the country. I have signed thousands of copies and slid my heart back to the person taking it home. This book saved me. I wrote it a month after being hospitalized for a severe infection that changed my body and right leg forever. When I released Corazón I didn’t know I was pregnant. I found out days later. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Then, a couple of weeks after that I miscarried. If I hadn’t had this book I don’t know how far the depression would have taken me. Thank goodness that’s a question I don’t have to answer. Corazón healed herself y’all. Thank you my mango babies for letting me live my dream. Please share with me what Corazón means to you. I want to hear about your hearts. (Thank you for taking on this beautiful journey with me. Part 2 begins in a couple of weeks!).

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A: Absolutely. When I finished writing “Tesoro”, [I] was very sad. I hoped that it wouldn’t be outshined by its sister. “Tesoro” is dense and difficult. It asks hard questions and doesn’t necessarily answer them the way “Corazón” answered its own questions. I had to be okay with that. I have to trust that “Tesoro” will have its own success for its own reasons.

Q: Can you explain the significance of the cover art?

A: The cover art to “Tesoro” is a lemon tree. My home has two trees in its front yard. Our lives revolve around those dusty branches. They have been the backdrop to all our family parties and carne asadas, When my parents refused to buy us a Christmas tree my sisters and I strung lights around them. Our father would send us outside to pick a lemon for his drink or dinner. “Corazón” forever tied the imagery of mangoes to my writing, I needed to add some lemon to the fruit. This way, both El Salvador and Los Angeles are represented. The artist Cassidy Trier didn’t know any of this for either book. She designed both covers after reading my manuscripts. Home always finds you, I guess.

Q: Do you have a poem in this collection that’s your favorite?

A: Today my favorite poem is “Las Locas”. It lists all the women in my family and how they have rebelled from what is considered good behavior for women. Everyone comes from a family of locas. I find that to be magical and beautiful.

Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this book? The most rewarding?

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from #TesoroTheBook

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A: Let me tell you, “Tesoro” was stubborn. I had all these poems and I had no idea what they were trying to do. I didn’t know what the story was. I kept trying to shape it and it just didn’t feel right. I had to surrender. I had to humble myself. Sure, I’ve written a book before. I hadn’t written THIS book. I think that was the most rewarding part of it too. There are still new parts of myself to discover and wrestle with. That is exciting.

Q: “Corazón” was released in October of last year, what made you want to release another book soon after your debut?

A: “Tesoro” began tugging at me a couple of months later. It wasn’t going to wait. I’ve actually begun working on my third book and hope to welcome it home in a year or so. I think after the third book, I am gonna take a break and go chill on a beach somewhere for a while.

Q: You have such a devoted following thanks in part to your raw honesty and vulnerability, how has that connection with readers helped you in your journey?

A: Oh, my sweet Mangoes! my readers are amazing. I don’t always understand how much folks connect with my work until we run into each other somewhere and I am holding a stranger while they weep in my arms. They make me feel understood. it’s like, I am in a house of mirrors and each reflection is crystal clear. We’re all trying to make sense of life and all its obstacles together. I spent a large part of my life feeling alone or too strange to be loved. I write about that and folks say “I feel the same way” and the world feels less dark. I am very grateful for that.

Read: Latina Reads: Meet Bronx-Based Boricua Poet Gretchen Gomez

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