In her ode to the trials of multiculturalism, student Mae Ramirez presents a different side of poetry where it becomes an emotional-filled competitive performance art called poetry slam.
“It’s heartfelt poetry—it’s passionate and inspired and there’s always a message to the poem,” explained Parker Chalmers of CSULB’s Associated Students Program Council who oversees CSULB’s Poetry Slam Team and the Poet’s Lounge program. “It can be funny, it can be sad, it can be just about anything. The more involved the audience becomes, the more likely that poet will receive a better score.”
The Association of College Unions International (ACUI) sanctions collegiate poetry slam events where competitors perform two three-minute poems they’ve written and memorized that are judged by randomly selected audience members.
Now in its ninth year, CSULB’s team includes four primary members and an alternate selected from auditions. In 2008 and 2010, CSULB made it to the ACUI nationals and Chalmers hopes this year’s group will earn a spot at next April’s championship at the University of La Verne, Calif. “It’s always a friendly competition,” he said. “Whether you win or lose, it’s always encouraging to meet other poets and share ideas and love for the poetry world.”
Ramirez, an English alumna now in CSULB’s Master of Fine Arts creative writing program, was unfamiliar with slam when she auditioned for the 2009-10 team that eventually won its region and a trip to the nationals in Boston, an event she called an adrenaline rush.
“When you’re up there and on the stage, you could have practiced this poem a hundred times over and you don’t know if you’re going forget all your lines or totally blow away the audience. The most amazing part is having people connect with you afterward,” she recalled.
Last year’s team lost the regional by just half a point, “But we still developed a really strong friendship,” Ramirez said. “The wonderful thing about being part of the Cal State Long Beach Slam Team was that it really opened up doors to so many other opportunities to teach, to perform and to be active in the community.”
She and teammate Courtney Klink performed at the Young Women’s Empowerment Conference for high school girls held at CSULB, volunteered with the Long Beach/South Bay youth empowerment program ¡Ya Basta! (Enough is Enough) and are organizing an area high school team. Furthermore, Ramirez and former team member Michelle Jackson are helping coach this year’s CSULB poetry team.
Students like Ardrian Newell who want to recite poetry, perform a song or even tell a few jokes can take the stage at the monthly Poet’s Lounge sponsored by the ASI Program Council.
“It’s pretty much an open mike night,” Chalmers said, that features a musical guest along with student presenters.
Poet’s Lounge takes place at 8 p.m. the third Thursday of the month during the academic year and is free to the public. For more information, visit www.programcouncil.org and click on Events.
Richard Aqui, top photo, and Ardrian Newell, above, recite poetry at Poet's Lounge.
“I'm Not a Real Mexican” deals with the perceived loss of culture one experiences from not being able to speak her mother's native language. However, the speaker turns this into a celebration of the blending of two worlds to which she proudly belongs. My hope is that readers will see the culture one belongs to can never be uprooted, no matter how far the branches grow. — Mae Ramirez
Or at least that's what the Spanish-speaking
mother of three told me as I handed
her a scoop of Pistachio and said Thank you,
have a good day instead of Gracias y que te vaya bien.
She tilted her head and asked
Por qué no hablas Español?
Eres Mexicana, no?
I understood her completely, like I understood
my mother when she'd speak to me, discreetly,
in that forbidden language. But the tongue
was stuck in my jaw. Yo, yo, yo....
yo no hablo porque estoy muy embarazada.
My intention was to say: Yes, I am Mexican,
but I don't speak Spanish because I don't do it well
and I am very embarrassed because of it.
But the actual translation was: I don't speak
because I am very pregnant.
She looked at my stomach, shook her finger and said
No eres Mexicana.
She took her two cents change and left.
I went home that day and wept
and yelled at my mother for never teaching me
the language in which she spoke
to her brothers and lovers before she left to the States, floating on the feather or the fist
of an American man.
I went through the incident in my head over and again
and imagined all the things I could've said.
I should've said the truth.
No Ma'am, I don't speak Spanish because
since the day he was born, my American father
of Navajo and faraway Oaxacan roots
only knew assimilation.
He told my Mexican-born mother Don't speak
that language to the kids, they'll never fit in.
And I did! I did fit in
until the real Mexicans
saw me as a pocha, a brown-girl so far from her roots
that her skin had turned pale,
until I couldn't introduce myself to my boyfriends'
real Mexican families,
until I started to work and the real Mexicans laughed
at me because my Spanish was pathetic.
I tried to learn it in school, but could barely get it,
so all I could say to the real Mexicans
was perdóneme, I'm sorry, perdóneme.
But I’m not sorry that I'm not Mexican enough for you, because when my mother held me
in her warm, fat, forever nestle for nine months,
the love for her culture ran so fast through her veins
that it crossed the finish line
with me into this American world
and still races in my heart every day.
It did not teach me the language to speak to you,
but it taught me the language to love all things
which are proof that when our Uncle Chuys,
our Tia Yuyis and our Grandma Juanas
crossed the border with dreams
in their thighs, eyes and bones
they did not leave their culture far behind.
The remnants made love
with the struggle and birthed a new
breed on the streets of Whittier Boulevard
and in line at the taco trucks,
in the skin of the second generation children
and their love of the Spanish word for love,
and in the sons and daughters running off to college
with dreams brighter than those of their parents,
and in the Spanglish, the language
I respect that you hold on
to your culture so tight Ma'am,
but don't suffocate me with your judgment.
I am as lost as you are,
caught between the barbed-wire fence
of two worlds.