Beyond La Frontera
Beyond La Frontera
January 14 | Lansburgh Theatre
It is hard to believe, or maybe not, considering the history of this country, that being Mexican, being Mexican American, is now considered a problem for our country. We are to be kept out by walls, so more of us don’t come here. We are to be called animals by a president in the White House. We are to be put into cages or converted Wal-Marts. We are seen as a threat, as imposters, as takers, and users.
Recently, I did an interview with Academy Award winning Mexican director Alfonso Cuarron about his new film Roma, which is a love letter to our beloved yet complicated Mexico City. I asked him a question that started, “It isn’t easy being a Mexican in the United States of America these days…” The interview was heard across the country and then someone on twitter quoted my question and said, ”I started crying when I heard that question. I didn’t realize how much hurt I’ve been holding onto in these times. It is hard to be Mexican….”
The narrative of Mexicans as an alien threatening force in this country is not new. Most people don’t know about a moment in history misnamed as “The Great Repatriation” during the 1930’s in the US. This is when we Mexicans were seen as an economic threat right after the fall of the stock market. The US government rounded up tens of thousands of Mexicanos and Mexico-Americanos, many of them US citizens, and sent them to Mexico. They called it a Repatriation but in fact it was the largest forced mass exodus of people up until the massive deportations begun by George W. Bush and intensified by Barack Obama.
We have been here before.
Those of us with pen in hand have the power to change this. I hope.
The data is there. The stories are there. Most people cite data that talks about how many Latinos are dropping out of high school. But they don’t cite data that shows that the drop-out rate has been sliced from 32% in 2000 to only 12% now. People cite data that says Mexican American kids come into pre-K with less reading skills. But they don’t cite that same data that says our kids come in with extraordinary social skills that positively affect the entire classroom. Social skills like respect for teachers, the ability to share and have compassion, and work well in a collective community.
So we writers, novelists and journalists, we with the power of our words, have even more urgency now. If I had a fire burning in my belly a decade ago, it’s an erupting volcano inside of me now. I can’t be tired or exhausted or overwhelmed.
I understand my privilege and therefore my responsibility in this moment in a kind of crystal clear way now. The urgency for Mexicans, Mexicanos, Mexicanas, Mexicano-Americanos, to own our power is staring us in the face right now. Yes, we do this work in a daily, one-on-one-way. I can’t tell you the number of people who I have looked straight in the eye and said, “Look at me. See me. I am that Mexican they want to deport.”
And then I tell them lovingly, that I am not going anywhere. That as a proud Mexicana-New Yorker-Chilanga-Chicagoan, no me voy.
Our collective writing and our collective presence is saying, Look at me. Look at US. We are not here to replace you. We came to dance with you. To fall in love with you. To write to you about us. To become us together. Nosotros no tenenos miedo.
We are the ones who challenge this fear. With our words. With our “social skills”. With refusing to be silent. Refusing to be invisible. We are the ones who must challenge this fear with our words.
No me callo. Nunca.
Jennifer Clement is the President of PEN International and the first woman to be elected since the organization was founded in 1921. Under her leadership the groundbreaking PEN International Women’s Manifesto was created.
Clement is the author of the novels A True Story Based on Lies, The Poison That Fascinates, Prayers for the Stolen and Gun Love as well as several poetry books. Clement also wrote the acclaimed memoir Widow Basquiat on New York City in the early 1980’s and the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Glenn O’Brien in Artforum described this work as, “Magical … The life of Basquiat … is a joyous lightning bolt when it is described in true detail, as it is in Clement’s extraordinary as-told-to poem.” NPR rated it one of the best books of 2015 in seven different categories.
Clement is the recipient of the Canongate Prize, Sara Curry Humanitarian Award, the Gran Prix des Lectrices Lyceenes de ELLE, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship and her books have twice been a New York Times Editor’s Choice Book. Prayers for the Stolen was both a PEN/Faulkner Award and Femina Prize finalist. Her recent novel Gun Love is an Oprah Book Club Selection as well as being a National Book Award finalist. The Washington Post described the novel as, “Full of sorrow and aching sweetness, Gun Love provides a glimpse of people who dwell every day knee deep in the toxic waste of our gun culture. They may be America’s forgotten children, but after reading this novel, you are not likely to forget them”.
Shearsman Books recently published Jennifer Clement’s translation of Ramón Lopez Velarde’s poem La Suave Patria (The Soft Land) the Mexican national poem and an extraordinary tour-de-force that would change forever the way that poetry would develop in Mexico.
Clement’s books have been translated into 30 languages. She lives in Mexico City where she was raised and is a member of Mexico’s prestigious Sistema Nacional de Creadores. In 1997, along with her sister Barbara Sibley, she founded the San Miguel Poetry Week.
Luis Alberto Urrea
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his landmark work of nonfiction The Devil’s Highway, Luis Alberto Urrea is also the bestselling author of the novels The House of Broken Angels, The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Into the Beautiful North, and Queen of America, as well as the story collection The Water Museum, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist. He has won the Lannan Literary Award, an Edgar Award, and a 2017 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, among many other honors. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, he lives outside of Chicago and teaches at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Maria Hinojosa is an award-winning news anchor and reporter as well as President and CEO of The Futuro Media Group, an independent nonprofit multimedia journalism organization which she created in 2010. As the anchor and Executive Producer of the NPR distributed Peabody Award winning show Latino USA, and anchor and Executive Producer of PBS’s America By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa, she has informed millions about the changing cultural and political landscape. In 2016, Hinojosa became the host of In The Thick, Futuro Media’s political podcast, and Humanizing America, the company’s digital video series that deconstructs stereotypes. Hinojosa’s nearly 30-year history as an award-winning journalist includes reporting for PBS, CBS, WNBC, CNN, NPR, Frontline, and CBS Radio and anchoring the Emmy Award winning talk show Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One. Hinojosa is also a new contributor to the long running award-winning news program CBS Sunday Morning, and is a frequent guest on MSNBC.