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“undocumented poem”

By Javier Huerta

El Deportado, by Anonymous
No tengo papeles, by Abelardo “Lalo” Delgado
Running to America, by Luis J. Rodriguez
Human Resources, by Monica Teresa Ortiz
Imperfect Utterances, by Monica de la Torre
Mariachi indocumentado, by Lucha Corpi
187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border, by Juan Felipe Herrera
Elena, by Pat Mora
Mexicans Begin Jogging, by Gary Soto
Añoranza a mi patria, by Leticia Samaniego
When the Paw Brought us Down, by Marcos McPeek Villatoro
My Father, by Estella Gonzalez
Freefalling toward a borderless future, by Guillermo Gomez Peña
El Mojado y La Migra, by Juan Felipe Herrera
Statue of, by Carmen Tafolla
X antecanto: the xicano sign, by Alfred Arteaga
Canto Primero. Arrival, by Alfred Arteaga
My Freedom Song: Wire Skin, by Melissa Lozano
Dead Taco, by Violeta Ramirez
Heart of Hunger, by Martin Espada
Storm and Crisis: Immigrants, by Gabriel Gomez
While Late Capitalism, by Paul Martinez Pompa
Fence on the Border, by Sheryl Luna
Into America, by Blas Manuel De Luna
To a Mojado who Died Crossing the Desert, by Eduardo C. Corral
Journeys, by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Southwest Border Trucos, by Tato Laviera
Quicksand, by Urayoan Noel
The Border, by Emmy Perez
Noches Fronterizas/Sleepless Border Nights, by Gabriela Erandi Rico
may 12, 2008: postville, iowa, by Lauro Vazquez
Immigrant Voices, by Mario Escobar
The Fifth Dream: Bullets and Deserts and Borders, by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Canto Hondo, by Francisco X. Alarcon
The Border-Crosser’s Pillow Book, by Rigoberto Gonzalez
Numbers, by Agustin Palacios
sobre piedras con lagartijos, by Gloria Anzaldua


In what I think is my last “official” post, I wish to introduce Harriet readers to a running feature on Unitedstatesean Notes, my blog on immigrant rights and undocumented poetics. Every Monday for the last 37 weeks, I have posted on an “undocumented poem,” by which I mostly mean a poem that treats the subject of undocumented immigration.
For a long time, my relation to Chicano poems on undocumeted immigration was one of refutation. I thought that having crossed the border illegally and having lived the undocumented experience gave me the right to say, “No. That’s not how it was. That’s not how it is.” It is easy to reject those stereotypes, metaphors, and symbols that demonize and criminalize the undocumented immgrant, but I thought that the romanticized and pathetic images of the undocumented immigrant in Chicano poems were just as damaging. In order to solve the problem we need to get rid of all the metaphors of the undocumented, I thought. But then I realized that the energy that drove these Chicano poets to write about the undocumented immigrants was the same energy that drove the activists and lawyers who fought and continue to fight for immigrant rights. Someone on this site once asked what a political poem is for and suggested that political poems be judged on how effective they are in implementing change. This was unfair. Has a “love poem” ever won over the beloved? Has a “philosophical poem” ever arrived at some great insight? No, the “political poem” must be judged by the same standards of ineffectiveness.
A definition–a political poem is one that shares the creative energy of a political movement. The poems in my first collection were not political; they were politicized. Because my life (this is true for all of us) was politicized from birth. Those poems, all written before the immigrant rights protests of recent years, were not political because they were not driven by the force of a movement. I thought I was alone in this. Then I realized the true force of those Chicano “undocumented poems” I once rejected as false. The “undocumented poem” feature on my blog is simply to remind myself that I am not alone in this.
The list so far includes an undocumented corrido from the 1920s, some Chicano classics from “Lalo” Delgado, Luis J. Rodgriguez, Gary Soto, and Pat Mora, some intriguing perspectives from East Coast poets Martin Espada, Urayoan Noel, and Tato Laviera, and some exciting work by emerging poets Monica Teresa Ortiz, Melissa Lozano, and Gabriela Erandi Rico. Also on the list are those poets I tend to call “my generation of Chicano poets”: Eduardo C. Corral, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Paul Martinez Pompa, Sheryl Luna, Gabriel Gomez, Blas Manuel de Luna, and Emmy Perez. This generation realizes that Chicanismo in an incomplete project and that immigrant rights is an important part of that project. I am not alone in this.
I think I will keep the focus on “undocumented poems” by Chicanos/Latinos for the first year. I do, however, want to emphasize “undocumented experience” and not ethnicity. I would like to include poems by or about undocumented immigrants from other ethnic groups in the United States. In the intriguing “Don’t Look Away” series, Forrest Gander shares an excerpt from “East of Carthage” by Khaled Mattawa. Poems like this show that humans are living the “undocumented experience” throughout the world, and my blog should acknowledge that. I also would like to explore poems that express the “undocumented experience” not only in the content but also in the form. I think Monica Teresa Ortiz is already doing this in “Human Resources” with her radical noncoincidence of sound and sense; Monica de la Torre also focuses on the formal aspects of “imperfect utterances” by instructing that her poem should be read in a microphone that makes the sound of the letter “P” pop; I heard that at a reading here in Berkeley she performed the poem and broke two microphones; they asked her not to read it after the second mic broke. I guess the central concern of an undocumented poetics is how to take the content of the “undocumented experience” and transform it into form.
I will keep the feauture going as long as “undocumented poems” are being written by the same creative energy that drives the young and the old to the streets to demand humane immigration laws or until we run out of Mondays.

Comments (3)

  • On December 2, 2008 at 9:28 am Don Share wrote:

    You might like to add “Sweeping the States” by Jacob Saenz, from the November 2007 issue of Poetry.

  • On December 4, 2008 at 11:13 am Linh Dinh wrote:

    I’s like to recommend Puro Border, a great book of “dispatches, snapshots, & graffiti from la frontera,” edited by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite, Bobby Byrd and John William Byrd. Also, in the middle of this video is the magnificent Flaco Jimenez singing “Un Mojado sin Licencia.”

  • On December 4, 2008 at 7:30 pm Javier Huerta wrote:

    Hi Don and Linh,
    thank you for your suggestions. I’ll probably include Jacob’s poem next monday. And Flaco Jimenez has always been one of my favorites.


Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, December 1st, 2008 by Javier Huerta.