As we near the end of the smorgasbord that has been National Poetry Month, I wanted to say a few things about live readings and performance space.  I am interested in the intermixing of form, language, and disciplines thriving elsewhere, other than academic literary spaces.

One such space exists in San Francisco's Mission District. Galería de la Raza, which was founded in 1970, is a "non-profit community-based arts organization whose mission is to foster public awareness and appreciation of Chicano/Latino art and serve as a laboratory where artists can both explore contemporary issues in art, culture and civic society, and advance intercultural dialogue." Their monthly, bilingual literary lounge is called Lunada.

Pinay poet and fellow USF Philippine Studies adjunct professor Irene Faye Duller curates some of Lunada's programming, and this reminds me of Acentos Bronx Poetry Showcase, the reading series featuring Latino/a writers, which has included in their series such Filipino/a American poets as Sarah Gambito, Paolo Javier, Patrick Rosal, Anthem Salgado, F. Omar Telan, and myself. Indeed, upon my receiving an invitation to read for Acentos (full disclosure: I was invited by my now-husband, poet and then-Acentos curator Oscar Bermeo), I pointed out my obvious status as a Filipina (i.e. not Latina) poet. His response was that resonance of a violent colonial history which has through the centuries created from the Indio a Catholic, Hispanized-Tagalog speaking, code-switching Filipino in the world and in letters. In other words, our poetries all come from the same calles.


I read the inclusion of the Filipino/a American poet within Latino/a literary circles as an indication that more cut and dry renderings of ethnic identity politics based poetics are being rejected in favor of exchanges informed by historical and experiential commonalities. In contemporary times, I think of the shared experiences of political and labor movements, of American City, of Hip-hop, of Gloria Anzaldúa's mestizaje, of transgressing geographical, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and artistic borders.

Here's Irene:

Lunada as a performance lit series is an awesome community development machine in itself because it allows for guest curators to come directly from the neighborhood or community and contribute different inspired artistic vision for each monthly performance. This encourages a level (and brand) of investment that I think is magical. And for 10 years THIS YEAR, it has been true to this formula. I was asked to feature last year by Kevin Chen [Program Director of Visual Arts, Literary and Jazz Series at Intersection for the Arts] who was a guest curator then. Marc Pinate, the lead program director for this series, asked me that same night if I would like to curate for a Lunada come Spring.

Lunada is a Literary Lounge series dedicated to the Full Moon. And monthly, on the night of the full moon, the Galería is lit as well with word and bright hues of artists and community people in celebration. It celebrates being the only "Latino based" literary monthly in the Bay Area. And by being Latino based they have discovered that not only can the narrative, the form, the process be Latino but also the production, what informs the curatorial decisions and thematic, etc. And truly that's why I think Marc and the Galería folks have this wondrous handle on cultural work. Because Latino can be expanding all the time and the essence of Latino is not exclusive, because we found through the word and art form, that what has made Latino Latino has also elements of what made Filipino Filipino and Black Black, etc.

And you know what, without even over intellectualizing this, between the poets on that stage, and the audience in celebration-witness-exchange of it, there is perfect sense of what is shared, what is common, and what is wonderfully different as well.

As well as what I am learning as a curator, I am learning what Pinay aesthetic may exist in this work. Even as a writer/performer, I gravitate towards collectivity and collaboration. I have always felt that much needed sense of home when I was creating with kasamas. These spaces came and went (as maybe they were meant to; I'm learning to create spaces in transit), I found creative agency to architect new spaces all the time. The creation of these spaces were out of need, and ongoing real time needs assessment that I would be in the center of as an arts administrator/ community engagement coordinator with [the San Francisco-based contemporary and tribal arts presenters] Kularts or with Brava Theater Center, a Mission District based theater which "celebrat[es] the intersection of feminism and multiculturalism that ignites social changes and builds community." So, hence [the collaborative arts and performance of] 8th Wonder and Rhapsodistas and Pinay Stories and even Anthem Salgado's and my "Kul Like that" series.

And I am always trying to be aware of that writer in the cuts, or that guerilla poet, that emerging voice and restless artists somewhere alien that hungers to broadcast or to share in new ways. I have been fortunate to have access to stage and venue and event (because of arts administration), and I wanted to see/hear the gamut on these stages, so I would always try to pull someone else up there.

So yes, even as a curator (as I am discovering myself as artist) -- bayanihan, kasamahan, dwende, malaya -- these are all present in process and form.


What Irene refers to above, the the practice of the arts collective, and a corresponding collective consciousness, is something I have been calling a "we poetics." I'll be discussing this more before the month ends.

In the meantime, the full moon is Wednesday, April 28 (which also happens to be my birthday), and this means Lunada happens on Wednesday, April 28. Featured artists are Anthem Salgado, Meldy Hernandez, Michael Greene and Greg Manalo. Get in for $5 admission, or for free if you bring a food dish. Not a bad deal at all.

Originally Published: April 26th, 2010

Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, the Philippines, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. She earned a BA in ethnic studies from the University of California at Berkeley and an MFA from San Francisco State University. She is the author of the poetry collections Gravities of...