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By Jennifer Tamayo

Featuring Wo Chan, Sonia Guiñansaca, Janine Joseph and Javier Zamora– poets refusing to be silenced. 

Homepage image courtesy of Julio Salgado: http://juliosalgado83.tumblr.com

Wo Chan

 Wo Chan is a Kundiman Fellow, Lambda Literary Fellow, Poets House Emerging Literary Fellow, and a Margins Fellow at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop–as well as a make-up artist and a performer with the Brooklyn drag alliance, Switch n’ Play.

Interview with Chan in Lambda Literary:

Why do you think that journals have such discriminatory policies in place?

You have to ask yourself the question “What is citizenship?” in the first place to determine what factor is being discriminated against. When my citizenship was taken away from me, I researched and learned that you could do the most heinous things in the US and never have your citizenship touched. So what is really being enforced here isn’t a judgement on character or writing craft, but one of legitimacy imposed as a xenophobic apparatus of the American state.

Read full interview with Wo Chan at Lambda Literary. 

Excerpt from Chopped


Reading the Yelp reviews of your family’s restaurant—you have made a mistake. “Lacking any lasting impression.” “The food is good, but the service is awful.” “Waitstaff is surly and inattentive.” Twenty-three reviews. Your mother’s English, bandaged with smiles, your father’s eyes peeking out from the kitchen counter, and your brother, who remains an asshole in every description. Lauren M. details in a one-star review an argument over a delivery that he brought to her house. It is so authentic—it is painful to read. Your brother becomes angry and slams a full box of food onto her driveway. In February, the steam rises from the wet noodles on the asphalt, rising with his heavy breath.  Your brother is thirty-two and has spent exactly half his life working there. Your mother has shingles and no doctor. Your father has chronic hypertension and no doctor. You have a college degree and will not go back there. Lauren M.’s profile has zero friends and one review.


Janine Joseph-2

Janine Joseph is the author of Driving Without a License (Alice James Books, 2016), winner of the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize. She currently lives in Ogden, UT, where she is a Board Member for Writers @ Work and an Assistant Professor of English at Weber State University

Excerpt From Speak No Evil Forum Response: “MFA vs. POC”

I keep coming back to this expectation of the MFA workshop being a space for the experiences of people of color. Speaking from my experience only, I will say that I disclosed to only nine people in the three years I lived in New York my personal history. Three of those people were also in the MFA program; only one had been in a workshop with me. Three of them were my teachers whom I confided in only when it became absolutely necessary for them to know how to give me specific feedback. If anyone could not make sense of my work or real, lived experiences, it was because I was still trying to make sense of it. What I did know is what I knew even as an undergraduate—that being a person of color did not make me feel any closer to other people of color because the word “American” kept getting in the way. I had forced myself through the cracks, yes, but I would always be different.

Example: I played a game with myself when I showed up to take the GRE. If the testing center accepts this form of identification, then I apply to MFA programs. If they don’t, I tell everyone I decided to take a year off. I don’t know how an MFA program could have prepared for someone like me; I was not supposed to come this far.

More of Joseph’s writing here.

Excerpt from “Between Chou and the Butterfly”

On my way to America I am in an airplane
On a boat When my life is a story I am a good
swimmer An American Dream A guest
worker Freeloader Fence-hopper Uninsured brother
carried from hospital to hospital A crushing
caseload A wrenching anecdote A deserving
young people
An anchor

Read the full poem here. 


from the #QueerIcons series, photo by Gabriel García Román

CultureStrike UndocuWriting Coordinator Sonia Guiñansaca organized the first UndocuWriting Retreat and the forthcoming anthology, Home In Time of Displacement. She was part of the New York State Leadership Council, the first undocumented youth-led, membership-led, organization that empowers immigrant youth. 

Guiñansaca on Behind (Un)documenting:

Why I create: I am in constant search for home. After migrating to NY to reunite with my family I have always been made aware of my “otherness”. All of me feels whole when I create, when I write, when I perform my poetry…Perhaps in my writing I am able to remember. In between words small glimpses of my childhood are present, and slowly I am back in Ecuador , slowly I am able to reconcile with all that I left behind and all that I was not able to say goodbye to.  Through my writing I heal, I ache, I love, and I forgive. Through my writing I exist, and none of me is left behind…and home is a little bit closer.

 Excerpt from “#20YearsTooLate Part 2″

Dear Daddy,

I grabbed some flowers and some leafs from the trees growing near by and I sneaked it in between the pages of my journal. Maybe then I can hold still the memories of your home. It will be dry and might crumble by the time we arrive back to NY. I am hoping it survives the journey. Not sure anymore if I’m speaking of the leafs or about our hearts. Maybe the smell will remind you of your mother’s cent, and maybe the stiffness will remind you of your father.  I wish I could bring back the whole house, maybe find your old belongings. Pieces of your childhood, love notes you left behind under mattresses. The clothes you wore when you were in your 20’s.  But I could not find much dad. Mostly emptiness. Mostly graveyards…  Forgive me for coming here too late. Forgive me for not being able to bring you with me on this trip.  It pained me to wave goodbye to you and mom. The JFK airport engulfing you in its coldness. I looked away quickly when I saw you wipe away your tears, I know you didn’t want me to see your hands disrupting the rivers of pain that you haven’t visited in years. I tried to wave back but my luggage was too heavy or maybe I was too ashamed of my privilege. But I did look back. Made sure you saw me smile, and with one hand holding the Ecuadorian passport and flight ticket, I removed my shoes and got ready to fly.

So dad…I am packing my luggage. I’m bringing you back flowers, rocks and some leafs from your parent’s land. I’m bringing you back some “home”.

More on Guiñansaca’s Work and Activism:

At CultureStrike, we have been working on culture equity and supporting undocumented writers.  In 2013 we hosted the first undocuwriting retreat for 14 undocumented writers from across the country. Currently I am editing the forthcoming “Home In Time of Displacement”. An anthology featuring works by the undocumented writers from the retreat cohort. I am a formally undocumented , and I am thrilled that more folks and specially more people in the poetry community are  working on shifting discriminatory practices, and working on making sure that all writers specially undocumented writers of color have the same access and more support in their craft. All of the shifts are part of a wave of radical and resistant work that has been happening for the past couple of years led by undocumented organizers and artists specially undocumented queer woc artists.  The online project I co-founded and curate is Undocumenting.com . I am on Instagram @theSoniaG.

Born in La Herradura, El Salvador, Javier Zamora immigrated to the US when he was nine. He holds fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

from The National Endowment for the Arts Art Works Blog:

NEA: You studied history and creative writing as an undergrad. How has your study of history informed your work as an artist?

ZAMORA: I think that if it weren’t for history I would probably not be a poet today. I know that Neruda had a big influence on me and he’s a very historical poet. As an undergrad I majored in history and made the decision [to minor in creative writing] late in junior year primarily because I was studying the history of El Salvador, the Salvadoran Civil War and… something clicked in the productivity of my [poetic] work and in the authority of my work.

There’s this fact I will never forget: Prior to 1980, which is before the official outbreak of the Salvadoran Civil War, there were less than 50,000 Salvadoran immigrants in this country. And after the war ended, one-fifth of our population was displaced in this country… So it became a very political thing and it also contextualized my family’s own migration and my own being in this country, which untapped my entire flow of creativity. I’ve never written as much as I have [when I made that discovery] and I’m still crafting those poems today, trying to capture that bridge, that politicalness, that historicity, and my own identity in one poem.

Excerpt from “Only the Streets Know”


I wasn’t born when all this happened. I’ve learned
To lower lashes so blood looks like dirt. In dreams—

A desire to see my uncle float from my kitchen
Past the chicken-coop where there’s shade. From the corner,

A dog’s chained to a mangrove and a ring marries the sky
To the eclipse. The space modules he threw from trees say

If he’d been an astronaut, he would’ve been Israel Armstrong,
And I can’t remember his voice—leaves brown. Yesterday,

He wore a fish-tank to school. When I wake, my toes pinch
And my shirt shortens and the moon says this is a sign…

Read the full poem here. 

More on Zamora’s Work & Activism:

Our Parents’ Bones is a campaign I’m also backing, to bring consciousness about the 10,000 disappeared during the Salvadoran civil war, and to call for the Salvadoran government to acknowledge them and to tell us where their bones are. They re-published my poem about my disappeared uncle.




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Posted in Featured Blogger on Friday, April 24th, 2015 by Jennifer Tamayo.