Lauro Vasquez Rueda was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and left to live in the United States when he was nine years old. He is now twenty four and has spent the majority of his life living in Indiana where he studies at the University of Notre Dame. This interview was carried out by Jack Little by email in October 2012. Published in Issue 23.
This interview was carried out by Jack Little by email in October 2012.
Published in Issue 23.
1. What role does history and identity have to play in your poetry?
First of all thank you for these thoughtful questions and for the opportunity to reflect on some of these issues.
I was born in my father’s birthplace: Cosamaloapan, Veracruz (Mexico) and grew up in Mexico until I was nine years old. My mother was from the Mixteca Alta in Oaxaca—this is a region that is heavily marginalized and whose economy was historically dominated by small-scale corn agriculture (in essence subsistence farming). Today this region is probably dominated by remittances from immigrants living and working in the USA. As a consequence of these economic differences; between the USA and Mexico but also between Mexico’s urban areas and the rest of the countryside, much of my childhood there was spent migrating between Oaxaca and Mexico City.
In the late 1990’s my mother, sister and I, immigrated illegally to California. I also saw many of my extended family members leave Oaxaca for El Norte. Of my mother’s five siblings, only one has remained behind. As I matured this was an issue that nagged at my head; why is the planet so grossly unequal, divided between the developed world and the underdeveloped world? Today this problem is reflected by global migrations; you have Latin Americans coming to the USA, North Africans and Middle Eastern people in Europe, etc. This is a consequence not only of economic inequalities but also of colonial and neo-colonial structures that have remained intact and that end up displacing people from the Global South to the developed areas of the world. I for example can trace my family’s displacement from Oaxaca to California to the implementation of NAFTA.
Poetry for me becomes a vehicle by which I make sense of these issues, by which I validate my experiences and that of others like me and by which I attempt to dismantle some of the political and social myths around the people directly affected by these issues. For example, I now live in South Bend, Indiana, a region of the US which has seen much de-industrialization due precisely to neoliberal policies like NAFTA which have outsourced many of the local economy’s sources of employment. South Bend has also seen a heavy influx of Latin American immigrants who are accused of “stealing jobs.” Displacement here is occurring both ways. There is displacement here also at the local level, with the de-industrialization of the economy many locals find themselves in the very same situation as their Latin American counterparts who are leaving their countries to escape some of the unintended consequences of globalization. My hope is that poetry can start a dialogue between these two groups.
2. Do you think poetry can make a difference to some of the world’s issues and problems?
This is something I think about often. At a very practical level poetry does close to nothing to solve these issues. The writing of a poem has none of the political weight that a strike, or a boycott or any of the more practical forms of social protest have. A poem alone cannot pressure those in power into accepting our demands for a more egalitarian society. That being said, poetry and art in general operate under a different frequency. Poetry inhabits the realm of the imagination and ideas and it engages and moves people under a different wave length. Ideas have consequences and these consequences often cannot be measured or even imagined.
This is something that the powerful understand and it recalls for me the story of Picasso’s Guernica on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq. A tapestry copy of Picasso’s Guernica hangs on the wall of the United Nations building at the entrance of the Security Council room. In February of 2003, a month before the invasion, a large curtain was placed over the tapestry so that one would not be able to gaze at this piece of art as Colin Powell and John Negroponte declared their intentions for war. I don’t think Picasso sat out to create a piece that protested the War in Iraq and yet the painting was such a powerful reminder of innocent suffering of civilians during times of war that it had to be veiled.
3. You are a Mexican living in the United States. What does "Mexico" mean to you?
I think the question here implies homeland: what relationship one has to a homeland that is no longer “home,” what does “home” mean for the uprooted? I have gone back to Mexico many times and still have family there, but I have spent the majority of my life in the US and the majority of that time in California. The understanding that California is as close as I’ll get to a home did not hit me until a year ago when I moved to Indiana. When I say home I mean this in the sense that the landscape of Northern California is something that I yearn for and that I miss when I am not there. But even then the concept of homeland, of Mexico is something that I have had to construct for myself and it is something that I carry with me wherever I go. Homeland for me is Mexico because that is where I was born and that land is that which gave me my first experiences, it is also California because this land has become a place of respite and settlement. But in my conception of homeland I would also include the poets, artist, and historical figures that have pushed me towards being a poet (figures that aren’t necessarily connected to Mexico or California): people like Juan Gelman, Nazim Hikmet, Oswaldo Guayasamin and so many others…
4. What does the future hold for Lauro Vazquez?
Right now I am in my last year of the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The experience here has been great because I have been given the opportunity to find a voice in poetry but also to realize what it is I am passionate about. One of my great loves is of course poetry but also family, soccer and teaching. I often find myself having informal talks with younger people. I love being surrounded by young people. Kids by their very nature are idealistic. Perhaps because they themselves are going through a process of biological change they detest anything that they are told is “unchangeable.” This is one of the reasons why I think I would like to teach. I see in youth a reminder of why one writes. To be a successful poet one must constantly be falling in love with life, especially when one writes about such sad histories. I am therefore considering becoming a teacher after this. I would also like to continue pursuing my poetry outside the realm of academia. One of my dreams in life is also to coach a soccer team.
for the EZLN
THE POET appears wearing a ski mask and dressed as an airline pilot.
Now that I have your attention
I want to tell you how the blue corn
burns in the humid jungles of Chiapas
and how the phoenix-orchid hatches
from the carcass of a firefly
Little fireflies that still burn 500 years after
Cortés/ the great fornicator
Cortés turns in his blue beard/
turns in his moist and burning bush
turns beneath his wife Doña Marina’s
breasts I remember your breasts
I remember your nipples like two eagles
perched on a cactus 500 years after
your breasts are two soldiers standing at attention
saluting NAFTA the great fornicator
500 years after I remember
NAFTA the great ejaculator/ of U.S. subsidized-corn
Oh beautiful and yellow/ and monstrous testicles
spare us your great fire
I mean I hate your great cadaver/ Cortés
at peace with your great testicles
Doña Marina pray for us
Opens emergency exit and jumps, shouting:
I am off to get for myself a piece of corn,
the tiniest piece of bread the birds have left for me!