Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Palabristas featured on Metro Magazine! (with some editing by me)
Hot Dish+ Hot Sauce
By Stephanie Wilbur Ash
In Bowling Alone, political scientist Robert Putnam’s landmark 2000 book about America’s social breakdown, he writes of “bonding” social capital between homogeneous groups of people and “bridging” social capital between heterogeneous groups.
The group of Latino poets living and working in Minnesota known as Palabristas (literally “wordslingers”) balance both, and that’s exactly what they’re all about. As individuals, the Palabristas—which formed in 2002 for the National Poetry Slam in Minneapolis—are a heterogeneous “who’s who” in the local art scene: Co-founder Larry Lucio is also a co-founder of the Twin Cities Celebration of Hip Hop. Lorena Duarte is a former editor at Spanish-language newspaper La Presna de Minnesota and a board member at The Loft Literary Center. Dessa Darling is an emcee in the critically acclaimed rap family Doomtree. And that’s just to name a few members.
Together they teach poetry and spoken-word workshops to youth in Minnesota, and perform live at local and national poetry slams and local music venues. And they publish chapbooks of their poetry: The recently released Outside the Lines is their second collection, with ¿Under What Bandera?, a 2004 Resource Center of the Americas Book of the Year, their first.
“What binds us is a shared Latino identity,” Duarte says. But, she notes, “It doesn’t mean we write ‘Latino’ poetry. We write love poems, poems about language, our families, our personal struggles. That’s a more true representation of Latinos than just the ‘We Are Brown’ poems.”
Most of the poems in Outside the Lines are definitely working through identity in some way—straddling the divides of language, culture, politics, the economy, education, opportunity, romantic love and love of self. Some are quiet, meant for the interior of the head. Others are loud, for shouting. The language is a mixture of English, Spanish and hybrid dialects from all over.
Palabristas, it seems, collect their divergent work in print and performance as a way to both empower a community and to promote the disparity of it; to show together that their individual selves are beyond the “Latino” tag. “We defy conventions just from graduating from college,” Duarte says. “By getting up and speaking and not being gang bangers. We aren’t defiant in the ‘stick it to the whatever’ sense, but more in the sense that we define ourselves. The comments ‘Oh! You have no kind of accent! Oh, you went to Harvard?’ Those things, they bore us.
“Being Latino doesn’t mean being one thing or the other, especially in Minnesota where you are an amalgamation of hot dish and hot sauce—it’s a psycho-frenetic mix. And that’s very much at the core of what we are.” +
Palabrista Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria holds an open mic for Palabristas, and anyone else, the last Saturday of every month at El Burrito Mercado in St. Paul. 175 Cesar Chavez St.; 651.227.2192
Outside the Lines is available wherever Palabristas are, and you can find that out at
¿Under What Bandera? is available from Calaca Press, calacapress.com.