By Courtney Perales ’17 with April C. Armstrong *14 and Mario Garcia ’18
Students have often used the arts and poetry to express themselves and enhance their identities on campus. Two Latinx poems I found in student publications in the archives this spring were particularly striking to me: “Lloro Por Mi Puerto Rico Perdido” in La Mujer Latina, by Maribel Garcia ’84, and “We Hunger” in The Vigil, by Michele Parris ’90. I also ran across a reprint of “Our Tongue was Nauhuatl” by noted Mexican-American poet Ana Castillo in Sol Del Este East Coast Chicanx Student Forum Newsletter. One thing that stood out among these three different Latinx poems were that they delved into topics around identity, sense of belonging, and racial insensitivity and microaggressions students were experiencing. In another Latinx student publication, Amanecer, there were many more poems with similar themes. The poems depicted how these students were part of and yet pushed against the idea of a “Latinx monolith.” Wrestling with topics like borders, immigration, and independence, each piece pulled from deep emotional reserves and evoked the pain, confusion, and frustrations that came with being a student of color at Princeton.
Garcia’s “Lloro Por Mi Puerto Rico Perdido” addresses issues that are still being discussed today about the relationship between Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States. Puerto Ricans are continuing to question their identity and how that relates to the politics on the island. Those on the mainland often feel a disconnect with their island’s own history, preventing many of us from understanding the full extent and implications of a sustained colonial status in Puerto Rico. Longing for a free Puerto Rico, the poem uses personal anecdotes to draw a deeper relationship to Puerto Rican sovereignty.
Lloro por mi Puerto Rico perdido
mis lágrimas caen en el Mar Caribe
Porque sin independencia, pequeño paraíso
tu individualidad pronto no existirá
[I cry for my lost Puerto Rico
my tears fall in the Caribbean Sea
Because without independence, small paradise
your individuality will soon cease to exist]
–Excerpt from “Lloro Por Mi Puerto Rico Perdido,” by Maribel Garcia ’84; translation by Mario Garcia ’18
In “We Hunger,” Parris delves into the issue of inclusion at Princeton and the continued “otherness” students of color and Latinx students feel as they walk through campus. She ties this in with class and embodies a “double consciousness” where is very aware of how her peers view her at Princeton. This is most evident in the quote, “They are our equals. We let them be our equals today.”
“We hunger, this hunger
That sometimes keeps us awake at night,
Staring up at a high ceiling;
Thinking while looking at impervious walls
That we are new to these places,
These walls do not know us,
These bricks are impermeable
And the halls remain corridors
Of unsolved mazes
With the loud, loud voices
Of young men resounding from these walls,
Telling jokes while they pat
Each other on the back
Sound jumping from the walls
Laughing at images that are akin to me,
Sound coming from the old walls
Reeling in and out of beer kegs
That stand on top of assorted backs
The sound, the laughter from inside those walls…”
–Except from “We Hunger,” by Michele Parris ’90
There are visceral feelings of exclusion and alienation that these Latinx students experienced while at Princeton. They made me wonder: How have these feelings changed today and do our students of color continue to feel undervalued and underserved in the Princeton community? What are ways that our community can do better to reach out to the needs of students of color on campus? What are some identifiable resources that currently exist to aid in this process?
Regardless of the sentiments of each Latinx student author, poetry construction seemed to be an avenue for evaluation, community, and creativity. Each poem presented different aspect of the varied Latinx experience at Princeton and was dripping in raw authenticity and emotion; each and every one of the topics was personal.
Researchers interested in Latinx student poetry and other Latinx creative writing at Princeton, both in Spanish and English, can find many other examples in a variety of publications held at Mudd in the collections listed below. These include, but are not limited to, Amanecer, La Mujer Latina, the Vigil, and AP [Acción Puertorriqueña y Amigos] Newsletter.
Historical Subject Files (AC109)