Flor y Canto: Latinx artists represent the literary voice of the Mission

Josiah Luis Aldarete, a self-described, “pocho poeta, aka, Spanglish poet,” grew up in the Mission District. “I am part of the Mission diaspora, people who were pushed out for whatever reason,” he said. “But the Mission is still here after 500 years of colonization, pandemics, plagues, and murders. When this one passes, we’ll still be here.”

“My poetry is a synthesis of Mexicano cultura and North America pochismo,” Aldarete said. According to the Los Angeles Times, the term “pocho” is used “for a Mexican American who is neither one nor the other, who speaks no Spanish or speaks it poorly, who is adrift between two cultures, or lives comfortably in both.” Aldarete, however, is reclaiming the description. “It’s very important to me that my poetry reaches mi gente, be they Chicano dinosaurs or Latinx test-tube babies,” he said. “We’re creating art because we use art as our memory and history.” 

To celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, which began Sept. 15, members of San Francisco Flor y Canto, a group which promotes literature and culture in the 24th Street corridor, gathered in person at the San Francisco Public Library and virtually on Zoom to share Latinx poetry and literature. Poet Ricardo Tavarez opened the event by describing  the group as a literary community that is “reconnecting to the root that was before all the borders started dividing us, before the colonialism, before the imperialism.” Addressing the audience, he said, “If you feel the spirit to be creative, and to uplift others, this is the space for you.”

During the event, four artists read their work aloud. The topics included mole, a traditional Mexican dish, a meditation on machismo culture, a fictional piece about a company that steals memories, and a poet’s self-portrait. Aldarete read a piece on the transformation of San Francisco in recent years that read, “I go to visit San Francisco and the security guard almost doesn’t let me in… when I finally get in to see San Francisco, I hardly recognize San Francisco anymore.”

Monica Zarazua, a writer, teacher, and co-founder of the independent publishing group Pochino Press, was involved in the event for the first time. “People seemed to feel a renewed sense of inspiration,” she said. “Art is so important considering the times we are in and the issues that are affecting our community.”

Zarazua has high hopes for Latinx Heritage Month this year. “One thing I was thinking about recently is the importance of us expressing ourselves, especially new and young voices,” she said. “Out of hardship there is the birth of new voices that revitalize the community.” 

Zarazua said that most of her work explores the feminine and the experience of being female. She shared an excerpt from her novel about a girl reclaiming memories that are being stolen by the company she works for. “In that void there was nothing to remember because no memories had formed. Maybe I ceased to exist except as a buzzing machine.”

Another artist who read at the event was the poet, hector son of hector. “I try to tell stories of the people and landscapes that surround the working class, Latino, and Mexican Americans in California,” he said. When he writes, hector said, “One of the most important things is that my friends see themselves in what I write, and then hopefully others who don’t know me do too.”

He read a poem dedicated to the 43 children who were kidnapped and presumed to be killed near Iguala, a town in southern Mexico Sept. 2014. It read, “43 children did not run into the Guerrero Woods and turn to smoke through Nahuatl mystics. It was the ghostly Cortez who commanded conquistadores and indigena allies to starve and to murder enough bodies to stack his temples.”

Flor y Canto began as a Chicanx community and has expanded to include Latinx folks, hector said. “We’re really just trying to present to the community the people of the community,” he said. “I hope people see the importance of persisting and continuing to represent ourselves.” 

Aldarete voiced a similar sentiment. “My obvious hope is that people read more Latinx literature,” he said. “I want this to be a general reminder that the Mission is the literary heart of San Francisco.” 

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