Today is the awkwardly placed first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, meaning it's time to celebrate all the brown voices screaming into the void of prejudice and racism to loudly express their truth.
One of those voices is that of poet Yesika Salgado. She is an LA-based poet of Salvadorian descent who writes about her culture, family, city, and body. She is also an activist for body positivity and the cofounder of the Latina feminist collective Chingona Fire.
In 2019, Yesika Salgado published Hermosa, a poetry collection detailing her life experiences from romantic relationships, mourning her father's memory, and unwillingly submitting to the gentrification of the city she calls home. She mixes her cultural experiences and her parents' native Spanish tongue with the nuances of familial and romantic love.
As a woman of Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian descent raised by immigrant parents, Salgado's poems relayed a level of truth I was not ready to hear.
The first poem, Diaspora Writes To Her New Home, ends by calling herself "the victory a boastful flag." That one phrase completely encapsulates that pressure I've always felt to be more. My parents didn't escape a war or political corruption; they both ended up in this country almost by happenstance, but still, they sacrificed their homeland for our family, which means something. That unspoken pressure to be successful, live a better life, and make that sacrifice worth it lingers in my every breath. That first poem called me out in a way that should have prepared me for the rest of the book.
In Your Lipstick, Salgado points out the strength and power that can derive from lipstick and makeup. "you are the special occasion. you deserve more than one tube of soft pink smeared timid across your lips. You re-apply your blood. you are a bruja now." I distinctly remember a conversation with my mami when I was going through puberty, where she told me about makeup. She told me how bold colors give people the wrong idea. My papi would tell me how too much would make me look like a clown. Only now, almost two years after I moved out of their house, that makeup is slowly transforming into something that provides confidence and joy. Before, it was only for Halloween and special occasions.
How each poem describes minuscule but meaningful and powerful moments in my life brought me tears more times than I'd like to admit. The long goodbyes at parties, the silent nod from your parents that insufficiently replaces an apology for something that should be unforgivable, the way that food is used as a token of affection, the way that cleaning up after the drunks in your life becomes more habitual than scary. Watching my writing walk the tightrope of expressing my truth and exposing too much to a public who might never understand my story. Salgado presents all these ideas and experiences in an authentic and rare way. It was raw and emotional.
The way that Salgado describes her relationship with her city is genuinely fascinating. Within the lines of her poetry, the city of Los Angeles is almost personified as marvelous and filled with cultural nuances that are slowly succumbing to gentrification and assimilation. I witnessed the same thing happen to my hometown and my childhood home. Like Salgado, the streets, bus stops, and restaurants where I made formative memories are now shattered relics that I will never get back.
The perfectly strung words and phrases Yesika Salgado composed in each poem in Hermosa unlocked memories that I had deeply hidden in my mind. Her poetic truth helped expose mine.