What do you get when you put together a bunch of poets, a bilingual ode to a neighborhood, and an audience hungry for metaphors, verses, rhymes, satire and tragedy? The first night of the International Flor y Canto Literary Festival on 24th Street.
The kickoff on Thursday night in the Mission was a gathering of self-described misbehaving poets anxious to celebrate friendship, poetry, but above all, the Mission’s cultural community.
“We are activists who have been part of the district for more than 40 years”, said Jorge Molina, a musician and poet who opened the ceremony at Cafe La Bohemme with a millennial indigenous ritual. Wearing a colorful Peruvian poncho, he blessed the mother earth, making smoke and waving some feathers “to open the heart for humanity”. “Somos todo lo bueno” (We are all good) he sang playing maracas and blowing through a seashell.
“We come from the site of compassion and intelligence, I want to remind myself and the people around me about our ancient memory, why we must honor them, that is where our creative power comes from. Not from our brain, but from our heart,” Molina told me, explaining that it’s not fashion, but tradition.
The brain behind Flor y Canto, San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguía, stood on Molina’s side, joining his sounds with the names of famous Latino or Chicano poets, the muses of this festival: Federico García Lorca, César Vallejo, Gabriela Mistral, Pedro Pietri, Raúl R. Salinas, José Montoya, Alfonsina Storni, Alfonso Texidor, Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Eduardo Galeano.
“Flor y Canto is inspired by the Meso-American traditional gatherings, and it is possible thanks to the work of many volunteers,” said Murguia who added that 38 local poets will be reading in seven different venues on 24th Street over the next three days. “Artists need to be a part of what is going on in the Mission and to stand up for the district, as other community organizers do.”
The Mission was there, in every word of Thursday’s poems. At “Mission Malcriados,” or Mission Misbehaved at La Bohemme, the poets sounded melancholy; longing for better times, but grateful for the identity that resists disappearing. Their words remembered those who died on the Mission’s streets including Alex Nieto, an active member of the community killed by police bullets a year ago. Eric Gardner, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were also invoked in verses of justice.
“The community needs to be aware of the crazy atrocities that are happening. Innocents dying, young people going to prison, kids without education. Poetry is a call for awareness, and here in the Mission where latinos have been forced to leave due to economic reasons, we shouldn’t let the culture to be missed too”, said Jorge Argueta, a poet from El Salvador, who promotes and writes books for kids in his library Luna Express.
Argueta read in Spanish and English, No one Can Find Your Bones, a poem he wrote to Roque Dalton, the Salvadoran poet and revolutionary killed in 1975. He also wrote a piece – When You Must dream, You must Dream to Marcial Pablo Baranda, one of the missing persons of the Massacre of Ayotzinapa in Mexico.
The work by poet Leticia Hernández, the only woman among the readers, was inspired by legendary figures like Prudencia Ayala, the only woman to run for president in 1930 in El Salvador. Hernández told a tale of liberation, friendship, undocumented women and ciudadanía (citizenship).
Baruch Porras Hernandez, added humor, imagining Frida Kahlo painting him as a donut, and describing the things he had never done with horses. Tomás Riley wrote to the weather and the streets of San Francisco, while Adrián Arias, described a delightful dictionary of the human body and the act of touching.
“I am one of the ones who had to move to Oakland”, said Arias,a Peruvian, who is the multimedia coordinator of the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. “As artists, we are not going to sell ourselves, we are going to continue coming here because the neighborhood hasn’t died, it is just living a kind of metamorphosis.”
Arias said he won´t leave the Mission because “in these streets we speak Spanish, and that is the best way to misbehave.”
After simultaneous translation and spanglish resources that reminded me of Junot Diaz and Francisco Goldman’s writing, the night was over.
As Ricky Fallon, a young poet and Mission resident said, “Just their presence (of the poets) alone is an act of revolution. Everybody comes here to have an open dialogue about poetry. It´s very inspiring, it´s the oxygen that the Mission needs.”