Visiting poet explores Latinx identity, issues

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By: Lauren McMillan, Contributing Writer

Students explored topics of race, immigration and Latino identity through poetry and social media last week during a program called “Hashtag Latinidades” in the Liberal Arts Building.

Poet and New York University professor Urayoãn Noel led the Sept. 28 part-lecture, part-performance event, and his poetry analyzed social issues and constructs relating to minorities, focusing on the Latino and Latina community.

“I think I’m looking at the ways in which Latino identity is produced in the age of social media,” Noel said. “And I think my point is that it’s produced from above and from below, in other words we have identities that we claim and that others impose on us.”

Noel illustrated this thought through an improvisational piece that referenced his own background.

“Forgive me if I start out with an improvisation, but I come from a nation called Puerto Rico, so our nations are improvised,” he said, singing his words.

Noel used a PowerPoint to guide the lecture portion of the night and showed videos from YouTube and Twitter memes. One meme featured Drake coming out of the water with a caption written in Spanish that translated to, “Drake looks like a Dominican uncle.”

The meme was used to illustrate how “Dominican Twitter,” like “Black Twitter,” is often used to poke fun at racial stereotypes and cultural norms but can also be used to connect to different social movements.

On a more serious note, Noel also showed a video titled “For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly.” The video featured spoken word poetry by queer Latino poet and activist Yosimar Reyes.

Reyes’ poem responded to colonialism and ideals of masculinity enforced by western society. (“they burned our villages, nuestros pueblos/implemented homophobia, sexism, and machismo/in las cabezas de nuestros abuelos/brainwashed our ancestors into believing that boys like us are a manifestation of the devil”).

Noel performed an original poem from one of his books that was inspired by his mom talking to her smartphone.

“My mom has an accent, so she will try to talk to her phone, and it will hear it with an accent and misunderstand,” Noel said. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a cool idea for some poetry.’”

Noel read a sonnet by 17th century Mexican writer Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. His phone then incorrectly translated the sonnet to English. While he performed, Noel switched between two microphones to emphasize the difference between the line from the sonnet and the phone’s translation of the line.

The poem garnered audience laughter as the translation of the Spanish sentences created English sentences like, “In Tennessee, you phone book, use me sucks.”

Cook Library sponsored “Hashtag Latinidades” as part of “Latino Americans: 500 Years of History” grant series.

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