Visiting poet merges prose and activism

By: Jessica Ricks, Staff Writer 

Colombian-born poet, performance artist and activist Jennifer Tamayo uses her writing as a way to record memories and explore the ways people learn and interact with each other.

Tamayo, who also goes by JT, visited campus to perform selections from her books “Red Missed Aches Read Missed Aches Red Mistakes Red Mistakes” and “You Da One,” as well as her latest project “Dora/Ana/Guatavit@,” for an audience of students and faculty Sept. 26. She said that she was attracted to writing professionally because it gave her a concrete way of recording her personal experiences.

“When you’re a migrant person, always moving around, you tend to lose a lot of physical documents like journals and pictures,” Tamayo said. “I was attracted because it was something that I can pin down and save.”

Her work, which has been featured in “Poetry Magazine,” “Best American Experimental Writing,” and “Angels of the Americlypse: An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing,” explores societal issues such as race relations, immigration and sexuality. As a queer Latinx woman, Tamayo challenges the norms of western society and who is deemed to fit into that mold.

“The term ‘queer person,’ to me, is expansive,” she said. “It’s a political stance on who we are to love. It challenges the idea of the construction of whiteness and the white ideology.”

Tamayo hopes that her audience takes a better understanding of their own emotions either toward society or themselves from her work.

“I want people to feel connected to that part of themselves,” she said. “I want them to see that they are angry and not feel stuck in that place and can turn it into action and other feelings.”

Although Spanish is her first language, Tamayo said she finds it easier to communicate in English and sometimes translation between the two becomes difficult. However, her favorite thing about writing is toying with language.

“I love how flexible language is,” she said. “I can play with it like paint or clay. It can exist in many difference places.”

In addition to writing, Tamayo is also an activist. One of the poems she performed last week, called “CRYING; A PROTEST,” describes a performance protest she orchestrated against sculptor Carl Andre at New York art gallery Dia:Beacon. The protesters cried loudly in the main gallery to mourn the death of artist Ana Mendieta, Andre’s spouse who died in the 1980s. Though Andre was acquitted in court, some groups still believe that he murdered Mendieta.

Tamayo’s future plans include more activism work around the country, including Sacramento, Ca., where she lives, and her birth place of Colombia.

“I have more learning and community building to do,” she said. “I want to learn more about the history of Sacramento and know whose home I am in so I can be able to help their efforts.”

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