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Natalie Scenters-Zapico
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I first met Carolina Ebeid at the Mestizo Cafe in Salt Lake City where she was taking part in a reading for “Pintura:Palabra, a project in ekphrasis” in which Latina/o writers from across the country were invited to engage in writing ekphrasis and participate in workshops after spending time with the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” exhibition. Carolina was very warm with me, having recently selected two of my poems for publication in West Branch, one of which went on to be selected for Best American Poetry 2015. During her reading I was very struck by how well she is able to create pressure through stillness in her work. This is the last installment in a series titled "Latina/o Poets on Liminal Spaces." You can read my introduction to the series here, and conversations with Javier Zamora here, Erika L. Sánchez here, and Marcelo Hernández Castillo here. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ NSZ: You’re the daughter of a Palestinian father and a Cuban mother. How has their act of immigrating, in passing through one space with the promise of getting to another space, passed on to you? CE: It’s interesting that you call it an act of immigrating because that seems to be able to be answered with the fact that I was born, that my parents met on a bus in Massachusetts, and that resulted in my being able to be here in the world. Whereas if I were to change the word act to story, of the way that their immigration stories have been passed on to me, or how they exert pressure on me or my imagination that’s a much more complicated thing to entertain. They are definitely very different, my father’s incorporation into this country and society, and my mother’s stance toward this culture and society. So they moved first to Massachusetts, but then moved to New Jersey, and they lived in a very Latin American neighborhood. But a neighborhood close enough to the urban area of New York City where there were many, many cultures and languages. My mother in a lot of ways had open arms and she, as I said at CantoMundo, loved the opera. I think she had an optimism for the pace of life just outside of New York. I have to really talk about the differences between my parents. So, I don’t want to get too far away from your original question. Is there a way that you could ask a follow-up? NSZ: I’m interested in the act of immigrating, and I call it an act because I’m using the word liminal, and because it comes from rites of passage. I think that there’s this sense that this act of immigrating and arriving in the U.S. will complete the rite of passage, which is not really the case. In many ways you’re held in this liminal space perpetually, and I’m also really interested for you how that liminal... Continue reading
Posted Nov 1, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Marcelo Hernández Castillo's poetry is a lyric exploration into realms that are filled with missing items from unopened trunks, birds circling, and knives that never leave the hand. Marcelo's work is one that leaves me muttering to myself in awe at the painful dance he choreographs across the page. During conversations with Marcelo at CantoMundo in Austin, Texas this summer I found him careful and deliberate when speaking, while sensitive in listening to the voices of others in the room. To have a conversation with Marcelo is to think about the world in new and more delicate ways. We had this conversation over Google hangout after a long day of work for both us. We each expressed excitement at being able to have this conversation on liminal spaces and Latina/o poetry, and document it. This conversation is part of a series called "Latina/o Poets on Liminal Spaces," you can read my introduction here, a conversation with Javier Zamora here, and a conversation with Erika L. Sánchez here. This has been edited for clarity and brevity. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Natalie Scenters-Zapico: Where do you like to spend more time as a writer, in the metaphorical or literal landscape? Marcelo Hernández Castillo: Metaphorical. I was thinking a lot about this in Latina/o poetics and how much of it searches to be grounded in the liminal space. The liminal space being a space of transition, as being set aside, or this feeling of being exiled which leads to a state of permanent liminality. But for me it is very difficult to write about something directly. It’s difficult for me to make real allusions to cities, to dates, to people. For me, I’m happiest inside of the lyric. I’m happy inside of that which is non-referential. I like to say something without directly saying it because I find it very difficult to write about the border, or my family’s status, or my evolving status because I’m living it. It’s not something that I have to Wikipedia for facts, or something that I have to see on the news. I mean I see it on the news all the time, but it’s something that’s affecting my family even right now and will continue to keep affecting them. Even if I were to become a citizen eventually, and even if my mom were to become a citizen eventually, my brother, my sister, etc. there will always be somebody else keeping us in that state of liminality. So for me being in the metaphorical, in the figurative, in the lyric, in the ethereal makes sense because I can’t bring myself to write very directly. To be perfectly honest, it’s really because ever since I was little it’s always been very dangerous for me to write about that. And so, even though now I want to write about when we crossed the border, and my dad being deported twelve years ago, I still have this lingering fear that I shouldn’t write about it. And now I’m in the process after... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
I first encountered Erika L. Sánchez’s work in a library at the University of New Mexico. Erika had graduated a few years before me, and I was working on a manuscript that would one day become The Verging Cities. Erika’s poems stood out to me because we were both writing about borders, immigration, narco-violence, and femicide though she grew up in Chicago, traveling in the summers to Mexico, and I grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border. I’ve always been very interested in how vividly Erika can reinvent the narrative of crossing in her poems and hold her speakers suspended in a liminal space. This interview is a part of a series titled Latina/o Poets On Liminal Spaces, you can read my introduction here, and the first interview with Javier Zamora here. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Natalie Scenters-Zapico: So my first question is, from one border obsessed writer to another, why the obsession? Erika L. Sánchez: Oh, that’s a really good question. I feel like growing up everything was about having papers, not having papers. Mojados, you know, that was just always a family narrative. Crossing the border, and living in the United States, and who is legal. I think about my parents and how they crossed the border and how that was very, very transgressive in many ways. And how innocently I took on that transgression that they, I don’t know what the verb is…so they transgressed, so I sort of followed suit but very differently. And that created a problem actually for me and my family. I see my parents as rule breakers and I think it’s just inevitable that I write about borders of all kinds whether they’re physical or non-physical. It’s just always been a part of my life in some form. NSZ: So, is your family originally from Chihuahua, or… ES: Durango. NSZ: Durango. So they’re from Durango, but you grew up in Chicago. How has that distance affected your work? You just described being interested in family stories of crossing, and that transgression to use your word, and how you’ve followed suit, and what it means to be transgressive, but in a different way than your parents. So how has that distance affected the way that you conceive of place? ES: I grew up going to Mexico pretty frequently during the summer. And in some way those were the best times of my life. Looking back on my life, I was pretty unhappy as a child and there’s a lot of reasons for that. Some being that my parents were working a lot and it was very difficult. And so when I’d go to Mexico, it was liberating for me to go outside and see all these people I loved. I know I idealized it when I was a kid, so really what I write about is longing—wanting to be there, even though being there is impossible. And in that there’s a sense of loss. In my memory everything... Continue reading
Posted Oct 18, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
The first time I met Javier Zamora was at CantoMundo in Austin, Texas where he was opinionated and open on issues surrounding the visibility of Latina/o poetry. Javier's work stands out to me as a distinct voice coming from El Salvador that explores the documents, narratives, and physical spaces of longing. We had this conversation on liminal spaces after exchanging some notes on how I was conceiving of liminality in Latina/o poetics for this series. You can read my introductory post, which discusses liminality, the liminoid, and liminoid phenomenon here. This conversation took place over the phone. Javier was in a park in New York City, and I was in a classroom in Salt Lake City. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Natalie Scenters-Zapico: In your work are borders real or imaginary? Javier Zamora: They are very real. Well, it works two ways. There’s the physical border and there’s also the imaginary border that we, as immigrants, take in which is where I think the liminal comes in. NSZ: Say more about that. How does the liminal come in? JZ: First, I’d never heard of this term until this summer. There’s this journalist-veteran who went to Iraq, David J Morris, and he wrote this book The Evil Hours and in it, he’s centering the liminal around the talk of trauma and how going to war has created/creates a liminal space in all veterans and journalists that come back, and the victims. Morris talks about how the temporal space gets fucked up and I think there’s this whole idea of rites of passage as well, right? And I think that for what I’m trying to do is to argue that immigrating here for, I don’t want to say all immigrants, but I’ll say most immigrants, is a rite of passage. And it certainly is for Salvadorans where at least twenty percent of our people have immigrated since the war. It has become a rite of passage to cross the border and in that way we have lost our home, our physical place, and we also lose our temporal idea of what that is. So I looked at it through that sense and in that way the border becomes imaginary. NSZ: That’s interesting. So is existing or coming from a liminal space a blessing or a curse? Or, it just is? JZ: I don’t think it’s a blessing or a curse, I think it just is. You know, shit happens and there were circumstances that brought my entire family here. I’ve heard comments before like, “Oh my God you’re so lucky you’re telling this story.” You know, I see it as a similar question to is it a blessing or a curse. Because no, I’d rather not have gone through this shit. I’d rather my country not be all fucked up and I’d still be in El Salvador. NSZ: How do you get yourself into that space? Because sometimes when you’re creating it’s emotionally and mentally difficult... Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
When my mother was pregnant with me her constant fear was that I wouldn’t understand her heavy accent, that I wouldn’t speak Spanish, and that we would be forever disconnected at the moment of my birth. With no common language I would never understand the most basic lessons she could offer me as a mother—as a woman. She feared that I would grow to hate and resent her, and that she would not have the words to defend herself to me in. But her fears did not come true. I learned English by way of naming everything around me, and Spanish became the language of my interior. Spanish: my language in prayer, in the re-telling of family stories, and in expressing that which is too painful. In high school I became fascinated in my mother as a person, so I wanted to better my Spanish to get closer to her. Growing up on the U.S.-México border, I took Spanish classes for speakers and was able to further my reading and writing skills. My mother is an avid reader and amazing storyteller, and I wanted to be able to read and discuss the novels and poems she loved in order to connect with her. But outside of my household, this fascination with the Spanish language always became a point of identity crisis for me. As a child, and even well into adulthood, I constantly have my identity questioned: Why do you write about borders? Why are you bilingual? Why are you familiar with both Mexican and Spanish cultures? Is there a difference? In this way, I am always separate, always held in the liminal space by my mother’s act of immigrating and by her fear that we would be split by a border so deep we might never recover. Victor Turner, a British cultural anthropologist writing in the 1960s, re-introduced and gave new perspective to Arnold van Gennep’s idea of the liminal. Turner outlines van Gennep's definition of the liminal phase in the lecture, “Liminal to Liminoid, In Play, Flow, and Ritual,” as occurring during rites of passage, which is broken down into three overarching stages: 1. Separation, in which one is considered separate from the society so as to complete a rite of passage, 2. Transitional or limen, in which the subject “passes through limbo,” 3. Incorporation, in which the subject is reincorporated into the society with a new position or standing in the culture (57). Taking these concepts from van Gennep, Turner widens the applicability of the liminal by arguing that in the liminal there must be a sense of obligation either from tradition, myth, or culture. He claims that in societies with a leisure class, the Western world fitting that bill perfectly, we’ve traded many of our liminal spaces for the liminoid (Turner 67). In the liminoid, a subject is still in a space where societal norms can be subverted, but these subversions take place in less structured ways (Turner 68). In the liminoid, optation pervades. For example,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 4, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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