March 4, 2012

AWP12 Day 4: Migrant Poet

I grabbed my suitcase and started packing for tomorrow's flight out of Chicago. I thought about how long four days seemed when I first arrived and how this final day seemed to pass so quickly. 

Last night the Latino Writers Collective and Proyecto Latina sponsored an After-Hours Salon reading at Columbia College

I read two poems about my parents. The first, Madre de los Campos, is one of my favorites. It describes my experiences working as a migrant farmworker and child laborer. 

The second poem, Sangre de mi Padre, examines my father's work at a meat packing plant. That poem took on a new meaning for me because I'd just learned my father suffered a small stroke hours earlier. My sister said he seemed to be fine but the doctor wanted to keep him overnight to make sure there were no other complications.

Well, I guess everything turned out fine because today as I prepared for the session I was to facilitate, he texted me to ask how long to grill a steak. 

Yeah, just kind of process that for a moment ...

Miguel and Yolanda (Nieves) after the After Hours reading

That brings us to today and the reason I came to this year's Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference -- the Migrant Youth Writers Workshop. 

After the Migrant Youth Writers Workshop session

For those of you who know me, let me just reassure you that I did not cry. No, not this time.

For those of you who don't know me, it's always a struggle for me not to break when I talk about the work we do with migrant youth. As much as I try not to, I usually end up crying. 

I almost did break but I took a deep breath and tried not to let my emotions get ahead of my words. However another panelist did, and that touched me. It also moved the audience. So there were some tears after all, which now I accept as a good thing.

I never thought my life would come back to those days when I was a migrant farmworker. I worked so hard for so many years to banish that part of my life. Yet there I stood at a national writer's conference talking about it, telling writers how they can help -- asking them to help and they responded.

In a strange sort of way, grown up Miguel and little farmworker Miguel are working together helping each other, giving voice to one another, and trying to make a difference in the lives of other migrant youth. I can look back on my life at the time when I really needed help as a migrant kid and I can see that these young people are at that moment in their lives. They need help -- even if that help is just acknowledging their stories.

Miguel talks with a migrant youth/poet at the 2011 writers workshop.