Chicano poet Jimmy Santiago Baca visited the Cross-Cultural Center on Oct. 11 to speak to students and alumni about his life and poetry.
Born in 1957 in a barrio near Albuquerque, N.M., Baca is of Chicano and Apache descent
Raised by his grandmother after his parents passed away, Baca was sent to an orphanage and ran away when he was only 13. He frequently alternated between living on the streets and living with his friends. He was incarcerated and sentenced to five years in prison on charges of drug possession when he was 21.
It was during his time in prison that Baca began to turn his life around. During his imprisonment, Baca taught himself to read and write and began to dedicate his energy and passion into writing poetry. He received both his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the University of New Mexico.
Baca’s poetry illustrates the beauty and nature of the Latino and Chicano culture. His works include ‘C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans, Healing Earthquakes,’ ‘Black Mesa Poems’ and ‘A Place to Stand,’ for which he won the prestigious International Award. He recently released two books, ‘The Importance of a Piece of Paper’ and ‘Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande.’
Baca has won an impressive number of awards throughout his literary career, including the National Poetry Award, the American Book Award and the Humanitarian Award.
During his lecture, Baca recited a few of his favorite poems. Not only did he emphasize the importance of poetry, but he also emphasized the need to reach out to the world using humanitarianism and one’s education.
He also explained that his decision to turn his life around began when he decided that the violence within him had stopped, and that vengeance was no longer necessary for survival.
He attributed his decision to change his life around to his Chicano culture.
‘We [the Chicanos] are the most beautiful people that ever lived,’ Baca remarked. ‘I mean, if you take one Chicano into one dark, dark cell with only a pinhole to look out of, that particular Chicano, through that much space, will show the expression of love.’
The event concluded with a recitation of a romantic love poem from ‘Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande,’ followed by a poetry reading from ‘C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans’ in honor of Columbus Day.
Ashton Lawrence, a fifth-year international studies major, heard about this event while working as an intern for the Cross-Cultural Center. Knowing that Baca was a well-known writer, Lawrence had to see and listen to the man himself.
‘[Baca] was able to put his experiences [into words] … in a way that students can understand,’ Lawrence said.
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