By Cait Kemp
José González has presented his poetry at several impressive venues such as the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., the Poetry Foundation Chicago, Bryant Park in New York City, Notre Dame University, Harvard University and many others. He is also a contributor to NPR, and has been featured on Univision.
Friday afternoon, Springfield College welcomed González for a poetry reading in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which began Sept. 15 and goes until Oct. 15.
National Hispanic Heritage Month began as a week-long celebration in 1968 under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and continued as a month-long tradition later on in the 80s with President Ronald Reagan.
It begins in the middle of the month due to the significance of the date, Sept. 15. That date is the anniversary of several Latin American countries’ independence, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico follows up with its independence day Sept. 16, and Chile Sept. 18.
Each year, this month is celebrated by parades, art exhibits, festivals, community gatherings and more celebrations to honor the Hispanic heritage and the contributions made to society by hispanic figures throughout history.
González spoke to Springfield College students, faculty and community members about the importance of recognizing and embracing diversity, and he shared his poems that metaphorically compare his life after moving to the U.S. and the life he could have been living if he had stayed in El Salvador.
It discusses the struggles he had to overcome being hispanic in a school system where kids were just simply mean, but the blessing he had to be there as opposed to living in the violence that was occurring in his homeland at the time.
His poems put into perspective the unnecessary struggles people like him have to deal with just because of the color of their skin and the accents they may have from being born somewhere different. He worked hard to gain knowledge and get the best education he could.
“They had uncles named Sam, well I had one named Eduardo…he learned that the trick to running was to sprint… he hurdled over the U.S/Mexican border on the second try, and kept his feet going…” read lines from one of González’ poems.
This poem was about an assignment in school that he had about illegal immigration and its affect on the nation. He observed the dominantly white classroom he sat in, and thought about how easy it was for them to answer this question. For him, it was a different story. He had a close connection to this issue, and saw it quite differently than the others.
González also emphasized the importance of recognizing the flaws and struggles people hold as human beings, as it has helped to get people to where they are today. After leaving El Salvador, González and his family lived in Connecticut housing projects. Yet, as a child he did not see the negative aspects of this community, and was just grateful to be somewhere safer than he had come from.
“I believe that it’s important for us to take pride in that, yeah, we lived there and we’re thriving. So, here I am, living in these projects, and I’m just amazed I get my own room,” he said.
His most impressive poem was one that he saved for last. It was titled “The Autobiography of a New England Latino”, and it discussed the struggle of being latinx in a white man’s world of education.
He explained how in school, people looked down on him because he was hispanic. He then worked hard to get his education, and suddenly when working in inner-city schools, he wasn’t “latino enough” for them, because he was now educated and in their eyes trying to be someone he wasn’t, even though he was just doing what made him happy and what he was good at.
The way he presented this poem was very engaging and entertaining, as he read it quite fast, and used the word “brown” to describe it, saying how he was “too brown”, or “not brown enough,” and everything in between.
Before beginning to read this poem, he said, “It is about me, but I also want these lessons to be about, like where you’re headed, who you’re going to be working with. If you have an immigrant coworker, or student next to you whose parents were immigrants, or coworkers or supervisors, that you internalize this a little bit.”
González put emphasis on this idea that no matter where one may go in life, they will most likely encounter people of color, immigrants, or other types of minorities whether it’s as a coworker or supervisor as he said, a student, a colleague, or some other figure in life. Because of this, he said it is important to appreciate, learn, and understand the culture and heritage of latinx and hispanic people, and be able to work with them in order to make the country a more inclusive place.
“An important word to hear, I think, is perseverance… I always associate the word ‘immigrant’ with perseverance, do you? I would argue that you should,” said González.