"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Retro Review Revisited: "Living Life on His Own Terms: Poetic Wisdom of Abelardo 'Lalo' Delgado"

The poet persists

New collection shows how Chicano writer has grown over half a century

Raymundo Elí Rojas
Special to the Times

Note: This review ran in April 7, 2002 in the El Paso Times.

After more than 50 years of being a writer, activist and family man, Abelardo B. Delgado is still living life on his own terms. So titled is his new collection of poetry, "Living Life on His Own Terms: Poetic Wisdom of Abelardo 'Lalo' Delgado" (Barrio Publications, $10).

This book includes old and new poems from the don of Chicano poetry, whom Chicano scholar Felipe de Ortego y Gasca called the "Poet Laureate of Aztlán."

Even before the Chicano Movement of the late 1960s, Delgado was one of the main community organizers in South El Paso. Beginning in the 1950s with Father Harold J. Rahm, Delgado started on a path of activism that continues to this day. Working with youth in the Segundo Barrio of El Paso, he helped found the Mexican American Youth Association, or MAYA, and once fasted 30 days for better housing.

Delgado, who graduated from Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso) and was among the top 10 graduates in his Bowie High School class, has also had a lifelong devotion to education.

His newest book is edited by Colorado poet Michael Evans-Smith and Chicano poet Trinidad Sánchez Jr. of "Why Am I So Brown?" fame.

These poems reflect on his past 50 years of writing. In "More than fifty," Delgado describes buying his first Underwood typewriter.

Also included is the poet's bid for tolerance in the age of AIDS. In "Bring In the Lions," Delgado focuses on the "leprosy of our days." He adds that "Those with AIDS are not IMMUNE to hate and in their tender hearts there is no love DEFICIENCY. The SYNDROME is unconcern ACQUIRED throughout the ages." In 1999, when Delgado visited El Paso, he performed this poem in honor of fellow El Paso author Arturo Islas.

His mother, who died in 2000, is honored in "My Mother." "At Socorro High" gives us an example of the many poems he has written for various high schools around the nation where he has performed.

The book swings beautifully between Spanish and English, taking readers from the heat of El Paso's Second Ward to the snowy streets of Denver, where Delgado now makes his home. Even the Rio Grande does not escape:

Jorobado y arrugado

Como Viejo mal cuidado

Va mi Río Grande

Ya menos apurado

Con el soquete del tiempo manchando,

Por dos paises maltratado.

In the late 1960s, in the era Ortego y Gasca has called the Chicano Renaissance, Delgado was one of the first Chicano writers to publish a poetry collection. It was called "Chicano: Twenty-five Pieces of A Chicano Mind." His most famous poem, "Stupid America," became an anthem of the Chicano Movement:

stupid America, remember that chicanito

flunking math and English

he is the Picasso

of your western states

but he will die

with one thousand masterpieces

hanging only from his mind.

The poetry of Lalo Delgado has gone beyond "Stupid America" and other works of 30 years ago. However, he still emphasizes a humanitarian cause, from his attacks on "English Only" to poems about his grandchildren. Delgado brings us his thirst for justice and human rights.

Perhaps the most tender part of this collection is the introduction by his late mother. It is a lindo essay on her "little boy," describing Delgado as a combination of Tom Sawyer and Attila the Hun: "Certainly he has the boyishness, the honesty, humor capacity for adventure and zest for life of a Sawyer. ... He is the man power -- the strength of the King of the Huns."

A 1943 passport photo (the year Delgado and his mother entered the United States) of Delgado and his mother ends this magnificent work. For those who know him, the picture shows us that he has not changed much. He is still the chicanito running through la Quinta (5th Street, now Father Rahm Street), la calle Mesa, y la Oregon in El Segundo, and carving Christ figures with a knife on wooden benches. He is still the street poet without paper and pencil shouting curses on the street.

No wonder Delgado has been called el gran abuelo de los literateros. He is still the epitome of the activist-poet, the poet of the people -- maybe even the Abelard of our Western states with one thousand more masterpieces hanging from his mind.

Raymundo Elí Rojas is the editor of Pluma Fronteriza, a publication for El Paso and Ciudad Juárez Chicano, Latino and Mexican writers.

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