Rocky Mountain Raza:
Chicano/a writing in Colorado, Part I
by Raymundo Eli Rojas
(c) Raymundo Eli Rojas 2004
Author's note: This article is republished from the Pluma Fronteriza, Winter 2004, Vol. 4, No. 1. My thanks for Trindad Sanchez, Jr., Lalo Delgado, and Manuel Ramos for their incite into Chicano(a) writers in Colorado. I had the opportunity to visit with them during my summer in Colorado in 2004. A year later, Lalo would pass away, and still later Trini would follow. I do not know if Trini would ever qualify himself as a Denver writer he was very immersed in the scene.
Entry, Summer 2003. Alberto Mesta visits me while I am in Colorado this summer. An old UTEP MEChA colleague, Alberto Mesta sits besides me in La Taza Café (now closed) at 1550 Platte Street in downtown Denver. It was Alberto who first made me realize that El Paso had many Chicano(a) writers. Like El Paso, Colorado has also had its Chicano writers, in particular Denver.
I told Alberto I wanted him to meet certain people while in Denver. Trinidad Sánchez, Jr. one of the few Chicano writers from Detroit, moved to Colorado from San Antonio. In La Oreja, he was part of the thriving literary scene alive in the city. In San Tony, the readings he hosted were noted for being attended by ethnically diverse groups.
Trini’s wife Regina Chávez y Sánchez is the daughter of Santiago Chávez, one of the founders of Denver’s Crusade for Justice. When Regina’s father passed away, she wanted to be closer to the family, so she and Trini packed up to go north. Ricardo Sánchez called Trini the “heir apparent” of writers like himself and Abelardo Delgado. Trini’s poems Why Am I So Brown?, Let’s Stop the Madness, and Who Am I? became very popular in the Chicano poetry genre, which had not seen a poet with such energy in many years. Becoming one of the bestseller poetry collections of the 1990s, Trini Sánchez is still seen as too political by some publishers who cater to the watered-down Latino writers. (www.trinidadjr.org/)
Entry: As we wait for our food, euphoric on the smell of chorizo that filled the room, the Don of Chicano Poetry walks in. Abelardo Delgado gives us his famous smile. Delgado, who has gain more of an international fame in the last few years, takes out his latest chapbook, and gives my friend Alberto a copy. “Here vato,” says Lalo, “here’s a souvenir.”
Poet Laureate of Aztlan, Lalo Delgado with Ricardo Sanchez cancer survival t-shirt
Delgado had moved to Denver in the early 1970s to head the Colorado Migrant Council. After a brief and humorous return to El Paso to work for UTEP, he worked in the Northwest in migrant programs, founded the Idaho Migrant Council, and then took a position a the University of Utah. When the Colorado Migrant Council needed an executive director again, they turned to Lalo.
Despite being renowned as an El Paso writer from Mesa y la Quinta Streets in the El Paso’s Segundo Barrio, Denver has been part of Lalo for almost 30 years. A few years ago, he received the Colorado Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and he was honored by the city of Denver with a day declared as “Lalo Delgado Day.”
Entry: I ask Trini and Lalo, who both knew Ricardo Sánchez well, “So what do you think of Ricardo Sánchez leading our troops in Iraq?”
With his original chuckle, Lalo says, “Yea, vato, I thought my carnal had passed away and then I hear he’s the mero mero of the army in Iraq.” Lalo laughs as he continues, “My poor carnal is probably rolling in his grave right now.”
On a July 4 evening, Trini takes me to the Mercury Café (www.mercurycafe.com) at 2199 California St. in Denver. The café features open mics and Sunday-night poetry slams. Other poets, refusing to celebrate our independence, join us as small hints of burning cigarettes fill the air. After several readers go up to the podium, the owner of “The Merc” gives her poems and then tops them off with the burning of the U.S. flag. The aroma of the burnt flag fill the room.
On another night, Trini takes me to Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center and Café (www.brotherjeff.com) in the historic Five Points neighborhood of Denver at 2836 Welton St. Earlier, when I needed directions, Lalo’s granddaughter Vanessa Delgado, a journalism major and poet in her own right, gave them out. She humorously said that I didn’t want to end up in Five Points, a neighborhood with a dangerous rep. But Brother Jeff’s was far from dangerous. A venue for many African American poets, it was every few minutes that a poet would come up to Trini and welcome him. Brother Jeff’s is a place not to miss.
Trini has walked the line between Chicano and African American poets for many years. Growing up in Detroit, African Americans and Chicanos shared the same neighborhoods. In Detroit, when Trini was looking for a poets group, he found what he was looking for in a Black poet’s group. There, he came under the mentorship of Black poet Ron Allen. Recently, Trini was presented the James Ryan Morris Memorial Tombstone Award for Poetry at Denver Poets Day last August. He was also presented the 2003 Spirit of Tlatelolco Art & Culture Award by Escuela Tlatelolco, Denver.
As the new Denver metro rail passes by Brother Jeff’s, a poet just out of high school gives his verses with jazz guitar accompaniment and jazz scatting. The women poets go on an expedition of erotic poetry and every performance ends with the M.C. saying, “Can I get an affirmation?”
To be continued....
Latest news on some El Paso writers
Please check out the Victoria Advocate for an article on Dagoberto Gilb:
Also, here some more news on Octavio Solis new play:
And see this segment on Octavio Solis at Allvoices.
Out of El Paso
This past Sunday's book review was on Up Jump the Boogie by John Murrillo.Check it out.