Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Latin poet laureate in the United States to receive the Frost Medal, reads one of his poems in front of the California State Senate on July 6, 2015 (File Photo: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli )

Juan Felipe Herrerathe first Latino to be named american poetwas selected to receive the Medal Frost 2023 for its trajectory. A distinction that he said he hopes will help him in his work to recognize the important space that the Latino community occupies.

There Frost Medal is one of the oldest and most prestigious awards in American poetry, which recognizes the career and work of a living poet and is awarded annually by the Poetry Society of America (Poetry Society of America). The prize will be awarded to Herrera in March, on a date to be determined.

In an interview from his home in Fresno, California, Herrera cautioned against this recognition: “(This is for) all Latinos and Latinas who have struggled to find ways to express our thoughts, our history, our culture.”

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He thanked the Society’s Board of Directors for choosing him, because with this medal “he also recognizes the contribution of Latinos to American culture.” The 74-year-old poet considers: “Sometimes (Latinos) we are invisible.” “There are still areas where we are still not recognized or that they want to get us out of. That’s why we have to work hard to break down those walls,” he said.

The Poetry Society of America is the entity that awards the Frost Medal each year (Photo: Bill Tompkins/ Getty Images/ Michael Ochs Archives)
The Poetry Society of America is the entity that awards the Frost Medal each year (Photo: Bill Tompkins/ Getty Images/ Michael Ochs Archives)

He gives an example of the struggle that must have taken place in some states to get Chicano studies taught in schools.

Born in Fowler, a rural area in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Herrera He has captured the stories and feelings of Latinos in his work for over fifty years. Nominating him last January to receive the medal, the council said his “poems are acts of solidarity, a kind of extended family reunion, especially for Latino, Indigenous and other communities of color.”

The jury also recognized the artist’s involvement in the themes explored in his work. “His poems move as he moves, through nature, through working-class communities of color, through political protest; although it would be more accurate to say that he moves with them, for although Herrera he is an enthusiastic observer, he does not just watch”.

The work of Herrera comprises at least thirty books, including collections such as Half the world in light there 187 reasons why Mexicans can’t cross the border. He has also spent the past thirty years founding performance groups and has taught poetry, art and performance in Latino and Indigenous communities, as well as in correctional institutions.

"187 reasons why Mexicans can't cross the border" It is one of the most recognized books of the poet Juan Felipe Herrera
“187 reasons why Mexicans cannot cross the border” is one of the most recognized books by the poet Juan Felipe Herrera

He is proud of his Mexican heritage and being “nurtured” by decades of stories dating back to late 19th century Mexico, where his father was born, and early 20th century, where his mother grew up. His art is also informed by the social movements and struggle for farmworker rights that emerged in California in the 1960s. Added to this are the experiences of the following three decades in which he traveled across America. Latin, which led to the conclusion that Latinos in the United States “we are America”.

Herrera was “California Poet Laureate” from 2012 to 2015 to be immediately selected as the twenty-first “United States Poet Laureate” (2015-2017), the first Latino to achieve this distinction, which helped him to know more about what’s happening in the country’s art movement.

He assures that this appointment allowed him to consolidate his idea of ​​the ground that Latinos have gained in the art. “I’ve noticed young Latinos are very engaged in expressing our collective lives as Latinos, women, LGBTQ. They’re very loud and direct, and that’s very valuable,” he said.

However, he believes that there is still a lot to be done, particularly with regard to access to art for disadvantaged communities. “Books are very expensive,” said Herrera, elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2011. He also points to the lack of places for new Latino authors in publishers, bookstores and theaters.

"Half the world in light"by Juan Felipe Herrera is another of the relevant books of the brand new "american poet"
“Half the World in Light”, by Juan Felipe Herrera is another of the relevant books of the brand new “Poet Laureate of the United States”

He believes that Latin music has managed to overcome its obstacles to a certain extent and that is why it is presented as one of the most explored artistic options by this community.

Another of his worries is that the verses in his book 187 reasons why Mexicans can’t cross the border (1995) are still valid more than a quarter of a century after their publication.

“The reality is that we are always fleeing the migration, and worse, because they promise us something and we get into trucks and here we are deported inside the country itself”, he warns against the measures taken by the Republican governors of Texas and Florida when transporting migrants on buses to Democratic states. Despite the complicated outlook, Herrera He hopes that the situation facing the Latin American community will be discussed. “We must write about this reality, we must be a journal of life,” he concluded.

Source: EFE

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