Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Racism and the submitting Hispanic Poet

Racism and the submitting Hispanic Poet

Three years ago, when I first started submitting my poems to literary journals I came across my first challenges in the writing world.  I did not have the experience to immediately identify the reasons for some of the things that were happening, but one of these challenges was definitely making me uncomfortable and I was going to burst if I kept quiet about it.  So I wrote to these journals that had submission managers and told them that I could not submit because the managers did not have any of the US territories listed separately from the States. Every time I wanted to submit something through a submission manager, the process came to a halt as soon as the manager asked me for a "State," much like the day I went to apply for a job as an assisted-life social worker for adult Down Syndrome clients at a Philadelphia facility. 

That experience came back to me like a ferocious lion.  I spent over half an hour trying to convince a secretary that I did not have a green card because I was born an American citizen.  Puerto Rico had already been a territory of the US for over 65 years and at that time no one, on or off the island, had better proof of citizenship than our passports.  I graciously handed it over to the beautiful young lady two or three times before finding myself explaining it all over again, I was born a US citizen.  If I had a green I card, which I didn’t, I would have been more than happy to provide it as proof of my legal status on the mainland.  Now, you’ve got to remember, I had just been diagnosed bipolar, and the incident was testing my patience.  I finally asked the young woman at the reception if she had passed her history classes in high school.  My stepfather sat me down and tried very hard to clam me, he knew what was about to happen.  And he knew more about racism than I did. I was in my 30's and very raw about my knowledge of the issue, I had lived a very sheltered life up to Philadelphia.  

        Not only had I just arrived back home from Mexico, I had arrived back home emotionally ill and physically exhausted from having to work a ten hour a day schedule supervising and teaching.  I had forgotten the social mechanics of skin and speech in that brave new world.  I left the application feeling the frustration of not having myself clearly understood.  Certain I would not get that job.  But, for some reason the beautiful young woman at the reception passed on my paper work and within a couple of weeks I had a new job.  

        True, it was starting from the ground, nothing like the job I had left when I moved to Mexico.  At that job I was a special consultant hired to evaluate personnel that provided services to the adult blind community in this city, and I had an incredible salary.  But yes, I had started as a DRIVER.  I wasn't about to sit around the house until the perfect job landed on my lap.  This is me, the gay man that picked onions in the summer as a hired hand on ranches in the US to have enough money to buy a good coat to keep me warm during the winter in Mexico.  I entered that job with a ground position, driving clients to and from the facility.  By the time I left for Mexico seven years later, I was the one who decided who stayed and who was fired from that company.  I was also put on lend to a number of other facilities in the city.  Everyone knew I could walk into a facility and within an hour or two I could spot who was dragging their feet at a job.  After a couple of weeks, I had a list of all the people they needed to reevaluate.  

        Anyway, I sent, as many of these journals letters letting them know how frustrating their submissions managers were and a lot has changed.  I hardly ever have any poetry accepted in any of these places but I am not giving up and I am not using an Anglo pen name.  My name is Sergio A. Ortiz, not Sergey Oroitz or River Blue (I did think about this one once, even wrote a poem about it when the pain got too much to bare)   My name is staying.  But where were the Hispanic academics/poets before me?  Could I feel the trust they had built, the connection they had established, the bridges they had burnt?  Once I wrote to one of them about all these things and his response was: deal with it or leave.  Well, I am dealing with it.  But I am not as tall as he is, and I am not a lawyer.  If his response was a way let me know my poetry was not refined enough to merit publishing, I want him to know he should choose his publishers with greater care, because I have one of his books and it is full of errors, it is in grave need of good editing skills.  And the same happens with just about all of our diaspora.  I just hope they are helping things change for those young people currently on the path of a writing career.  Me?  I am just a big mouth with nowhere to go but up, cause I am not going to make anyone's life any easier by sitting down at the back of the bus and never uttering a word.  Me, I am almost 60 years old, I love Van Gogh and admire Pablo Casals, but I'm a little suspicious of the Pablos', the Diegos', and the Rodins' of the artistic world.

To be continued…

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