When searchlights flooded her childhood neighborhood, Veronica Reyes joined other kids from el barrio as they ran and hid, playing a game and yelling, “Chopper! Chopper!”
Now, decades later, Reyes, a self-described Chicana malflora poet, used this childhood dialogue to title her first poetry book, “Chopper! Chopper!” Growing up in East Los Angeles, Reyes gives voice to the LGBT, Mexican-American and immigrant communities through her writing. Reyes, a UT El Paso alumna, will read from and discuss “Chopper! Chopper!” on Oct. 12 at 12 p.m. on campus as part of the Center for Mexican American Studies PlaticArte series.
“It’s important to me to represent people whose stories aren’t necessarily expressed in our literature,” Reyes said. “I strayed toward poetry because I like capturing that voice that is both rugged but at the same time very homegrown and very barrio for me.”
Typically, the LGBT community is negatively referred to as “la joteria,” and “malflora” or “marimacha” are terms often used to refer derogatorily to lesbians. But for Reyes, using these terms means taking pride in her Chicana heritage and LGBT culture. She portrays these communities through different narratives in her poems, integrating the hardships that these groups sometimes experience.
“There’s no shame in being marimacha because I’ve seen some marimachas that are tough, hardcore women who are hard workers and care for the communities,” Reyes said. “I’m a Chicana lesbian poet [and] I think sometimes what happens is people, when they hear the word lesbian, they always think, ‘Oh, you’re just going to write about sexuality.’ But it’s more than that. It’s coupled with all your other experiences. You can’t separate it.”
Karma Chavez, associate professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, invited Reyes to speak at UT after meeting her at a symposium where both were keynote speakers on LGBT issues. Chavez said a lot of students at UT could connect to Reyes’ poetry even if they don’t identify as LGBT because they can see themselves reflected in her cultural and class background.
“I was so impressed with the quality of her poetry and the kinds of communities that it spoke to,” Chavez said. “She shows us how different it is to be a queer person in a borderlands and Chicano community compared to the kinds of coming-out stories we might hear from gay white men, for example, and it really reflects a different experience.”
After taking her first Chicana/o literature class as an undergraduate student, Reyes was left wanting more representation of her own trials in literature. So she combined her experiences, communities and identity into her first poetry book.
“I remember it being very impactful, but also recognizing, are there more stories? Where are the rest of the stories? Where are the other writers?” Reyes said. “I wanted to share other stories beyond one person’s scope, I wanted something that represented East LA.”
Elena Perez, a graduate student in the Department of Mexican American Studies, said she was amazed by the musicality of the poems in “Chopper! Chopper!” She said the poetry was lyrical and personal, and that in it she could sense a deep respect for the communities it portrays.
“I learned about her East LA, a world I’d never been to, through her eyes,” Perez said. “Poetry needs to be read out loud and it needs to be heard.”
Reyes hopes her work incites others to explore and create more Chicana/o literature.
“You need tenacity, perseverance, and you really have to love your craft and work at your craft,” Reyes said. “That’s part of being writer or a poet. Every piece has something sentimental because you put your heart into it.”
CMAS PlaticArte: Veronica Reyes
Where: 2.206 GWB
When:Wednesday Oct. 12, 12-2 p.m.