Jimmy Santiago Baca… writer, poet and a real human being
David Alberto Muñoz
We have been doing this event for the last 12 years. Every time we have managed to bring an important personality from the Chicano culture and also from the Hispanic culture. This year is no exception. However, I would like to say a few words about what this event means not only to me but to a whole lot of people that work every year to make the event possible. I cannot begin my speech without recognizing the tremendous amount of work that my wife Mireya and my daughter Mirita have done for the pass 12 years. It sounds very easy to say it, but more than a decade ago we have been getting together to show our literature and to celebrate one of our own who has made it to in the literary world. I also need to say thank you, to a man I have known for more than 20 years. Dr. Manuel de Jesús Hernández, el Profe, a veces le hablo de tú, a veces de usted. But without his support this event could not have been what it is today. And there are many of you who have been here all these 12 years, and we have seen a lot of people go by, and realized that the Mexican-American culture, the Chicano culture, the Mexican culture, the Hispanic culture is alive and well in this part of the Southwest. And in the midst of a very angry community who is yelling: “Out with the immigrants”, we have managed to see ourselves going by not only working hard, but by creating literature, a voice that somehow certain people do not want us to use. But with the help of individuals like Miguel Méndez, descanse en paz, Luis Valdés, Sandra Cisneros, Laura Esquivel, and today, Jimmy Santiago Baca, we can continue and we will continue until there is not more air inside our lungs.
Tonight, we give tribute to a truly amazing individual. Every time I stand here taking about our guest, I try to speak and tell you how these writers has influenced me in my life as a human, as a writer and as plain observant of the complex human experience. And I need to share with you that tonight Jimmy Santiago Baca, came in with a force that I could not have imagined. I am not talking only about the voice, the strength, the subject matters of his poetry and writing. But also, I am talking about his personal experiences in this planet. How he was abandoned by his parents, how he was turned into a street boy, who only needed a dictionary, paper and a pencil, to star his amazing climb into the spotlight. When I first learned that he taught himself to read with the help of a dictionary I became numb. In my limited imagination, I could not conceive even the possibility of this story being true. But in spite my stubbornness, Jimmy Santiago Baca, was able not only to become a free man, but a voice that was given to a number of individuals who did not have any voice at all.
Jimmy, what has impressed me the most about your work, is your honesty. You don’t mess around with letters and beautiful metaphors, to illustrate a point. You do present ideas in very clear and sometimes rough way. Why? We must ask… because life is just the way it is. We cannot change it. We could change our behavior in order to be at peace with the laws of the land, but through your writings one recognizes the difficulties in life, but at the same time your letters shined with hope.
In your book A Place to Stand, a character by the name of Chelo, tells you the following:
"They want to make me forget who I am, the beauty of my people and my heritage, but to do it they got to peel my skin off. And if they ever do that, they'll kill me doing it----and that's good, because once they make you forget the language and the history, they've killed you anyway. I'm alive and free, no matter how many bars they put me behind."
This is a believe your narrative Jimmy. As a minority group, we Hispanics, Chicanos, Latinos, whatever name you want to have for us, we have been under attack for the last 200 years, from the culture in power, within main stream society. And you are proof, that they have not manage to destroy our gente. Gracias a los dioses del maíz, we still have our language ¿qué no? We still share our history, and just like in the case with Chelo, we are still alive, you are still alive, and we are all expressing a voice that has to be express.
¡Con el debido respeto, pero chingada madre!
You came to show the entire Chicano community, that even in jail, they cannot take away who we are.
It is a privilege for me, to introduce tonight, a man, a writer, a Chicano, and I am hoping in the future to call him my friend. Damas y caballeros, con ustedes Jimmy Santiago Baca.
© David Alberto Muñoz
David Alberto Muñoz
Se autodefine como un cuentero, a quién le gusta reflejar "la compleja experiencia humana". Viaja entre 3 culturas, la mexicana, la chicana y la gringa. Es profesor de filosofía y estudios religiosos en Chandler-Gilbert-Community College, institución de estudios superiores.