Los Angeles’ Poet Laureate Discusses Race and Identity at Poetry Reading

  • Poel Laureate of Los Angeles Luis J. Rodriguez.

    Poet Laureate and Scholar in Residence at CSUN, Luis J. Rodriguez, reads one of his poems to those in attendance. He performed a number of different pieces, all of which touched on a plethora of different themes. Photo by David J. Hawkins.

California Student University, Northridge educates one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation. This diversity allows students to gain an insight into a world that was once previously unknown to them, and discuss many issues from around the globe. Eager to be at the forefront of these discussions, the campus was honored to welcome the 2014 Los Angeles Poet Laureate and Scholar in Residence at CSUN, Luis J. Rodriguez.

Rodriguez was introduced by the chair of the Department of Chicana/o Studies Gabriel Gutierrez, who spoke of his own personal admiration for Rodriguez’ work.

“I was in Santa Barbara at the time, and one of my friends told me about this guy down in LA who had written a book called Always Running, and that I should read it,” Gutierrez said. “I was one of the lucky ones, and was able to find a brand-new copy, and I read the first chapter and said, ‘OK, it’s pretty good.’ Then I got home that evening, and I couldn’t put the book down. In fact, I couldn’t sleep. The following day, I was riveted, because it spoke to so many themes and so many issues that we need to address in the world.”

Rodriguez proceeded to live up to this reputation, prefacing the reading by saying that he wanted the event to serve as a dialogue for the CSUN community. He delivered four poems that spoke to the aspects of people’s lives that the audience could relate to, and would inspire them to speak about their feelings. His first poem, entitled Heavy Blue Veins, was a personal story from Rodriguez’ childhood, when he would watch his aunt treat his mother for the various medical problems that plagued her life, and spoke to the ideals of roots and family.

His second poem focused on the idea of cultural acceptance, having been drawn from a dark time in Rodriguez’ life when he suffered from heroin addiction, and how he struggled to overcome the fact that he could not identify with any one particular culture. His final poems were sonnets inspired by the works of William Shakespeare. Rodriguez mentioned how he was brought to tears the first time he heard the poems, and felt compelled to write his own.

After the reading, Rodriguez changed roles from poet to moderator, and facilitated a discussion on a range of different subjects, from wealth to racial relations to modern literature. People of all ages, from students to faculty members, stepped up to voice their opinions and asked questions, listening to what Rodriguez had to say.

Teresa Ramirez, an astrophysics major and avid fan of Rodriguez’ work, spoke about how the reading had affected her and how she believed it could help the campus.

“I thought it was very beautiful,” Ramirez said. “How he talked about different races. How there are sometimes tensions between us, and how it’s really sort of false, in a way that we really shouldn’t play into. I think it can help CSUN because the school is extremely diverse, and I think with that there are some tensions, but events like these help to ease those tensions.”

After the lecture, Rodriguez further reiterated his statements about how he hopes that these kind of events can help people ignore the stereotypes about one another, and begin a discussion to prove that the lives they lead are not so different.

“I think that CSUN needs to carry the dialogue further,” Rodriguez said. “I think this is a great community, very diverse, and I think that we just need to keep dialoguing further on the issues because I’m afraid that with the media and the kind of yelling that’s coming out of the political process, we’re missing some of the salient points of who we are as a people, and as a country.”

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