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LASO presents “Latino Voices: A Night of Poetry”

Latino poets Elizabeth Acevedo and Carlos Andrés Goméz moved the audience to tears with poems on their Latino identities

The Latino and American Student Organization (LASO) organized a night of poetry on March 7 featuring Latino poets Elizabeth Acevedo and Carlos Andrés Goméz, in an effort to elevate the voices of people of color and increase the visibility of Latinos on AU’s campus, LASO executive board member Ariel Gomez said.

The free event, held in the SIS Abramson Family Room, attracted significant interest and all 160 tickets were claimed in a matter of days, with a number of students signing up for the waitlist.

Acevedo and Goméz said they have known each other for about 15 years and have performed together in the past. LASO executive board member Gomez said that Acevedo and Goméz are known for sharing powerful poetry about their Latino identity, their upbringings and social justice issues. Despite the serious tone of most of their poems, Acevedo and Goméz had the audience laughing and smiling in between poems and were both clearly comfortable with each other and the stage.

Before becoming a full time writer and poet, Goméz was a social worker and public school teacher. He started the night off with a few light-hearted poems before diving into his works related to gender roles, as well as his poem “What Does Hispanic Look Like?” which has garnered over 1.7 million views on Facebook.

Goméz, a Colombian-American, spoke candidly about the privilege he experiences as a white-passing Latino as well as the fears he has for how society will treat his black wife and biracial daughter.

“I have met Latinos who look like Juan Valdez and can’t speak a world of Spanish,” Goméz said in his poem “What Does Hispanic Look Like?” “Others who look like Hilary Duff with a mother who looks like Hillary Clinton that are from Paraguay and teach Spanish grammar in Puerto Rico.”

Acevedo and Goméz both told the crowd that their goal for the night was to show that Latinos are many things, believe many things, and come from many different angles. While Goméz, a white-passing Latino, and Acevedo, an Afro-Latina, come from different backgrounds, they both identify under the umbrella of Latino and use their poetry as a form of activism.

Acevedo’s parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic and she was born in New York City. Acevedo told the audience that when she was 13 she wanted to be a rapper and even made a demo tape, but in high school she got involved with the spoken word club and began writing spoken word poetry. Acevedo said that she felt ostracized in her MFA program, as she was the only student in the room who was a first-generation American, the only black student, and the only person from a big city like Harlem.

In between poems, Acevedo spoke about how as an Afro-Latina, she is often denied access to parts of her identity. Her poems “Hair” and “Afro-Latina” have received significant attention on YouTube.

“What they mean is, ‘why would you date a black man?’ What they mean is, ‘why would two oppressed people come together? It’s two times the trouble,’” Acevedo said in her poem “Hair.”

Acevedo’s commanding presence and the lyrical quality of her poetry brought some audience members to tears as she spoke about her thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and her mother’s prejudice towards Acevedo’s black partner.

“I wonder if I will be like Sean Bell’s fiancée. If like her, the night before our vows, I’ll dream of your ivory bowtie spotted with blood,” Acevedo said in her poem “Beloved, Or If You Are Murdered Tomorrow.” “When your picture appears on my TV and on my Twitter feed, will that be the only photo in our wedding album?”

The poetry night was spearheaded by sophomores Ariel Gomez, LASO’s Communications Director, and Marlin Ramos, LASO’s Member Advocacy Director. Gomez had really wanted to bring Goméz to campus and Ramos had wanted to bring Acevedo, so they decided to create one big event, and Gomez said luckily both poets were available.

Ramos said she had really wanted to host a poetry event because she had attended poetry nights on campus sponsored by Nourish AU and Speak Fresh and noticed how big the turnout was.

“Everyone can relate to poetry, so I felt that if LASO organized a poetry night, it would help to create a sense of unity,” Ramos said. “I wanted to take advantage of how poetry brings people together in order to highlight Latino experiences and what it means to be Latino.”

“[Acevedo and Goméz] aren’t the traditional advocate you’d imagine in the sense of organizing protests,” Gomez said. “But what they say in their poetry and the message they’re spreading in their poetry is about acceptance and diversity within the Latino community.”

Gomez and Ramos both said that LASO is currently in the process of rebranding. Gomez noted that last year, the club was very small and strictly cultural, and the group decided at the time that LASO would not get involved in politics. This year, the group decided to take a different direction and get more politically involved.

“You can’t really do things related to the Latino culture without talking about the politics,” Gomez said. “This year we’re more aware of our role as Latino leaders on our campus.”

Gomez said through its events, LASO hopes to showcase the intersectionality that exists in the Latino community. He said people who identify as Latino often don’t just identify as Latino and may also identify as black or part of the LGBT community or as other identities. He added that this is also the reason why LASO’s events are held in English, because there are members of their community who speak Portuguese and not Spanish or perhaps who don’t speak Spanish at all, and they don’t want to exclude anyone.

“Even in our name, people don’t realize we’re the Latino AND American Organization. Not just Latino, not just American,” Ramos said. “That’s a very intentional thing. People always mess up our name, and we’re trying to include all of you guys.”

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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