Photo: Marilyn Anderson
Standing in the back row are Ama Luna in the multicolored dress and light blue jacket, and Roberto Martin to my left. Henry Padron is sitting in the front row, to the far left. I put on my reading glasses to appear more serious.
Sometimes humor can alleviate any nervousness or tension in an unfamiliar situation. On Saturday, June 1, 2013, I had already planned to cantor the 4 p.m. Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral, my parish in Rochester, NY. This was the same time as the dinner at the home of Henry Padron, coordinator of the Fronterizos Sin Mapa poetry exchange. Fortunately, I was still able to keep my promise of bringing appetizers to Writers and Books, where the poetry celebration was to be held.
The young man to my left with his arm around me is Roberto Martin, yet another Salvadoran poet I met that night. As I stood next to him, I pointed to my shoes. “Look! I’m cheating with heels!” I told him. “I’m not really this tall.”
I arrived at Writers and Books (W&B) at 6:15 to set out the hummus, veggie tray and cheese platter I had brought, thinking that people would want to socialize before the gathering. Many times at the Genesee Reading Series held at W&B, the advertisement says for people to arrive at 7 for a get-together before the actual poetry reading at 7:30. In my zeal, I conveniently forgot that the visiting poets and their hosts had already eaten dinner, during which time they had been able to get acquainted. They were all so quiet, and I inferred that they probably wanted to read through the material they were going to recite. To them, I must have appeared to be a social butterfly who had drunk too much Red Bull that gives you wings!
Roberto was sitting right behind me. As I addressed him in Spanish, his responses were mostly in English. I learned from him that many of the members also knew French. This was the perfect combination, since I had lived in Paris for twelve years. Secretly, I wondered, does he wish I would be quiet so he can concentrate? is my Spanish all that bad?
After Thelma (the Toronto group coordinator who goes by the nom-de-plume Ama Luna) recited her poem in Spanglish about constantly being asked where she is from, Henry called for a volunteer from the Rochester group. Here I saw a chance to connect. I immediately sprang up and paid tribute to my adoptive home, the Dominican Republic, with the song “Quisqueya la Bella” and two poems in which I expressed my choice to “become Dominican.” The final piece was enhanced by my imitation of a rooster’s crow. The ensuing laughter reassured me that everyone had forgotten my faux-pas, or perhaps they had not even noticed.
By the end of the night, Roberto was addressing me entirely in Spanish. He was the first to give me un abrazo de oso (bear hug) and even volunteered to take another picture of me crowing kikirikiii! All joking aside, he reassured me that the size of my spirit of solidarity was all that mattered.