A theme that shaped Alejandro Jimenez’s poetry is the power of narrative. Narratives can shape how society views you, your identities and your history, by sharing your stories you can take control over your own narrative.
As an immigrant from Colima, Mexico, Jimenez spoke about how his narrative has been changed by stories not of his own and how he is taking his narrative back through poetry and storytelling. He shared his story Monday night at the UC Food Court Atrium.
Jimenez is an acclaimed poet and educator. He spoke at TEDxMileHigh this year in Denver where he performed some of his poems and discussed them. He wrote and performed a poem for Dolores Huerta, the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. Jimenez was a two-time national poetry slam semifinalist at Slam Nuba in 2012 and 2017. He was also the runner-up for the Southern Fried Poetry Slam in 2017.
Jimenez’s first poem was “Mexican Education.” He spoke of how he moved to America on Nov. 11, 1995 and how his name was changed from his birth name, Alejandro, to Alex. His poem spanned from when he arrived in America to when he started school in America in third grade to when he reached college. Throughout this timeline of events, he shares stories about the assimilation and discrimination he faced.
Jimenez also shared a poem directed towards his English as a Second Language teacher. According to Jimenez, she took some unnecessary measures to teach him English, such as making him wet his pants if he could not pronounce his request to use the bathroom correctly. The poem then goes into a thorough series of metaphors comparing the parts of his mouth to his ties to the Spanish language and Mexico. He explained why he cannot give up his accent to form the words as precisely as his ESL teacher wanted.
“As proof that I have mastered your language, I wrote you this note,” Jimenez said, ending his poem with his final request to use the bathroom in perfect form.
Jimenez then transitioned into an explanation as to why he started sharing his stories.
“I was introduced to this idea in college, that when people tell your story they won’t always get it right,” Jimenez said. “As I kept writing more and performing more and teaching students in workshops, I started digging deeper into that concept. Why are stories told the way they are?”
Jimenez said that, with the immigrant narrative being passed around due to politics, he recognized the influence of stories shaping the behavior and thoughts towards different groups of people. He combats this generalized narrative by sharing his own stories as an immigrant.
He introduced his next poem, through this lens of understanding, called, “On Why Mexicans Shouldn’t Use the N-Word.” It is in response to hearing his students say this word and why they should not say it.
His next poem, “When They Come for Me,” illustrates what it will look and feel like if Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes him away.
Jimenez said that when he was eight or nine years old his mother told him if ICE came while he was working in the fields in Oregon, he had to take to the forest and hide. He lived in Oregon as a farmhand for ten years. Eventually, received his Green Card. But as a Green Card holder, he can still be deported to Mexico.
“For Brown Boys pt. 1” and “For Brown Boys pt. 2” both centered on his experience and his message for others that share his experiences. His message in these poems are best summarized with one of the final lines in part one.
“Let us commit the most rebellious act of them all: let us love ourselves,” Jimenez said.
In fact, this reading of “For Brown Boys pt. 2” was the first time he had performed the poem in front of an audience, as opposed to in front of his living room walls. He explained this with a joke, telling the audience his walls didn’t seem to have any negative reactions.
He concluded his performance with a reading of “How the Women in My Family Dance.” The poem talks about why his family and his culture still celebrates and that the immigrant narrative and the Mexican narrative is not all tragedy. Jimenez said this poem is his favorite one because it is one of his few happy ones.
A line stood out to a group of students in the back of the room in this last poem, as they laughed when he said it and Jimenez smiled back at them. It was about how his mother danced so hard that she fell. One of the students, Gisela Cardenas, a senior double majoring in Mexican American studies and psychology, asked Jimenez about it in his Q&A afterwards.
“The fact that he brought in that she dusted herself off, that was a sign to me that it was more likely in the farm,” Cardenas said. “You can spray down the soil and it softens it, so it doesn’t powder up. After a while, when people start dancing too much, it kind of starts lifting up either way… So it is just interesting to me like if she fell and still had to wipe herself off, it just put that picture in my head of just being in a farm and dancing.”
According to Jimenez, the line was inspired by a number of times he has seen his mother dancing, to which he combined to create this imagery. The poetry session ended with a request for a poem of his in Spanish, which he performed.