Ruth Irupe Sanabria
Hemispheric Institute
3rd Annual Encuentro Lima, Peru
Seminar Course Project
In Lieu of An Interview


Christmas 79 - I can not understand or articulate the rejection. Sucia, mala, fea, sucia, mala, fea, sucia, mala. ¡ANDÁ!…Our plane lands in Seattle. I have no words for what I feel.

Jkdfherieuriweoridwiuabwmyhv spicky spani spicky spani speake spanis spiiiic soon I find myself running, playing, Spanglishing at Jose Marti, El Centro De La Raza's day care center, where everyone is Chicana, Mejicana, Afro-Americana, Puerto Riquena, Filipina, Indigena o blanca. Pues si y yo , the only Argentina.

I am quiet and refuse to play house or drink milk. Loss is something that I can touch, feel and show, like a palm full of new earth or a tongue heavy with a new and inescapable language.

I am four. I know my name, I know I have to eat, sleep, wipe myself when I pee. I like to play, I know I must watch out for dogs and shoelaces. I know loss comes swift and unexpected. My mother, my father, my home. My grand mother, my grand father, their home/my home with them. My country, my language, my identity all of it over and over again lost. No, no. Not lost. Stolen.

My mother and I have no illusions that we are going to a brighter and better place.

Six and I don't believe or trust anyone anymore. Reagan is in power. No matter how much I am told by the few progressives that embrace us in DC that that what my mother fought for was honorable and what we endured at the hands of the Argentine government, a crime, Reagan is still in power and I internalize the wars, and the hatred against the Sandinistas, the PLO, the Cubans, the Chileans, the Black Panthers, I internalize any and all right wing propaganda. I begin to lie, this is how I hide myself.

When my mother and father are kidnapped and disappeared, I was fortunate to go live with my maternal grandparents. My uncle, 19 years old at the time becomes my best friend, my brother, just as my grandparents become my mother and father. When he kills himself, he takes me with him. I know have to find my way home. To do this I whisper secrets to myself. Every chance I get I whisper I want to go home I want to go home. At least, home.

Once upon a time, my Patria was ripped right from under my feet. Gone was my sense of entitlement to my people, my language, my land and my history. Destroyed. I grew. bad seed. a child of troublemakers . Whenever I return I am a stranger.

Here I am not welcome by virtue of where I come from. I will be perpetually rejected and hated, along with millions of others. Here loss and violence will be a regular part of silence, speech and song.

alien, foreign,
a leech, a parasite.
I am a cockroach, a taco,
burrito spicy mama
welfare mama drug dealer
Bla bla bla - I grow with eyes all over me.
My friends are getting killed. I am 12,13, 14,15,16,17,18,19,20 Violence is not a video game here.

I carry my roots like a little bag of secrets. I don't let my girlfriends come over, don't want them to see. I think everyone here is Black, White or Indian (as in Native American). Some people talk about having a little Spanish in their blood - i.e., Mexican, or Puerto Rican - but none got blood like mine. Everyone here is from Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana. I am from -can you spell it? A.r…

-So tell me baby girl, where you from?
-Mmm you Boricua huh mami?
-No? I know you ain't Dominican, maybe Cuban?
-Nu uh
-C'mon girl, stop lying…you Boricua
-Stop lying

19 and when I tell them I am from Argentina they act surprised. Some think that I am lying about where I come from as if I were ashamed of who I am. I write poems about the schizophrenia of being a Latina of a non-dominant immigrant group. My poems confront issues of poverty, violence, anti-Spanish legislation, English only legislation, violence, police brutality, prison industrial complex, violence, violence, shoot outs, drug violence, drug addiction, rape, violence, you know, things that we can relate to .I write these poems carefully so as to not reveal a certain pain that I still have no word for.

with us or against us…like the…on terror… what it means for freedom loving …evil…demons…Crusade…Argentina or USA? Is this… war, persecution, disappearances Argentina or USA?

First one, then two then any bodega in Perth Amboy, New Jersey worth its name begins to stock yerba mate. Then 4 brands of alfajores, bags of polenta and racist Blancaflor, rows of Titas and Rhodesia's. January, a new couple moves in across the street, early 20's one kid a grandma. I hear them speak: che ,vos. Before the end of winter, hundreds. Their exile and mine are cut from the same crime.

The Institute


I am the daughter of doves
That disappeared into dust

Hear my pulse whisper:

I have many friends and thirty thousand
Warrior angels to watch
Over my exiled skin.

Look what occupies the four chambers of my heart:

You will know me by this.

I am the daughter that never forgets.

I attended the 3rd Annual Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics: Globalization, Migration and the Public Space, as a poet curious about the practical relationships between poetry (spoken and written) and the public/political space, and as an activist curious about how other artist-activists throughout the Americas use their craft, i.e., their creative energy in political struggle. However, initially, I must admit that I was attracted to the conference by the possibility of connecting with members of H.I.J.O.S. .

I knew H.I.J.O.S. had been present at the conference in the years before and I hoped to initiate some working relationship with them by also participating in the conference. Unfortunately, this year their presence was slim - only one strong young woman, represented H.I.J.O.S. but she had to return to Argentina on the day after I met her. I was able to speak to her only for a few minutes in the hotel lobby before she left for the airport.

As we spoke, I realized how much of what I wanted to say to her, share with and learn from her and/or from H.I.J.O.S. came from my own deep longing to return home, to find home, to feel home, to be home. That is, to no longer be alienated, to belong historically, socially, politically, and most importantly, culturally to a "home" community . Instead of letting this be known, I held it in (for fear of scaring her with such a major rush of emotion and most importantly, to protect myself from possible rejection).

Exile is violent. Especially for children, like me, whose identities are formed since birth by their parent's participation in national political struggle and who then, as children, through exile experience the complete rejection and alienation by their nation. Unlike their/my parents who felt a deep sense of entitlement to their/my people and to their/my patria, which in return, gave birth to and fueled their participation in national political struggle, children of political exile are denied this basic sense of entitlement to participate and fully belong to their nation. While it is our/my parents who out of courage and love for their people, engaged, and risked everything, including us, their children, in a struggle for economic and social justice, it is their children/I whose birth rights are thwarted and grow feeling we are not wanted in our country, that we should stay out, that we must never return. Our parents have a different understanding of the situation because they, as adults encounter this phenomena, their identities as Argentines are already solidified. In contrast, we/I, the children in exile are foreign in a foreign land and foreign in the homeland. We/I are grow up hearing, (not from our parents and allies) from popular, official culture and media that we are products of "evil" "troublemakers" "demons" etc. Children of exile have much to recover.

Part of recovering for me has been realizing that the suffering and alienation from Argentina brought on by exile was part of a larger plan. The intention of the military was to disrupt/damage my life and the lives of children born to "subversives" in ways that would, in the case that we survive, return and speak out, make us foreign to our own people. Understanding the systemic and ongoing effects of El Processo [Argentina's brutal U.S. backed (Operation Condor) military dictatorship in the 1970's and 80's], creates a context from which to confront the hostility and guilt that we/I encounter and feel. It creates a psychological, intellectual, emotional breathing room from which I can confront my personal traumas and also do my poetry-activism, that is, analyze, expose, indict the Argentine military and it's cohorts for their crimes.

I read/performed my poetry and memories one mid-night at a Peña called La Noche. Although, I received a lot positive feedback, some confessed difficulty adjusting to the emotional vibe of my work, saying they actually were in the mood for something funny instead. Performed at 12:30 at night, after a 2 hour extremely funny intensely political cabaret "New War, New War" by Jesusa Rodriguez, and preceding a hilarious political cabaret from Puerto Rico, I can totally understand. However, I am glad that I was disruptive, that I made people switch gears, that a few people felt uncomfortable/ displeased by the intimacy and "depressing" nature of my work, that I was not funny, that I walked on stage with paper, that I told the truth.

Don't get me wrong, I have a sense of humor. But for this, I had to go to a deep place in me where I can not yet laugh.

Poetry as Performance - And the work of Guillermo Gomez Peña
I am thankful that I got an opportunity to work with Guillermo Gomez-Peña . His presence at the conference completed the circle of Latin American presence and performance. It has long been my belief that the United States is becoming another Latin American country by virtue of the economic policies they subject Latin America to in order to not become a Latin American country, in order to remain "First World". These policies, including U.S. government trained, and sponsored genocide, and complete economic and social destabilization result in millions of Latin Americans migrating to the U.S. for the purpose of survival. Supposedly Latinos are the fastest growing minority population, as if suddenly we appeared out of no where in America, 27 million of us (officially) and millions more hiding (undocumented), causing a panic and serious cultural and economic implications for both the United States and Latin America. And for us, Latina/os who are engaged in a perpetual emotionally and physically violent limbo. Gomez-Peña brought this analysis to the conference.

On Tuesday, July 9th, Gomez-Peña and Juan Ybarra performed "Etno-tecno:dioramas vivientes sobre la globalizacion mediatica". The performance consisted of each one appearing separately for a few minutes on a small stage, where, surrounded by a huge audience, they perform scenes that criticize the repression experienced by latinas/os, particularly Chicanas/os in the United States.

I was moved almost to tears when Gomez - Peña appeared in culturally schizophrenic attire (a peasant skirt, and red heals, the football (US) protective gear on his chest and shoulders) and punched himself with himself with boxing gloves - one bearing the Mexican flag, the other with the USA flag on it. Haven't I understood this and felt this all my life? This same violence and rejection, this perpetual whipping on my tongue, on my skin, in my mind, every where I turn. And like Gomez Peña , each time my motherland and foster land violently reject me, don't I get right back up and face both Patrias again, only to be knocked out again and again?

When Ybarra appeared naked on stage with tribal markings and feathers hanging from his penis and in another scene appears with a monstrous alien-like plastic penis (looked like 3 gray penises in one) attached over his and in both scenes he pokes and prods himself as if he were the subject and the object, the anthropologist and the people, the outsider/insider - I thought how the violence of racism against the Latino body dehumanizes our bodies sexually. Hence, the myth of the big dick Latin lover or the spiritual earth brown lover. Hence, the rape and sexual violence against Latinas legitimized by pop culture and enacted by sexual predators "touring" the "native" lands of "sultry" Latina America or the Barrio - Maria, Maria. Hence the violence we internalize and enact amongst ourselves as women and men.

"You cannot write lies and write good poetry. Deceit, abstraction, euphemism: any of those will doom a poem to the realm of "baffling" or "forgettable" or worse…And so, poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life. Good poems can interdict a suicide, rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter" (June Jordan Poetry for the People p 3 Routledge NY 1995)

I though of this as I watched how Gomez-Peña answered a question at the final roundtable with a poem, disrupting the "performance" of the academic-like roundtable. How I watched him do this several times throughout the conference. I am still digesting, trying to sort out, the ways poetry can disrupts even performances intended to be disruptive, and what this disruption means as an activist tool.

Poetry as Activism and Grupo Vichama "Memoria Para Los Ausentes"
When I decided to devote myself to my poetry, my grandmother, a painter, taught me that as an artist, I can and should study creative disciplines other than my preferred one, poetry. That through the study of other artistic disciplines my work would deepen. For example, by studying her paintings I learned light, perspective, depth, balance, dimension, harmony, scale etc as well as questions of political activism - how to express solidarity with a struggle that affects you directly or indirectly, how to balance indictments, ideology and craft so as to not become a political pamphlet. All things useful to my poems. So, when I attended the performances, I paid close attention to what I could take home. The performance that sticks out in my mind was "Memoria Para Los Ausentes" by Grupo Vichama. This performance by Grupo Vichama was affirming, inspirational and instructional to me as an as an artist who is concerned with political struggle and as an activist who is concerned with doing cultural work with the youth.

On Friday, July 12, we boarded the buses that nightly took us from the hotel to a see a performance. But that night the buses did not take their usual 15-20 minute ride through urban sectors of Lima to the Teatro Segura or Casa Yuyachkani. This time we rode for what seemed like 40 minutes, past all signs of urban infrastructure. Past the signs of globalization's cultural invasion on Latin America (Blockbuster, KFC, Mc Donald's, Citi-Bank etc,) to Villa San Salvador, home of Grupo Vichama, where the non-glossy effects of globalization run rampant and unmasked - no McDonalds, Blockbuster here. Here, in the outskirts of Lima, a community was created by ethnically indigenous Peruvians who descended from the homes in the mountainous regions of Peru in order to find work. Here small stands along the dusty roads sell Quinoa and other traditional foods way into the night. While I saw electricity and running water, a basic infrastructure. Poverty, hunger, and state sponsored violence was more evident. Grupo Vichama writes:

"El grupo ofrece teatro íntimamente ligado al proceso social y politíco del distrito, como modo de afirmar la identidad colectiva y tambíen como una propuesta artistíca dirigida básicamente al desarollo de la comunidad. Para el grupo el teatro es más que una ocupación, es una misión, una manera de formar parte del mundo, de defender el derecho a la creación, para que esta deje de ser un privilegio y democratizar la cultura ; una manera de transformar las relaciones humanas y contribuir al desarollo humano. Defendemos el derecho de inventar nuestros proopios sentidos a partir de nuestras propias experiencias, sentidos que intenten conectar la razón y el corazón. Un teatro que contribuya a recovered al ser humanos que estamos perdiendo". (Exerpt from the 3rd Annual Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics booklet)

So often cultural grass roots efforts in oppressed communities die out or better said, are killed by infiltration, intimidation, violence, economic hardship etc that it is truly an honor and an inspiration to see a performance by Grupo Vichama, who after 18 years of struggle, of confronting government repression (including the disappearances and killing of their performers) remain committed and deeply entrenched in their community, who still perform according to their above mentioned principles, who regenerate their revolutionary theater with new blood and ideas.

"Memoria Para Los Ausentes" was a moving indictment and recollection of the violent repression and genocide on the native people of Peru, specifically those of Villa San Salvador. Through highly skilled body work (movement), the performance fuses the collective memory of the Spanish conquest (the first major military, cultural, economic foreign invasion) with the current ongoing military violence. The piece was performed without human voice, thus forcing the audience as individuals, to construe, in silence our own words to comprehend the memories we are being confronted with. In this way we act collectively as witnesses to the violence that is being recalled, each of us carrying our own version, script or testimony of memory to the genocides.

Watching the performance, I thought of how memory lodges itself into the body. How can poetry can forgo the voice and manifest in the silent body, the cells. That night I felt grounded, brought me back to earth from the whirlwind of privilege of sleeping in a 5 star hotel, of academia, of being around big name people, of comedy. I felt grounded and brought back to reality to the daily political struggles Peru, Argentina, Palestine, the U.S. are engaged in. I thought how humor has its place, and it's audience. How true what Jesusa Rodriguez taught us in her workshop about humor's fine line, how to carefully direct humor against the oppressor, instead of the oppressed, when doing political cabaret. I also thought how amongst ourselves, those of us who share a common trauma or struggle, humor arises as survival mechanism, a form of resistance to the breaking of the spirit, hope. And as such how we keep these jokes, these laughs amongst ourselves, guarded and protected, just as we do for our most intimate tears. But how eventually, historically, as artists and as a people we get to a point where this hidden humor can come out - in mass via political cabaret, songs, satire. And we can laugh. How laughter and sorrow occupy twin space.