Lilvia Soto/Latin in America
After the Banquet… An Invitation to Aristocracy
(ed. note: The following speech by Lilvia Soto, as she writes in her prelude, was presented to a Latino audience on a U.S. college campus in 2009, but its messages apply to all humanity. We trust you’ll reflect on it as a forward-looking call to responsible global citizenship as it was meant to be for the young people to whom it was presented three years ago.)
On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of La Casa Latina: The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Hispanic Excellence, on Friday, September 25, 2009
In August 2004, I went to live in Mexico, the country of my birth. When I moved there, I was afraid. Afraid that they would say to me: “Gringa, go home.” After all, I had left when I was 15, had gone back only for short vacations, and everybody I had known while growing up had died. But, nobody asked to see my birth certificate. No one asked me to prove that I am Mexican. They welcomed me with open arms. They opened their homes, their families, and their literary circles and invited me in. Mexico has one of the busiest, most vibrant literary scenes in the world, and I have been welcomed into it.
Ragazine.C.C.: The Global On-Line Magazine of Art, Information and Entertainment — Lilvia Soto/Latin in America, "After the Banquet…" (Nov./Dec. 2014)
Response to “Crucero,” a video performance installation by Roxana Pérez-Méndez at El Corazón Cultural Center
Exile is a dream of a glorious return. Exile is a vision of revolution: Elba, not St Helena. It is an endless paradox: looking forward by always looking back. The exile is a ball hurled high into the air. - Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
From the island of your ancestors
to the city of your dreams
you travel each year,
several times a year,
once each generation.
On the deck of the New York and Porto Rico Steamship,
rocked by the waves,
through groups of happy tourists,
around lonely, silent migrants,
you weave your way,
in and out of view,
present, yet absent,
your skirt short,
your skirt long,
your blouse white,
your blouse blue,
the scarf on your head
short and black,
frayed and grey,
the shawl on your shoulders
familiar and warm,
or borrowed brand-new,
the bag on your arm
a refugee’s shapeless sac,
or a stylish weekend bag.
I see you,
They claim you are the same,
one who appears, disappears,
is barely there,
an elusive presence,
an old memory,
a longing for the past,
an embodiment of Roxana’s nostalgia
for the island,
for familia, tostones, arroz y habichuelas,
for rum and merengue,
for risas, amigos, amantes,
a mere figment,
a trick of virtual reality
superimposed on an old photo.
But I know you,
you are not a phantom,
your name changes with each trip,
your dress is different each decade,
but in each crossing,
you stand firm
in the front of the deck,
pulling the scarf around your shoulders,
looking out to the mainland,
your gaze firm on your dream,
embracing the unknown,
your corazón de mujer, constante.
Mandolin and Chocolate
When thinking of the genre itself, I came to the conclusion that all graduation speeches are just variations of the “Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten” model. You know the one I’m talking about, the one that sends you off into the world believing that everything you need for success you learn, not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but in the sand pile at Sunday school. The rules for this kind of success are as follows:
Share your toys
Don’t hit your friends
Say you’re sorry if you hurt someone
Clean up your messes
Wash your hands before dinner
Live a balanced life: work a little, learn a little, play a little, draw and paint a little, dance and sing a little every day....
¿Habla Ud. español o riqueza?
A few weeks ago, one of my first-year Spanish college students told me angrily how much she resented having to study Spanish “for all those immigrants from Latin America.” Unfortunately, she’s not alone in her resistance to learning a second language nor in her resentment of “immigrants.” American society has always been monolingual and xenophobic. That was, however, the first time I heard that resentment couched in terms of “learning as charity.”
Many people who used to believe that we were a homogeneous society are now facing, with great misgivings, the immigration of heterogeneous groups. They resent the new waves of immigrants, especially those from Asia and Latin America. Some want those new immigrants to at least integrate by forgetting their native tongue and their customs. In 1982, Senator Hayakawa founded the “English Only” movement, and his state, California, passed a law declaring English the official language. Sixteen other states, including Florida, with one of the largest Hispanic populations, have followed suit. The people who want to impose a single language talk of
national unity and wanting the speakers of other languages to be fully integrated citizens who can partake of all the opportunities this country has to offer.
Angry Beans and Butterfly Wings
“Wonderful,” “Delightful,” “Loved it,” “Want to see it again.” Those are some of the comments I have been hearing from both friends and strangers when someone mentions Like Water for Chocolate. No wonder—the dominant motifs are gastronomy and eroticism. Is there a
person in the world who doesn’t like to talk about food and sex? The Mexican movie that has been playing to full houses at the Ritz for the past eight months is based on Laura Esquivel’s novel by the same name.
Everybody who has seen the movie has laughed at the unusual effects the gourmet food produces: the acute attack of melancholy and intense longing for lost love caused by tears shed in wedding cake batter, the aphrodisiac effects of blood from Tita’s chest mixed with the roses that prick it, combined in a Pre-Hispanic delicacy—quail in rose petal sauce—and the efficacy of chilies in walnut sauce, garnished with pomegranate seeds, prepared with love.
Voices of Color
When I was invited to be the Latino voice at the Women of Color Day Awards Celebration, I felt an immediate attraction to the title of these talks: “Voices of Color.” I will try to tell you what the two elements of this synaesthesia mean to me. I come from a land of bright sun, spicy sauces, violent colors, sharp flavors, and strong women. If you have ever been to an open market in Guadalajara; if you have seen the murals of Diego Rivera, the watermelons and mad dogs of Rufino Tamayo, or the epic struggles of Pedro Coronel, then you know what color means to the Mexican. But today I want to focus on the voices. In Mexico, they vary from the shouts of the fiesta to the murmurs of the dead in Juan Rulfo’s Comala. In the rest of Latin America, they range from the exuberance of the Caribbean tones mixed with African rhythms to the Chilean softness tinged with Araucan melodies. But what happens when Colombians, Venezuelans, and...