California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the Otter Cross Cultural Center (OC3) celebrated International Womxn’s Day with acclaimed poet Yesika Salgado on March 4. Salgado hosted a hands-on poetry workshop in the Student Center, before giving her keynote performance in the Black Box Cabaret.
Salgado – whose family is from El Salvador, but is Los Angeles born and raised – writes about her family, her city, her culture and her “fat brown body.”
Salgado’s poems have earned her the title of National Poetry Slam finalist in 2017 and 2018. Her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, TEDx, Univision, The Los Angeles Times and many more platforms. Salgado also writes a monthly column focused on love called Suelta for Remezcla.
Since establishing fame as a body-positive poet, Salgado has published three books: “Corazon” – addressing love, “Tesoro” – discussing how the womxn in her life survived men and the relationships, and “Hermosa” – a dedication to herself. All three works have been published through Not a Cult publishing house.
Bianca Tonantzin Zamora, coordinator for affinity groups within OC3, was especially eager for students to have the opportunity to experience Salgado’s powerful knowledge during the poetry workshop.
“I think [Salgado] works to tell the truth of her own story and that of her community,” Zamora said. “I hope students will walk away feeling that they have built some tools, but also that they leave feeling empowered.”
During the workshop, Salgado opened with her dislike for teaching structured poetry, often seen being taught in academic institutions.
“Structured poetry confines your expression,” Salgado said. “No one can tell you what a poem is, as well as what’s right or wrong.”
When writing poetry, the concentration should be working toward healing, with no repercussions. Salgado had the workshop audience begin their poems with the date, time and three facts that were true for themselves in that moment. After doing so, the next crucial step was introducing yourself to your neighbor with correct pronouns and one fact that was written. Then, the process of writing the first draft of a poem began.
“I want you to imagine that you’re in a diner, sitting in a booth, across from someone,” Salgado said. “It could be whoever you would want sitting across from you and I want you to write down one thing that is true for you, that you would want them to leave holding for you.”
After establishing the true, factual statement for the guest in the booth to hold, Salgado had the audience connect one feeling that is associated with the statement – continuing the poem’s force with two metaphorical sentences, tying together the truth and emotion. The more specific the words, the more relatable and easier it is for readers to connect.
“One poem will never tell the whole story,” Salgado said. “You can’t expect one piece of writing to house all of you, because you’re an entire universe. You can always go back and add layers, and layers.”
Concluding the workshop, audience members were given the opportunity to participate in a question and answer session with Salgado. When asked what, if any, poem was her favorite to share at readings, Salgado responded with a message importantly reminding people to stay true to themselves.
“I used to close with my poem, ‘Compilation.’ It is the last poem in Corazon. It’s a reaction to my mentor who told me to stop writing about the same things. I was pissed, but as I wrote the poem, the poem changed,” Salgado said.
“I started going down what my poetry is. I talk about my parents, bad dates, my niece, my depression, and my father’s alcoholism,” Salgado said. “In the end, all of my poems are about love, but these are the things that make me, me. Thank God I have these things to write about.”
Another student asked how it feels being part of a Latinx community that often gets overlooked and how that has influenced her writing.
“There is a lot of gatekeeping in the literary world,” Salgado said. “Because we are such a marginalized community, when someone breaks through that, folks want to support and raise that voice. I was able to break that so other people could see themselves in me.”
Third-year Myles Purnell was appreciative of CSUMB and OC3 for hosting a workshop demonstrating the importance of diversity.
“I think it’s very important to have more minority representation,” Purnell said. “The statement of the university is serving minorities. It’s great to have two minorities with intersectionality and a womxn of color sharing.”
In her keynote performance, Salgado was interactive with audience members. Students and community members rejoiced in her happiness, felt her pain, and sympathized with family experiences.
Two of her poems, “Papi in Five Parts” and “Punchline,” evoked emotions from the audience ranging from somber sadness, to bursts of laughter – sharing the hilariously relatable moments of relationships.
Salgado’s personal recounts help give a sense of identity, and sparks a belief in possibilities to marginalized communities. She inspires the public to break societal standards and to never stop fighting for what you believe in.
“I don’t move for mountains, I make mountains kneel to me,” Salgado said.