Sunday, August 02, 2009

Guest Columnist: Olga Garcia. for colored boys who speak softly

For colored boys who speak softly
I would sacrifice my tongue
Make an offering to the Gods

I first saw Yosimar Reyes perform his work at Highways in Santa Monica as part of the show 4X4: New Works by 4 Latino Artists. My two goddaughters were with me--Gladys in her early 20’s and Leonor, a teenager. Despite the fact that each of us represents a distinct generation, all three of us were enthralled with Reyes. As he casually entered the stage, he drew us in with his youthfulness, his spiked edgy hair, his openness, and the command with which he began to expel palabra and energía.

A native of Guerrero, Mexico and currently a student at Evergreen Valley Community College in San Jose, Yosimar Reyes transcends borders. He isn’t even old enough to legally buy a beer, yet he holds the title for the 2005 and 2006 South Bay Teen Grand SLAM Championship. He is also the author of the chapbook for colored boys who speak softly.

Photo: Erin Beach

Reyes’ title is a spin on Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. In the 1970’s, Shange’s unique collection brought forth a much-needed feminist black perspective. Her choreopoems also validated the experiences of poor black women generally ignored in literature. Similarly, Reyes’ collection is bringing to the stage an essential colored and queer voice.

Caged birds that sing, missing fathers, the count down of a hate crime, and queer love as an act of resistance—these are some of the motifs in Reyes’ for colored boys who speak softly. Full of raw, youthful, spoken-word vigor and vulnerability, Reyes’ poetry testifies and free-flows:

Yo soy el fuego y tierra
de mares que liberan
de muertes silenciosas

Yo soy la muerte que me deseas

I am of destruction and reparations
of freedom in cages
yo soy the bird that still sings praises
y con todas mis fuerzas
te digo que tu odio me libera
porque más que Joto enjaulado

¡Soy el poder de la Conciencia!

Reyes’ conciencia is personal and political, cultural and sexual. In his poem “Queer Aztlán” he deconstructs and reconstructs the mythical land of origins, reminding us that his village has long denied him, labeling him a “rare breed of sin.” It is the hard-shelled hypocrisy of tradition that Reyes wants to crack open and expose with his words. Interestingly, however, while he breaks with oppressive heterosexual traditions, he also adopts old motifs that have been part of that discourse, such as Aztlán. The poet has one foot in new territory and another in the old world, and he’s dancing to redefine those worlds and himself.

There is conviction and anger spewing throughout Reyes’ pages, and clearly his spoken word background has shaped his poetic style. At times, the politics of class, race, gender, and sexuality become somewhat didactic. And yes, Reyes has got a bit of a rant in him, but when least expected, this poet peels back the skin of el Joto Enjaulado and intimately reveals. He is strongest in these places where he sheds all that has been imposed, whether they are mainstream or queer-stream paradigms. In “Sometimes,” for example, he confesses his inner fears and struggles, stating that he does not know what freedom looks like:

Because just like everyone else I am a coward;
Afraid to speak,
Because I know I wouldn’t be reading this
If my mother was in front of me…

Sometimes I wish I were nothing,
Invisible like breath, like wind
Just spirit, no body, no head
Sometimes I wish I were nothing…


The fuel in Reyes’ work is Love with a capital “L.” Love of self. Love for the Black bisexual who wants to join the army to kill “the BAD people.” Love for Lawrence King, the 15-year-old gay boy who was tragically shot in Oxnard by a fellow student. In “Hate Crime,” a tribute to King, Reyes shows even his love for the perpetrators of violence and hate.

…I wonder about this boy in front of me. The one holding the gun to my head calling me names. I wonder how the world will treat him. If they will understand that it is not his fault, this is bigger than his desire to see me dead…beyond the name-calling and his shattered spirit, he is a product of…his parents.

The entire collection is a love letter to colored queer men and the extended community. This love is Reyes’ rebellion encarnado, lodged in the body, made of flesh and bone.

This is resistance

Your hand pressed upon my chest
the way your lips feel on mine

I open the doors of my body to you
No longer afraid
Of the ghosts that haunt me

This is resistance
Because brown boys are not supposed to love like this

Yet they do love like this, and Reyes wants the world to hear and know this truth. At 20, Yosimar Reyes is a raw poetic gem stone. I can’t wait to see this author evolve, for as other queer colored writers of our time (Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, John Rechy, Gil Cuadros, Luis Alfaro, and Essex Hemphill to name a few), Reyes is rupturing old literary canons, forging nuevos caminos, and shift-shaping like a two-spirited shaman inside the queer continuum. This is one young man not to be missed. Here he is sharing a little bit more about himself in his own words.


When did you begin to write?

I began documenting my thoughts in middle school because at the time I was too shy to share them with anyone. Going through old journals I get all embarrassed because I was such a tragic little kid.

What role did books play in your literary and personal development?

As I entered High School I became more aware that I was different, something that can be very dangerous in an atmosphere where individuality is not celebrated. I found comfort in books. It was around this time that I became familiar with James Baldwin. As I read Go Tell it On the Mountain somehow I felt that Baldwin had written that book for me. So I became interested in reading all the queer people of color books I could find. It was because of writers like Baldwin, Cherríe Moraga, La Gloria Anzaldúa, Nikki Giovanni and Manuel Muñoz that I began to see myself in a different light.

You’re a two-time champion of the South Bay Teen Grand SLAM (2005 & 2006). What drew you into slam poetry?

I began slamming in high school. Initially this was because my teachers thought it would be a good way for me to step out of my shell. Slam was my first introduction to the world of performance poetry. I competed in venues throughout the bay area and slowly people began connecting with my work. Pretty soon I was being featured at local poetry readings and open mics. That’s how I slowly drifted away from the world of competitive poetry to where I am now.

Your queerness is expressed in different ways in your writing. Can you comment on your queer identity in relation to your writing?

I choose to write from a queer pen because this has been the identity many have tried to make me feel ashamed of. When I write about growing up as a queer boy, I do so to spread understanding that my queerness is not a simple act of the flesh but of my spirit. My queerness is in my skin, my voice, in my touch; it is the duality of my spirit.

When someone reads or hears your work, what are you hoping they get out of it?

More than anything I want people to get a real sense of who I am and the factors that have made me such a complex being. In my writing I expose a world that has become detached from the core. My poems are attempts to find humanity within myself. That is the message I want to spread to people; we need to find the humanity within each and every one of us in order to recognize that no one is expendable.

What are you currently working on and do you have any upcoming events?

Recently, I became one of three members of LA MARICOLECTIVA: a group of Mexicano/Chicano Queer Immigrant Poets. We will be presenting our official launching in September of this year. I am really excited about this. I am also conceptualizing a poetry CD which, god willing, will come soon. For the L.A. folks, I will be performing at Tia Chucha’s in Sylmar on August 22, 2009.

To learn more about Yosimar Reyes and his work visit or For a copy of his book email him directly at


msedano said...


A stimulating column and interesting introduction to a young poet.


Melanie said...

I really like this article! I think he's a brave writer

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing Reyes's poetic prowess, now thanks to you I am looking forward to experience his talent in a poetry reading


Maylei Blackwell said...

Olga ... Your bloga made the talent in For Colored Boys who Speak Softly shout it's fierceness! I can wait to see Reyes perform again.