Thursday, October 07, 2010

Hanging out with Mr. Raza and Trinidad Sanchez, Jr.

Nearly 60% of the students I see everyday are either Chicano, Latino, and or Mexicano. The hallways are filled with young beautiful brown faces; a number of which have found their way (in one form or another) into my office for a conversation. The first thing they notice is the collection of Homies standing at attention along the length of my window seal; it never fails that a day or two later one of these cherubs adds a cholo to the familia. These interactions are by far the most enlightening moments of my day as they lead to the stories dangling in the wake of their footsteps. Sometimes their stories are happy, sometimes their stories are sad and sometimes their stories are heartbreaking.

Just below the one inch figurines of Mr. Raza, P. Rico and the Chicana holding the Chicana Power marching sign, rests a stack of libros. Of the pile of books, Why Am I So Brown? has been the most loved. God made you brown, mi'ja, / color bronce - color of your raza, your people, writes Sanchez. Connecting you to your raices, your roots / your story/historia / as you begin moving towards your future. The instant I read the (above) second verse of the title poem, I fell in love with Trinidad Sanchez Jr.'s book.

Throughout my years as librarian, teacher, and now administrator, Why Am I So Brown?, has ignited many a student's ganas to read about their cultura. This collection of 72 poemas has become their Ultima and their Mango Street. There barrios may not be identical to those of the past, "pero de tal padre, tal hijo." Students find that Sanchez does a wonderful job when answering their questions about identity.

In the good-humored poem, Who Am I?, Sanchez conveys the message both literally and figuratively as he writes, You would do well to teach / your mexican sandwich español / pa'que no pierde su identidad. If there is one negative in having discovered this classic of Chicano poetry, it is that I never had the pleasure of reading it as a teenager. Wow! that would have been inspiring.

Why Am I So Brown? by Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. March/Abrazo Press, 1991. (still in print)

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