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The “white girl” in Luivette Resto

Luivette Resto is a poet whose collection, “Unfinished Poetry” (Tia Chucha Press, 2008), swirls with playful insights about what its like to be bi-cultural in a nation that lately has been frothing with xenophobia. (You can blame Lou Dobbs, in part, for that.)

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It’s beautiful writing. Here’s one of her poems, followed by a Q&A with this amazing Boricua poet.

The White Girl in Her

Because the accent does not match the skin,
all her friends think she was hatched
or fell on her head when she came off the plane.
Others say it is the white girl in her.

She is supposed to have trouble
with common American phrases,
pronounce “this” like “deece”
translate Spanish to English with ease
for the new mainlanders,
work with the underprivileged,
hate the white oppressor,
own records by Ricky Martin.

Instead the white girl
makes her listen to Tony Bennett,
dancing to whatever the radio plays.
The white girl got her into Cornell
and helped her in boarding school,
gave her knowledge of Europe,
stole her accent and
replaced it with one from the Valley.

It is the white girl that makes her that way,
the city whispers.

The girl with the curly hair and
dark circles around her eyes
stares at her friends and family
gathering around her with the Santero,
the Puerto Rican flag, César Chávez’s picture,
homemade rice and beans, and booming congas
as they await for the Latin exorcism to begin.

Q.: As a Latina who writes about issues of identity I’m sure you are often asked how you define yourself. Is this something you can easily answer or do you find that the answer continues to evolve as you do?

A: I definitely see myself like the poems I write: a work in progress. As I get older, my definition has gotten broader. For example, when I became a mother, my perspective on life completely changed. When I was editing my book, I made sure to dedicate it to my children. It is important for me to show them that art exists and thrives.

Q.: What is it like for an East Coast Latina of Puerto Rican descent writing about Latino culture in predominantly Mexican/Chicano Los Angeles?

A.: Moving to California has expanded my definition and understanding of being Latina. Living out here has made me take note of the similarities between my culture and my husband’s culture. My observations and experiences are channeled into my poetry.

Q.: For whom do you write?

A.: I must admit that sometimes I write for me. Many can agree that writing poetry is therapeutic, a way to release emotions that cannot be said aloud. The majority of the time I write because certain stories have yet to be documented.

Q.: You express a lot wide range of issues in your work. Why have you chosen poetry as a vehicle for those thoughts?

A.: I enjoy the challenge of finding the right set of words to express a series of thoughts, emotions, or observations in a compacted space. For me, poetry can be the most beautiful way to express some of the most painful yet truthful side to life.

For more on Resto, check out her blog.

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