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There's been a problem translating to people on this side of the border the slaughter, bloodshed, and madness wreaked by the drug cartels in Mexico.
Ruben Martinez invited other writers and performers to pondered the problem at an Echo Park performance salon a few weeks ago.The event featured music, poetry, humor, open-ended questions, and soul searching about the responsibility and task for people on this side of the border.
In a darkened Cypress Park living room on Sunday of last week UCLA graduate student Roman Lujan took on the task by translating the problem, literally. Lujan is studying literature at UCLA and he's worked extensively with Hofer, a poet, translator and self described urban cyclist and knitter. For his first poem Hofer and fellow translator Polina Vasiliev joined Lujan for a poem about interruptions.
For his second piece Lujan took out a translated poem by Mexican poet Maria Rivera. She'd read it at a Mexico City rally denouncing the drug cartel violence. Rivera's poem couldn't have had a more dramatic setting. Rivera stood in front of a microphone, surrounded by people crouching, standing, sitting, all feeling the solemnity of an anti-violence protest that had just ended. Lujan said Rivera hasn't been a very political poet. Rivera's poem conjured the dead, and named them by the act that had led to their deaths, by first name, by the torture they'd suffered before dying, and by the location where they'd been buried in clandestine graves.
Rivera read to a large crowd with the colonial palace as a backdrop. She channeled Emile Zola, Allen Ginsberg, La Llorona, and Coyolxauhqui, the dismembered Aztec moon goddess.
Roman Lujan read his English language translation of Rivera's poem in Jen Hofer's living room. She organizes a periodic literary salon with booze, baked goodies, and banter in her house on the right bank of the L.A. River. This time she hosted the Delhi-based poet Vivek Narayanan and urbanist Rashmi Sadana. In Hofer's garden Narayanan told me about the growing Kashmiri writing scene in Delhi. Many of those writers, he said, delve into their homeland's occupation by the Indian army and explore the overlap, sometimes clash, between being Muslim and Hindu. Sadana writes about how the Delhi subway is changing how the city's residents relate to each other.
The 20 or so people sitting on folding chairs in Hofer's living room squirmed as Lujan projected readily available images of cartel violence victims on a white sheet over the fireplace. For about eight minutes, in this house on the right bank of the L.A. River, people heard in English Mexico's cry of pain, helplessness, and anger. As close as Mexico is to the U.S., as much as Mexicans in this country represent a connection to the homeland, it's going to take many more translators for people in this country to stand up and say no más sangre, no more blood.