Literary Riot: To Be American, But Not Viewed as American

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In collaboration with Get LitGet Lit – Words Ignite unites classic and spoken word poetry to empower youth and inspire communities. By engaging youth in literature in and after school, Get Lit allows teens to become engaged in their own futures and unearth their potential. "Claim your poem, claim your life.”


"Legal Alien" by Pat Mora

Joel Lopez
Camino Nuevo Charter Academy Dalzell Lance Campus, 17 years old

Why did you choose your classic poem?
I chose the classic poem “Legal Alien” by Pat Mora because it has to do a lot with duality. As an American who was raised as a Latino, it really resonated with me. Growing up, I suffered from an identity crisis because I was American but not seen as American. When I visit my parents country, El Salvador, they will not look at me as one of them because I was born here. Yet, when I am here in L.A., some people will ask me “Oh! Where did you learn your English? When did you immigrate here?” I tell them "No! I was born right here, in L.A."

What inspired your response poem?
My response poem was inspired by a poem called “I am Joaquin”.  It really addressed the same issues that I was going through, where people would look at him as both Hispanic and American and he didn’t know where he fit in. I have been wanting to write this poem for some time but I didn’t have the inspiration till this year when I saw Trump supporters ridiculing Hispanics and pushing for a wall to be built. I feel like my poem can be a voice for everyone to say “We’re here! We were born here just like you and we’re here to stay. We are not going anywhere. You should get used to it.”

How has the Get Lit program helped you find that voice to be able to express yourself so articulately in two different languages?
I first heard of the Get Lit program when I was in my Junior year of high school and it really helped me because throughout my whole life, I have had this voice inside of me that I really wanted to share. But, growing up as a Hispanic male in a Latino family, we were raised to be very tough and do stereotypical jobs such as be your father’s assistant in his muffler shop. Still, I had this voice inside of me that really wanted to shout and when my teachers, Kurt Ikeda and Ms. Laura Farrell introduced me to the program, I thought Get Lit was for me. When I joined, the program really helped me find and perfect that voice while allowing me to become the person I wanted to be. Up until that point, I just told people what they wanted to hear but Get Lit pushed me to express my true voice.

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As a young Hispanic male, do you feel that the Get Lit program has helped you make your voice be heard?
Get Lit has really helped me be recognized by adults. First of all, Get Lit never really looked at me as a child, they looked at me as a voice and as a person who had something to say. And when I joined Get Lit, I noticed that everyone had a voice that they wanted to share. I feel like Get Lit really helped me be who I am. If I’m a kid, I’m a kid, and I am going to speak my kid thoughts. I shouldn’t have to hide who I am. I should embrace it. I feel like that’s what makes Get Lit powerful because you have these teens with these rebellious voices in our heads. However, Get Lit channels all that rebelliousness into positive and powerful words. Poetry has no borders and can reach anyone, no matter your ethnicity. For example, while my poem is about Hispanics struggling in America, it can also touch other ethnicities as well and if it reached you, then it was meant for you. That’s what poetry is about.

Do you feel like the Get Lit program and poetry as a whole helps you break down stereotypes and barriers?
Get Lit and poetry definitely helped break down these stereotypes because it’s like a one on one with the poet. You get a peek inside his or her brain and see what they have gone through. I feel like that’s what the problems are in this nation. We don’t look at each other through what we are trying to say. We look at what we want to see and what other people tell us to see. But the Get Lit program and poetry shows us what we need to see by attacking the stereotypes that were implemented on us and bringing light to what the reality is.

You have been able to express yourself through poetry. How have you perhaps been able to pass on that empowerment to your peers, classmates, and friends?
In my first Get Lit poetry team, there were about five of us including myself. I felt like people didn’t really join because poetry doesn’t seem really appealing at first. But once my team and I started speaking out, I felt like it really spoke to others because the next year we had a lot more team members. I feel like when you see a good poet, you think “I want to be like them. I want to shout. I want to say what he’s trying to say but I want to say my words as well.” and I felt like that’s what we did for our peers this last year. After watching us, they were inspired to find their own voices. However, I am not trying to make them be like me. I want to inspire them to be themselves because that’s what people want to hear. They want to hear you. They don’t want to hear anyone else. And by being yourself, you may help them see who they are.

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