Francisco X. Alarcón, a Chicano poet and educator born in Los Angeles, has written 10 volumes of poetry, including From the Other Side of Night / Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2002). Alarcón currently teaches at the University of California at Davis, where he directs the Spanish for Native Speakers Program. Moved by student protests in Phoenix against SB 1070, he created a Facebook page called Poets Responding to SB 1070. Many of the poems from the page have been republished on La Bloga at labloga.blogspot.com.
Why did you decide to start the Facebook page?
It actually began on April 20 of this year, when I saw the demonstration in front of the Arizona State Capitol, and nine students were arrested. A friend, an ASU professor, sent me an e-mail with a link of a video that showed the protest and arrests. ... Those Latino students were sitting in front of the Capitol, very Gandhi-like in nonviolence, protesting the xenophobia of SB 1070. In response, I wrote a poem, "For the 'Capitol Nine.'" I sent it to my friend, and he sent it to the students. ... I posted it on my Facebook page, and I kept getting a lot of responses. ... Some people said to me, "Why don't you start a Facebook page?" I'm not a Facebook wiz or anything, but I thought maybe I should.
What was the initial response to the page?
It was an immediate positive response from a lot of people ... and it so happens that now we (have more than) 3,500 members. We haven't done any publicity or anything; friends invited friends.
What surprised you most?
What is interesting are the first comments regarding SB 1070. At first, we got a lot of comments from people against and in favor of SB 1070; that engaged a debate. But then I noticed that basically didn't go too far. ... Now we concentrate mostly on the poetry. We get responses about the posted poems by all kinds of writers—Latinos, of course, but also Anglo poets, African-American, Asian-American and poets from Mexico, Spain and even people from Iran and from India. That, to me, means there are a number of poets who have taken the time and are motivated to respond to this discriminatory law.
Do you know how many people check out the page?
More than 2,000 people visit every week. Each of the poems gets a lot of responses. ... It seems like people still keep sending poems, reading them and making comments about them. I have 10 or 15 poems that I have to repost today. To me, that's very interesting, and it is very engaging, and now, there are people I have met, and others I haven't, but through Facebook, we have come together.
I understand there's interest in publishing an anthology of the work.
There is. One of the first people to mention this is from Los Angeles, Michael Sedano. He's an editor of La Bloga, a blog for Latino/Chicano artists, poets and writers. The past eight weeks, we started to select poems, and every Tuesday, five to seven poems are selected and posted on La Bloga. ... Now we're hitting a critical mass of poets, so we want to do a hard copy. The University of California Press has expressed an interest, but I haven't presented them with a proposal ... but we've come to a decision that this is the next step.
Why was it important for you to respond to 1070?
Really, it goes beyond 1070 and even Arizona. Look, right now, 18 states are getting ready to pass the same kind of law. ... This is a civil-rights issue. For me personally, it's déjà vu. When the economy goes down, Latinos and recent immigrants are the ones to get blamed. My family came to the States in 1917, and they went to Texas, worked in the fields and then came to California. My grandfather was a mechanic for 12 years in a big soap factory in Los Angeles. When the big Depression came, he was let go, because he was Mexican. He could not find a job in L.A., and he had to take his family back to Mexico; my mother, who had been born and raised in L.A., ended up in a small town in Mexico. Eventually, they returned. My uncle joined the U.S. Army to serve during World War II. My grandfather never came back from Mexico with the rest of the family. His American dream had become a nightmare.