Monday, January 02, 2006


Latino poets read from their works

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The, Mar 16, 1998 by GEORGIA PABST

"Elvis Presley Was a Chicano."

That's the title and the theme of a poem by Wisconsin Latino poet Oscar Mireles.
"Remembering back, Elvis was someone who looked like what I thought I looked like," said the bearded Mireles, recalling how he first came upon the idea for the poem in his early years. How else to explain "the jet black hair with the curl in front, which sort of reminded me of my cousin, Chuey," the poem asks. "Elvis wore tight, black pants like the ones in `West Side Story' . . ." Friday night, Mireles and two other Wisconsin Latino poets read some of their works at the United Community Center's Cafe El Sol's "Latino Poetry" night, between sets of Latin jazz by Nino Castaneda and his band. The cafe will hold Latin American "penas," or evenings featuring literature, dance and music during the dinner hour from 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays until June 19. In tracing the roots of the rock singer, Mireles discovered that Elvis "was the son of migrant parents looking for a way out of rural poverty. "Elvis joined the Army," like a lot of Chicanos, who wound up winning Purple Hearts and Silver Stars. "Elvis was a dancer, a ladies' man . . . a Latin lover . . . Elvis played the guitar like my uncle Carlos, always hitting the same four notes over and over again." But Mireles figured that it was probably Col. Tom Parker's idea to change Presley's cultural identity because of the zoot suit riots 1940s race riots in Detroit and brawls in Los Angeles, in which white GIs attacked Latinos. But in the end, Mireles comes to a different conclusion. "If Elvis really were a Chicano, he wouldn't have died alone in an empty mansion with no familia around who cared enough to cry." Mireles, a father of four, lives in Madison, where he's the principal of the Omega Alternative School. He's compiled some of his poems and those of other state Latino writers in a self-published book titled "I didn't Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin." Carmen Alicia Murguia, community relations coordinator for the YWCA of Greater Milwaukee, read poems about the identity crises of being a Mexican-American. One poem, "Border Crossing," discusses the experience many Mexicans face in crossing the border, sometimes in the trunks of cars, and needing a green card to work. Murguia faced none of those often dangerous situations. Instead, she crossed personal borders, growing "from nina to mujer" (from girl to woman). She writes about the month she spent in Mexico in 1995 and the crisis of being a Mexican-American there when it was undergoing financial and social crisis. "I thought I was going to my people's land, but they were quick to let you know you are not from there," she discovered. Daisy Cubias, a program coordinator with the Greater Milwaukee Education Trust, came to Milwaukee in 1970 from El Salvador, a country wracked for years by war, so many of her poems talk about war and freedom.

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