Juan Felipe Herrera can’t trace a straight path from his childhood as the son of itinerant Mexican farmhands roaming southern California to his current post as poet laureate of the United States. But he knows that it involves crossing borders and smashing through barriers, bouncing between beatnik coffee shops and academic ivory towers, and bringing disparate people together around the spoken and written word.
He recalls his childhood in fleeting images, poetic splashes on an open landscape. The small house his father built on top of a vehicle so they could move with the harvest. The joy of eating fried tortillas with brown sugar at a fiesta hidden in the mountains near Escondido. The fear caused by Border Patrol agents snatching and deporting a family in the night.
His father learning English by paying a penny per word to fellow workers. His mother, the dancer and singer, buying him magazines and books when they couldn’t afford it. The family “on the road, day and night, nonstop forever.” He wonders if he continued their late 1800’s lifestyle of picking up and doing something different whenever the spirit moved him.
“If you could do a zigzag on the wall, a thousand zigzag routes, that would be my path,” Herrera said over the phone last month. “I never knew where I was going because I never thought I could go anywhere. I was also interested in the present: writing, reading, doing art, working with poets, organizing readings. None of that adds up to a career.”
The path of the nation’s first Latino poet laureate will bring him to the campus of Notre Dame on Oct. 5 and 6 for a poetry reading, reception and visits with students.
Read the full story on nd.edu
Originally published by Evelyn Gonzalez at latinostudies.nd.edu on October 07, 2016.