“There is a howl that starts in my stomach, and I feel
my body go feral in the Southern summer humidity, the kind
that drowns civility in favor of bare feet running, and
darling, yes, let’s run. We’ll cross state lines on nothing
but adrenaline and Fireball, kiss me cinnamon burn.
When it grows dark out, we’ll follow moonpaths
across rivers, let our feet slip through mud, and finally
breathe rainwater clean.” (Run Away With Me)
For those who migrate to new territories, it becomes increasingly important to reconnect with cultural roots, especially if they feel isolated.
An article on BMC Public Health explains the importance of cultural connection:
“A positive cultural identity can provide an individual with a sense of belonging, purpose, social support & self-worth. This process may occur through an attachment to a cultural group whereby belief systems, values, obligations, and practices are shared and reinforced by in-group members. The potential health benefits of sustaining a strong cultural identity and/or participating in cultural activities have been documented in prior research with Indigenous and other non-white samples in Western settings. For example, possessing a strong cultural identity has been found to promote resilience, enhance self-esteem, engender prosocial coping styles, and has served as a protective mechanism against mental health symptoms. Moreover, cultural identity may buffer discrimination-induced distress.”
I discussed this with writer and poet Suzi F. García, and her experience with learning how to cope with such feelings of disconnection may help others. We also discussed her work and her recent guest editorship for Poetry Magazine.
Suzi grew up in Arkansas, in a community where the only other Latine people she knew were her father and siblings. Despite being disconnected from her cultural heritage, Suzi flourished through writing and poetry and has since become a published poet with an MFA in creative writing. Suzi is also an executive editor at Noemi Press and a poetry editor for Haymarket Books. She is also the online editor for Michigan Quarterly Review.
Suzi’s father, who is from Peru, moved to California temporarily until he relocated with his family to Arkansas in the ‘90s. This is where Suzi grew up until she moved to Indiana for graduate school.
“It was a very interesting place to grow up in the ’90s being Latino,” she tells me. “In Little Rock, you’ll see more Latinx populations and in Northern Arkansas but you know it’s very, very different now. It was so exciting to see how different the population is changing. There’s a Mexican consulate now in Little Rock, so that’s really cool and so different than how I grew up, where the only Latinos I knew were my siblings and my father, and what that’s like to kind of feel super isolated and just disconnected at times from your own culture. But it’s so different there now. We just live in a much more international world now, so it’s a lot easier to connect and a lot less isolated.”
Suzi would end up spending time in Peru and thinking about “going backward” in the sense of being able to reconnect to her roots. She explains that this doesn’t just happen once—it’s a vital component of her life.
“I think that reconnecting to your roots and actually feeling the need to reconnect is not something that kind of just happens once. I think that in all the different times of our lives we have different moments that make us remember to go backward, to solidify ourselves and what brought us here,” she says. “So I think moving to the Midwest was hard for me because I grew up not being around many people of color. And there are lots of amazing people of color in the Midwest, but particularly in Ann Arbor. It was not the most diverse, and that was really hard for me to not be around people of color.
“Chicago is actually a saving grace because I had the ability to go up to Chicago,” she continues. “I went to grad school in Indiana and South Bend, and the train was only two hours from there, so coming up to Pilsen and spending time in Chicago was really what helped me flourish in the Midwest. And, even though I’m not Mexican and there’s a huge Mexican population, the connections to similarities, to ideas, and being around people that could experience something like some of the things that I experienced growing up was really, really awesome and definitely pushed my poetry, as well as myself as a person.”
For Suzi, writing became an important part of her creative life, but she also refers to editing as a source of joy.
“Writing is my main thing but editing is the other part of that,” she explains. “I think a lot of people don’t see that as a creative endeavor, but it really can be because we’re looking at art and we’re saying, what are the possibilities for this art? How can we make what the artist wants the most crystal-clear?“
She was able to dig into this side of her work when she was invited to be a guest editor at Poetry Magazine. Suzi explains that when the editor of the magazine sat her down and told her it was about her vision and what she wanted, she felt a little overwhelmed.
“So they helped me figure out what was important to me, what was doable, because that’s also part of it. But they channeled everything. They were like, ‘Do you have an idea? Let’s see how we can make this work, and if it doesn’t work, let’s find a way to make it work in the future.’ “
Part of the editorship also included translating the work into Spanish, something she was excited about but worried about too, as she isn’t someone who writes in español often.
“To see these conversations about other people coming into the language, accepting it, knowing that they’re their version of the language is good enough, feeling that what they say matters, was really cool and very eye-opening,” she recalls. “I feel like I learned a lot during this project.”
Suzi also speaks about cartoneras, which is an Argentine-style of publishing, and shared advice for new writers.
For more information about Suzi, her poetry, and writing, visit suzifgarcia.com.
Featured image: Peruvian-American poet Suzi F. García