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These poets define what love and Latinidad mean to them

Hand on a pod over a stove top
(María Jesús Contreras / For De Los)
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Love has a way of gathering humanity. When I think about what it takes to be a good global citizen, the word “love” is at the center of that tree. If our tree for love had branches, they would remind us that love has infinite arms that stretch all over the world: Love for each other, love for the land, love for our faith and our God. Love is always in the room when we choose to evolve past our fears, when we choose to lean into freedom.

This year, I have chosen to focus on how love liberates and allows us to be brave and confront our truth. For me, confronting my truth means to acknowledge that this land is the Indigenous tierra of Turtle Island, the ancestral name for what is now called North America. On that belief, we must honor all those who have been stripped of their history, their humanity and their land. And we must remember our people as both living and present, if not by embodiment, then by spirit. They are always among us, and they will always return.

De Los Latino poetry series: Love

This illustrated poetry series will feature new works by Latino poets in Los Angeles and across the U.S. Each week in February, guest editor Melania Luisa Marte and four other poets will explore the theme of love with animated illustrations by Maria Contreras.

As February is a month dedicated to love, I asked four of my favorite poets to define what love means for those with a complicated history of immigration, assimilation and survival. If we have felt the power of love, how do we challenge the present state of the world? How can we name the tenderness of longing for a more loving world and still speak of the beauty we have created in our communities? How does our survival strengthen a culture of love that colors the world awake?

This series of poems by Dhayana Alejandrina, Angélica Maria Aguilera, Elisabet Velasquez and Yaissa Jimenéz draws on the spiritual, the emotional and the vulnerable to connect us to the driving forces of adoration for who we are to ourselves and to others. Our poems are for all the lovers who want to make their way back home. A reminder that this life is a gift we all deserve.


Yaissa Jiménez

Mutual

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And every soul,
knowing well and by habit
that the cauldron could be empty
uncovered,
with the caution of the heat,
warming an awakening.
And from there everything begins to come out!
Overflowing
full of grains, seeds, fruit and meat.
Full and generous with every bite.
Fertile, pompous to the edges, the borders
and much more.

Generously
Placidly
Vividly.

Jiménez is a poet, performer, writer and first-place recipient of the 2021 Abya Yala Poetry Slam “America Cup.” Her first book, “Ritual Papaya,” is a compendium of rude, “isle?a” and syncretic poetry. Her second publication, out later this year, is a collection of stories dedicated to her neighborhood of San Lorenzo de Los Negros Mina, in the Dominican Republic. She has an MFA in Spanish creative writing from New York University.


Elisabet Velasquez

Amor De Madre

For my 11th birthday Mami took me to a second hand shop to buy a dress. I told the employee that I wanted a gown like the one Belle wears in Beauty & The Beast but better, more Puerto Rican or something. Oh, a dress to help a princess attract a prince, she said. No. I replied. She didn’t understand. I came from women who wore their lonely luxuriously. In my family, a princess was worth more than whatever man would claim to save her. We were raised in the part of Brooklyn that was more haunted forest than enchanted castle and still this woman whose only magic was prayer, kept us as alive as miracles. I couldn’t describe it but I wanted a dress as strange and bewildering as my mother’s survival. The employee brought me a dress that had a broken zipper and various oil stains. I tried it on at Mami’s insistence and her face lit up like it had never known darkness, like she too was a soiled dress, a second chance made of silk.

Velasquez is a Boricua writer from Brooklyn, now living in Jersey City. Her debut young adult novel in verse, “When We Make It,” gained wide recognition, including on the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list, as a Gotham Book Prize finalist and a 2021 Goodreads Choice Awards nominee. The New York Times named it a young adult book to watch for. When she is not writing, she is living the life she hopes to write about.


Angélica Maria Aguilera

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Burn Slowly

My love burns slowly
like Palo Santo, mole, chile poblano lingering on your taste buds
smoldering sunsets
red, orange aztec hues kissing the sun

My love burns slowly
so you should be careful how you hold me
I could embrace you so warmly
or in the eclipse of a kiss
scorch you without warning

This love is not a fairytale story
this love is an altar unfolding
a woman that romanticized her lonely
and learned solitude to be holy

In Mexico, ponen velas/candles on tombstones and ofrendas
to guide souls that
have passed away, back home

So I never wanted to be someone’s firework, that explosion
of romance they sell to us
in telenovelas and American TV

Instead let me be that unwavering light
a cathedral of stubborn embers
a subtle warmth
that reminds you,
this is home.

Aguilera is a Chicana poet and musician from the San Fernando Valley. She was a previous finalist for the National Poetry Slam and the Women of the World Poetry Slam, and has done both musical and poetic collaborations with Facebook, Puma and the USL Women’s Soccer League. She has presented her poetry and music at Harvard, Yale and TEDx. Her latest work is a Spanglish EP “Palo Santo” produced by an all-woman collective in Mexico City.


Dhayana Alejandrina

Love’s Identity

Many times I’ve been asked,
“What does love mean to me?”

Each time, the answer
rests softly within my heart,
waiting for my lips to part
and let the words unwind.

The truth about love
is not written in books;
there is no clear direction,
no safety nets.

Love is the antidote,
the sound of our loved ones’ laughter,
prayers answered by God,
forgiveness living inside our hearts.

Love is the way our mamis and abuelas
embrace us in their arms,
a warm welcome home,
a reminder that we are alive.

Love is how we journey through life,
holding hands with those in need,
gaining the clarity to see that love is liberation,
the healing for the next generation.

Love is in the voice of those
who refuse to stay quiet
when injustice is done.

True love can never be selfish,
nature teaches us that;
each season, she bears fruit
and sheds — she is reborn like a perennial act.

Love is the beginning,
the purest feeling —
love is the answer to our darkest times.

Alejandrina is a poet, community facilitator, writing mentor and author of “Agridulce: Poetry and Prose.” She began her literary journey at age 9 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, continuing it after immigrating to the United States in 2009. Her work explores the transformative power of words, delving into inner growth, culture, identity and healing. Alejandrina recently assumed the role of lead poetry and cultural collaborator for Afriqué Noire magazine and is working on her second poetry collection.


Melania Luisa Marte

we, the greatest love poem

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let this be a warning that swells.
that i, ocean, rise from exile onto
the shore that is my skin.
i have found my sacred light.

tell them the boats have been damned.
they will hear folklore hummingbirds in me.
minerals and gold inside my reefs.
i do not care to explain my briny plight.

let this be a casualty of outlandish love.
that only a doubting thomas has lost.
tell him, we drown out his fantasy of war.

our salt, a permanent stain of revolution.
resistance. tempting free things in our waters.
chaotic as it may be, we long to live and love.
may it liberate the bleeding poem in all of us.

Marte is a writer, poet and musician from New York living between the Dominican Republic and Texas. Her viral poem “Afro-Latina” has been featured on Instagram’s IGTV for National Poetry Month and has garnered more than 9 million views. Her work has been featured by Ain’t I Latina, AfroPunk, the Root, Teen Vogue, Telemundo, Refinery29 and elsewhere. “Plantains and Our Becoming” is her debut book of poems.

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