Introduction to Immigrant Poetry, By: Danney Salvatierra
Immigrant poetry did not happen overnight. Like any creative idea, it took some time for it to come to life. When I arrived to this country as a teenager from my native country, Peru, I didn’t understand the sacrifices my parents had to make for me to have a better life. As a result, I acted out in high school. My way to cope with the emotions I felt at the time was to journal. I started writing because it gave me a way to escape reality.
At 19, while attending Miami Dade College (MDC), I worked at the school’s library. I was in charge of organizing the books and helping students find them. I did much of this, but most of the time, I found myself reading poetry for hours while waiting for the next student to help out. I day dreamed with Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca. I fell in love with Shakespeare’s “A Lover's Complaint,” and smiled in absolute awe while reading Whitman. My time to read poetry was my time to get lost in time. Around this time, I started to experiment with writing poetry. My English wasn’t the best (I still don’t think it is) so most of my poetry was in Spanish.
When I started my law school journey, I didn’t have much time to write poetry. My writing consisted of legal rules, principles, and structure. My creativity was shut down for so long that one day, while sitting in class, instead of writing the class notes, I started typing a poem inspired by the story of this couple I had met while working on their immigration case through my law school’s asylum clinic. They had just received asylum. I was so moved by their story and happy for their success, I wrote a poem celebrating their new beginning. That is when it hit me. Why aren’t we writing more about these stories? Society is so preoccupied with political drama, what is new to buy, and what is too old to even care about. What about these stories? Do they ever go out of style? Do people want to know more about the people they are so furiously defending in front of a TV? Do people truly understand what it is to be us?
Poetry is a good way to connect with other people because feelings are universal. The feeling of loss can connect every single human being in this world. This is when I decided I had to write creatively again. I had to write these, sometimes messy, yet significant lines, to tell the stories I so desperately want to tell.
I have always worn this mask of happiness and positivity, but underneath all of that, there is a girl who has gone through a lot of pain from a very young age. From the separation from my mother when she decided to migrate to the U.S. to the gut-wrenching goodbye to my entire family and friends at the age of 13. Arriving to a country where I knew absolutely nothing. I didn’t understand the streets, the signs, the bus stops, the language, the culture, and the traditions. To feeling undocumented, lost, and helpless. It was just a big blur to me, and for a very long time, I felt angry. I resented my parents for doing that to me. “Why did you bring me here?” I probably asked them that question 100+ times. The truth is, I didn’t understand.
Now I do. There are a lot of mixed emotions reflected in the immigrant story. In one hand, you feel gratitude. “Here comes safety!” Why shouldn’t I be grateful to be safe and be free? In the other hand, you feel emptiness. I miss my land. I miss the friends I grew up with. I miss the culture that made me, me.
In the quest for a better life, much is lost. I think that is what makes the immigrant story worth telling. That is what makes the immigrant story worth writing about.
I welcome you to read @immigranpoetry
Note: Danney collaborates with artist Katt Naz @kattnaz who makes the illustrations for each poem. Danney has been working as a staff attorney for a human rights agency for the past year and a half. She also mentors pre law students who need help navigating the law school application process. You can check out her IG account @danneygabriela and her personal website www.danneysalvatierra.com