Arts and Culture

Latino poets group Palabristas marks 20 years

A group gathers for a photo.
Palabristas members celebrate 20 years of representing Latino poets and writers. The group’s co-founder says Latino voices were missing from local and national events.
Courtesy Ari Vanessa

On a warm early September evening, members of Palabristas gathered at El Colegio in Minneapolis. It was a night for sharing poetry and spoken word pieces. 

Larry Lucio Jr. took his place at the mic. 

…Somos Palabristas. Word slingers, teachers. I'm a grandson of a gun. And I want to hunt down and run down corrupt preachers who leech off of our people because we will annihilate - In the name of creation  - evil. We frame words like pictures, we thunderclap like lightning and then take flight when we wrap our fingers around these mics…,

Lucio recited to the approving nods from the crowd.

Palabristas is a core group of Latino poets who meet regularly to share their life experiences through their words.

It emerged in 2002, said Lupe Castillo, the group’s co-founder. The National Poetry Slam was coming to town. And she noticed that there was a voice missing from the event.

“It became apparent and just very overt that there was not a representation of Latinx spoken word poetry and writing artists here in the Twin Cities,” Castillo said.

She began having conversations with members who were involved with the event. It led to a meeting to see if there was interest in possibly collaborating. During that meeting, they began to prepare to have a presence at the National Poetry Slam.

At the time, she said they weren’t thinking of the possibility of a group that would still be around 20 years down the road. 

“It's just like when we all came together it was like a magnet. Something was sparked well in me for certain and I've heard others share with me that in them as well. Once we came together and it was validated that it is not too much to ask, to have voices be heard, voices be witnessed, and therefore brought to the forefront,” she said.

Earlier this month, Palabristas celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Palabristas isn’t what some would consider a traditional poetry group. Some see poetry as being a formal, structured writing style, Castillo said.

“And absolutely, it can be,” she said. “And there's some beautiful, prolific poets in our universe, as we know, for me, and some of my Palabristas, it's very organic. It can be very raw, it can be very vulnerable. And as we don't fit into a box, we don't fit into one size of poetry style. We share our experiences in the way that feels right for us.” 

Palabristas does that through poetry and spoken word, in a way that touches people’s hearts, Castillo said.

The group’s members share, through their writings, their views and experiences.

Lucio has been a member of Palabrista since it began. The group taught him to see himself as part of the story, he said. It helped him share who he is and where he’s from.

“There was nobody that was like me - representing for me. Nobody there was half Mexican, half white doing spoken word, poetry; telling my story from my part of town. I'm sure they were out there, but I hadn't met them. So I thought, okay, I better step up and start representing and telling my story,” Lucio said.

The name for the group came about after a lot of talk, Castillo said. During those conversations, she said it became clear what the group wanted for people to take away from their performances. And that was their palabras – or words.

Palabristas is more than a poetry group, she said. It works to build engagement and foster understanding of the Latino community.

“For me, Palabristas is very meaningful,” Castillo said. “Because in my cultura, there's a Nahuat word for speaker of the people. And that is, ‘Tlatlani.’ And so that Tlatlani is not there to change your mind. They are there to listen to the community; and bring those messages to the leaders at that time, and even today to our leaders, here in our community.”

Vicki Adame covers Minnesota’s Latino communities for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.

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