This week MSU Denver and the Auraria Campus is celebrating the life of Lalo Delgado, the great Latino immigrant poet that chose to spend the final stage of his life with us, writing and reading his poetry in his unique style and walking the walk of life on the Auraria Campus and the Latino community. In a sense, the Lalo Delgado Festival in April opens the way to Cinco de Mayo in the beginning of May.
By the time I began my career in 1970, there was already a gallery of Chicano literary figures that were writing and speaking to hungry youthful audiences like myself. The frustration of being ignored or recognized only as a blemish on American history and feeling the loss of identity that could not be explained in prose led to the search for answers in the magic of poetry and magicians like Lalo Delgado.
For me, “Stupid America” (1969) for the first time explained the unexplainable, particularly to a would-be educator as it both spoke to the world and to ourselves about understanding the true intent of Chicano consciousness. The poem reads: “stupid america, see that Chicano with a big knife in his steady hand, he doesn’t want to knife you, he wants to sit on a bench and carve christ figures but you won’t let him. stupid america, hear that chicano shouting curses on the street, he is a poet without paper and pencil and since he cannot write he will explode. stupid america, remember that chicanito flunking math and english, he is the picasso of your western states, but he will die with one thousand masterpieces hanging only from his mind.”
The poem captures the sadness created by a social and cultural system that does not recognize what a Chicano can offer the world. At the same time for me, the poem explains that frustration I felt without really knowing why.
As time passed and I got to meet and spend time with Lalo, it became obvious that his inspiration came from a life experience so much like mine. Yet Lalo was Mexican in an American setting.
Although Chicano and Latino, I am an American in an American setting. Perhaps that is the reason that it has been so hard for me to find the answers Lalo Delgado so readily explained in the words of his poetry.
In this vein, “Stupid America” has taken me to look at the Mexican character in Mexico in a more critical way. Throughout all of the years I have interacted with Mexicans, I have not found the level of displacement and loss of identity that has been so characteristic of the Chicano experience.
With the benefit of hindsight, many of us can figure out what has happened in our lives and how to make changes for the better. Lalo Delgado had that vision from the beginning as he encountered it.
His love and understanding especially of his fellow Latino allowed him to help us change the world. The Lalo Delgado Festival is a fitting tribute to a great poet that made major contributions to the understanding of ourselves.
His art and the insight found in his works go a long way in helping us understand our human condition. “Stupid America” is an excellent example of how our reality can be put into words that explain the normally unexplainable.
We celebrate his work, his life and the legacy of greatness. He is among the first of Chicano artists that looked deeply into our soul.