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  Carmen Tafolla
     Carmen Tafolla, born July 29, 1951, spent her childhood growing up in the Mexican-American barrios of West San Antonio in South Central Texas, where she inevitably developed her deep awareness of societal discrimination and a recognition and understanding of what life in the barrios really was, and to an extent still is, and disadvantages associated with it.

     Tafolla, an astounding poet and writer, is perhaps one of the foremost poets to come out of Texas. Her words blend in a rhythmic and lyrical form and when combined with imagination, produce the likes of a bright flourishing flower, the resilience of a finely crafted piece of art, or the glimmering radiance of a diamond in dazzling sunlight.

     As an avid reader and writer of poetry, I have never before come across such deep and magnificently written work by a Chicana writer. Her work is rich-not the way most think monetarily, but with a strong sense of heritage, love, tradition, loyalty, culture, and religion. Her poetic elegance comes from her life experiences, from the individuals she knew, and from the tension she experienced living within a multi-cultural society. This multi-cultural society gave her a platform for her writing.

     Tafolla learned from her father at an early age how exhilarating words could be, in both English and Spanish, and she uses both languages to write how she wants, and what she desires, notwithstanding criticism to craft in merely a solitary language.

     Despite experiences where others denounce her for her bilingualism, she stands proud of both her language and her ethnicity. In the poem "marked" she instructs her daughter (m'ija) to hold firmly onto her language/heritage and not let anyone "erase" it from her. Tafolla furthermore affirms in her poem never to put one's expressions to paper by means of a pencil, for by doing so, someone may well alter or modify the words. Tafolla makes it clear that those who obliterate or advocate suppression would employ pencils by writing the following stanza:

          […] Never write
          with pencil
          Write with ink
               or mud
          or berries grown in
          gardens never owned,
          or sometimes,
          if necessary,

     By "writing" (being true to yourself) in ink, mud, berries or even in your own blood you are making it known that you are satisfied with the creation, and you are not going to allow yourself to be changed, altered, misused, or even manipulated. Tafolla also affirms that you are to be proud of who you are, and what you are, regardless of the imperfections others might find. It seems as if she has a personal bond with the reader as if it this poem was written as advice to someone she is close to-m'ija (my daughter). She further personalizes it by talking about writing in blood. Families are deeply connected by blood.

     The message Tafolla is trying to personify to m'ija becomes clearer in the previous stanza:

     […] Make your mark proud
          and open,
               beauty folded into
          it's imperfection,
     Like a piece of turquoise

     Here, Tafolla emphasizes that no matter what she is proud of herself. Other critics may scrutinize her poetry as wrong, but she indisputably states that that she is brave by making her mark open regardless of the imperfections other might and will find.

     We can see that she also wants to express herself in written works devoid of the boundaries imposed as a result of the critics who typify that the solitary tolerable form is to write in a single language. She believes that multi-cultural poems surge with meaningful pleasure, and readers should let go of the idea that bilingual poems are considered to be wrong and to let civilization breathe with all the exquisiteness that every culture has to offer.

     Regardless of how society might view the work of Carmen Tafolla and others like her who write from a multicultural perspective with use of more than one language, Tafolla feels that her experiences have been advantageous: "I have always considered my life one of great fortune, and the barrio was one of those points of fortune. It was a place rich with in story and magic, warmth and wisdom." (164)

     We are fortunate that Carmen Tafolla never caved into literary critics for if she had, we would never have been afforded the beautiful works her technique brings to those of us who have taken the time to read her astonishing work.

 This material is an excerpt from an Internet article by Michael A. Loosé.  See:

© 2001 Michael A. Loosé