Joaquin Zihuatanejo radiates enthusiasm. When I was introduced to him at a poetry reading two weeks ago, he looked like a kid who just got a great present. In fact, he did: Zihuatanejo won an artist residency at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, which pays for him to live in Albuquerque for a month and work on his various artistic projects. Not only did he perform the night we met, but, serendipitously, he’ll be here during the Southwest Shootout regional poetry slam (see “BANG BANG!” above.) Zihuatanejo spoke by phone about the irons he has in the fire and his plans for the slam.
Zihuatanejo says he’s wanted to write a poem for the people of Juárez for a long time. When he began doing research for it, and he came across the first descriptions of the women who were murdered, the adjectives reminded him of his own 18-year-old. “Every passage that I read, it seemed like this could be my daughter: petite, pretty, short brown hair, shoulder length, almond eyes ... it was like I was researching the death of my daughter,” he says. “I kept thinking, My God, what if that was my daughter, and how would I feel?” Another spur for Zihuatanejo was discovering that there’s a statute of limitations for murder in Chihuahua, the state Juárez sits in. “The first murders are falling off the books now. It’s like those families who’ve lost their daughters are losing them all over again. It’s like they’re vanishing into thin air.”
“Every chance I’ve been given to read, I’ve been jumping at it.”
“This is the first artist residency that I’ve ever had in my life and I’ve enjoyed every single second of it.”