Alibi V.27 No.37 • Sept 13-19, 2018 

Arts Interview

“Victory of the Spirit”

A classic poem gets a theatrical treatment

Artist Patricio Tlacaelel Trujillo y Fuentes brings an epic poem to life
Artist Patricio Tlacaelel Trujillo y Fuentes brings an epic poem to life
Courtesy of Patricio Tlacaelel Trujillo y Fuentes
“And now the trumpet sounds,/ The music of the people stirs the Revolution,” begins Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez' epic poem Yo Soy Joaquin, a poem that became a touchstone of the Chicano movement of the '60s. A cry for equality, the poem also spoke to fears of assimilation and the search for identity. It spoke to many 50 years ago, and when artist Patricio Tlacaelel Trujillo y Fuentes first accessed the work as a child, his experience was no different.

Yo Soy Joaquin sang to me, it played on my heart strings and it spoke the words a 9-year-old boy didn't have,” Trujillo y Fuentes explained. “So I love it.” Trujillo y Fuentes has gained greater intimacy with the work by adapting it for the stage, a performance he will return to Albuquerque with on Sept. 13, 14 and 15, at the South Broadway Cultural Center (1025 Broadway Blvd. SE) with guest performers Jessica Helen Lopez and Mae Spotted Bear. Ahead of the event, Trujillo y Fuentes described his relationship with the singular poem, and the evolution of how he has engaged with it.

Alibi: What was your first experience of the poem?

Trujillo y Fuentes: My first experience with the poem was when I was about 9-years-old. Hearing it was cathartic because by the time I was 9 I had already experienced many of the situations the poem speaks of. … By 9 I had already experienced three years of working in the fields, picking corn, green beans, onions and other crops. It was a terrible feeling to see the farmers' kids going to piano lessons, the swimming pool or coming home with ice cream, in an air conditioned car. There I was, a child, standing under the hot son—no shade, no bathrooms—and not a glance from the farmers' kids. So hearing the poem gave me a great sense of crying out. … I have had that poem in every cell in my body, in my cell memory for about 54 years.

Artist Patricio Tlacaelel Trujillo y Fuentes brings an epic poem to life
Artist Patricio Tlacaelel Trujillo y Fuentes brings an epic poem to life
Courtesy of Patricio Tlacaelel Trujillo y Fuentes

When did you decide you wanted to adapt and perform it?

In 1981 I met Andres Valdez, a well-known political activist, and [when I] visited his office I saw a copy of … the poem laying on his desk. I picked the book up and once again my heart began beating, I almost wept as I looked at the photos that illustrated the words, all those memories came welling up and I knew that the poem needed to be revived. Shortly after that I met Rhonda Stanfield who was a high school teacher, and she invited me to do a summer youth workshop with students at Los Lunas High School. Her intent was to bring the Chicano and Mexican youth together to work on a project, as there was a divide between them. Rhonda wanted to bridge the gap and show the kids their similarities instead of their differences—[mainly] that the Mexican kids had origins in Mexico and the Chicano kids had origins on the north side of the border. … I decided to do the poem [again] in 2016 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center as a one-man show. … Little did I know, I was actually preparing to do a bigger and better show this September [and] was getting ready to make a big statement to the current administration. … While some people are marching in the streets … I, as an artist, decided to take my protest to the stage, to protest in a loving, gentle and aesthetic way.

Do you feel like you have a deeper understanding of the poem now?

Like any work that one reads or studies there will always be little nuggets of information to be discovered. Each time I rehearse and learn the words I find nuances in the delivery and I contextualize the love and the hate of the poem, the bittersweet and the joy. I love finding the emotional undercurrents and the moments of exclamation.

Did you see a need to share this work with others?

We need to re-establish a brown cultural narrative. We aren’t taught about our other forefathers—Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa (his real name, and I wish it would be used, is José Doroteo Arango Arámbula). We aren’t taught about that narrative in school; we aren’t taught that there were times when the Mexicans and the Natives sent the calvary fleeing for their lives, because it doesn’t fit the white narrative. I claim two languages, I claim two flags and I claim two political origins. Most young people and even the veteranos—the older, wiser ones—don’t know about the concept of Aztlan. … So yes, I see a desperate need to share this poem.

What do you hope people might walk away with?

I see that people will come away with a renewed appreciation and love for who they are and their roots.

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