San Antonio poet Alex Salinas is motivated by his ambivalences. First, he identifies as a “non-Spanish-speaking Hispanic,” who as a child once innocently asked his dad why they shopped at the “brown people’s H-E-B.”
“‘Boy,’ my father said, ‘you are one of them,'” reads a line in Salinas’ poem 500 years of empire blood and everything’s alright. It’s one of 50 poems collected in Salinas’ new book Warbles, released in November by Hekate Publishing of Farmingville, New York.
In addition to embracing the Hispanic side of his identity, Salinas also had to embrace his identity as a poet. He had imagined himself a writer of short fiction, but poetry kept returning to his repertoire between short stories. Eventually, after a poem about his deceased Aunt Libby caught the eye of a publisher, Warbles began to take shape.
Cyra Sweet Dumitru, a former teacher and mentor, also encouraged him. “When I got into publishing short stories here and there, I had a real hard time identifying as a poet initially,” Salinas said. “But Cyra kind of talked me out of it and said ‘No, that’s who you are.”
On a back cover blurb praising Warbles, Dumitru writes of Salinas’ “unsparing eyes … compassionate heart, and deliberate, honed language.”
Those traits are present as he sometimes uses sharp language to critique the cultural stereotypes and norms of the San Antonio culture in which he grew up.
If everything’s bigger in Texas
Such as trucks,
Ted Cruz’s boogers,
And cartel communes
Couldn’t we at least have
Cracked the top 20 list
For most literate states?
Or is that dreaming too big?
The above sentiment reads in part as a poet’s lament, longing for a wider audience. The middle section of Warbles is devoted to the sometimes lonely art of poetry, which in Salinas’ hands is an unruly companion. In This poem, its stanzas are “an X-factor, a wild card, a loose cannon aimed at your head,” and potentially surveilling a reader’s innermost thoughts:
Shh … don’t move, don’t make a sound – it’s recording you.
But the real question at the heart of Warbles is whether Salinas must choose sides in terms of his Hispanic or European identities, or remain between them, like the Tex-Mex city he calls home.
“I’ve always felt in between spaces,” he said. “I’m not white, I’m not Mexican, I’m not brown, what am I exactly? And I figured out for myself that in-between-ness was my identity … being in the liminal space, as [activist scholar Gloria] Anzaldúa would say. … I felt liberated when I came to that conclusion.”
In The Great Thing About Being a Hispanic Writer, Salinas is liberated enough to poke fun at his own vanity, his ethnicity, and poetic stereotypes all in one go:
My honey wordplay
lures the chicas,
gooey corazons and all,
to my bed
They call me Don Chipotle,
whisper it in my ear
cuz I taste good,
look it too
If you knew where I came from,
you’d know nothing was harder
You might think it’s great
but only cuz I make it seem that way.