I would like to offer the reader a story of a journey, namely my own journey through the words of poet Felipe H. Lopez. I trust that the reader will understand that every path is different, even if it happens to lead to the same destination, so perhaps what I say reflects only one truth. However, I want to encourage every reader to make their own determination, since, as we know, no one returns from any journey unchanged. We tend to think that only space undergoes transformations, but that idea is not entirely true. We change as well, possibly our memory deceives us, or simply, life betrays us. This is precisely what Lopez tells us in his narrative essay “Liaza chaa / I’m going home.”
Any person who travels for pleasure creates an imagery, in order to make his travels more bearable and promising. This is necessary because the traveler does not know what awaits at the destination. On the other hand, something different happens when we go back home, the place where we said our first words and learned what it is to be alive. In “Liaza chaa” we find a nostalgic voice narrating the account of a man who returns to his hometown to feel like a complete outsider. How uncanny is it to feel like a stranger in your own town? Yet, it is harder to accept that those of us who left for the US are no longer who we thought we were. “It doesn’t seem like I’m from here, but I think it is my pueblo. ‘It is my pueblo,’ I say. And I was born here, that’s where my umbilical cord is. When I lived on the other side, I wanted to go home. Now that I’m here, it is not where I grew up,” in the words of the author. And just like that, one’s spirit hangs from nothingness, a feeling much like orphanhood. The memories of a man who migrated to the US are recollections that transcend the past and the present of coming home. Those memories that construct a familiar space, the past space of yesterday, are no longer enough for a man who continuously idealized the past.
We all revile time because it’s the perfect enemy, a daring friend, stealthy double-edged dagger. As children we aspire to become adults, and when we turn old we wish we could turn back the clock. We seek answers, that is why we roam, pretending to trace our own footsteps; nonetheless, in the journey, writes Lopez: “I think – these streets, they don’t know me anymore. All the places where I left my footprints and my shadow have now been covered by cement. The places where I used to play have been buried.” So, coming home is not always easy because the intervening changes might not validate the reasons for leaving in the first place.
In Lopez’s poetry, we can view the context, the reasons why some of us migrate. In the poetic arena, we find the voice of an adolescent boy who leaves for the US in search of a better future, whole heartedly knowing that he was going after a dream, almost a myth. In “A Good Dream” the poetic voice presents the universal immigrant’s plan: “I will leave poverty behind, / I will get the good things. […] / I will earn dollars. […] / I’m going to the Other Side.” The poet’s lucid verses invoke the aura of the mythical North, the place where you make money and suffer at the same time; some call it the American dream. This hyperbolized space, constructed by those who return to Mexico (regardless if they are US citizens or not), is poeticized in “The Money Cage,” and entering the cage alluded to in this poem also means to awake in the reality of living far away from home, of being able to return but feeling obliged to stay. The paradox of the immigrant is a poem, a curse; it is, in fact, the reality of many.
It must be said that a nervous tone reigns over Felipe Lopez’s poetry, creating a sense of desperation, as if the poetic subject was racing against time. Indeed, time perturbs the poetic voice, and even sleeping turns into anguish, because life back home slips away, because the memory of the mother vanishes. This is why time is like a serpent that rattles despair in these poems.
In essence, Felipe H. Lopez’s essay and poetry are a confession, an awakening, hope, friction; words chiseled by a Zapotec man who is no longer Mexican nor an American, but a poet.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Translated by the author