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Posted: 2012-02-29
Categories: Projekt NewSpeak

The Mexi-Asian Perspective: A Latino’s Guide to All Things Latin, Asian, or Both

by David A. Romero

Many vie for the title of hardest working poet (or poets) in Los Angeles. Many claim the title of hardest working poet (or poets) in Los Angeles.  Every year sees the rise and fall of new venues and new, hungry artists making the rounds to fill them with their passion and drive.

For the past two years, for anyone with both functioning eyes and ears, the answer to which poets were dominating LA with their omnipresence was obvious: forWord.

This four member Asian Pacific American poetry collective could be seen from Hollywood to the Inland Empire, from Long Beach to Downtown Los Angeles and everywhere inbetween. Never before had a collective so effortlessly maintained features with open mic performances, group pieces with solo readings; managing to do all of it while loved by everyone they came across.

forWord members Eddy Gana Jr., Stephanie Sajor, Mark Maza and Susan Diep kicked off this year by performing at the 27th Annual Asian Pacific American Awareness Conference at their UC Irvine.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with forWord after the conference and witnessing their fun group dynamic in action. We had a chance to discuss their newest release, the chapbook Feel What We’re Saying.

How and when did you four poets decide to form the poetry super group forWord?

fW: We all met through Uncultivated Rabbits, the one and only spoken word organization at UC Irvine.  After we graduated, we had to leave the rabbit hole and were off to find jobs. Our motivation to write and develop new pieces dwindled.  Uncultivated Rabbits was where we consistently had the time and space to write. Being surrounded by people that loved poetry helped facilitate that creativity, so when that was gone, the wheels in our brains became rusty.

After not seeing each other for a few months, we decided to catch up at The Cheescake Factory in Anaheim. We were talking about where we were in our lives and it turned out that all of us had not been writing consistently since we graduated. Someone brought up the idea that maybe we should meet up and write together. When we did, we were working out the kinks of what this meant, whether it would be like an organization like Uncultivated Rabbits or something casual. We set a date to meet up at Eddy and Stephanie’s apartment and did some writing exercises. Once those gears started turning, the idea of actually becoming a group started to settle in our minds.

We went through a whole naming processing. For two weeks we were known as Blind Spot Poets (BSP) with the catchphrase, “You didn’t see it coming.” Mark was inspired to form a catchphrase because of Uncultivated Rabbits’s “REPRODUCE!”. But Eddy did not sit well with BSP so we went back to the drawing board. Eddy suggested UpWord, an idea he had for a possible youth group. It didn’t feel quite right and Susan suggested forWord, playing off Eddy’s idea of moving in a positive direction and there being four of us. An array of meanings and inside jokes sprung from the name so it clicked for everyone right away.
 
Your chapbook Feel What We’re Saying contains two group pieces, “Writer’s Block” and “Reflections Through a Two-Way Mirror.” What are some of the differences in writing as a collective as opposed to writing as individuals?

Eddy: For me, I feel more conscious of my writing because of having to deal with your own consciousness as well as needing to be open to criticism from the group. It pushed us to develop our writing.

Susan: It also made us more consciously aware of the things we were saying.

Mark: If you’re writing individually, you are your only critic, you don’t have 3 other sets of ears listening.

Eddy: When you write in a group and share, you have to learn how to switch gears depending on the ideas that work.

Steph: And switch points of views too.

Eddy: It’s like running by yourself versus running with a group of people… it’s about keeping pace versus going at your own pace.

What is your process from idea to finished poem?

 fW: Every group piece has a different process. Before we decide on a piece and a theme, we brainstorm ideas. The way we decide which idea is the best to go with is to pick an idea and do a quick free write… like 5 or 10 minutes. After the quick write, we get back together and share our ideas and listen to similarities running through pieces or pick and choose idea/lines/concepts that seem to work well with the overall poem.

We came up with the idea of “Writer’s Block” for our first piece because that was what we were dealing with at the time. Since it was the first piece and we were not sure how to approach writing as a collective, we decided to pass around a paper and write a couple lines, each line following the previous person’s idea. At some point, the writing exercise sounded like it had potential to be a piece and we went with that. This involved a lot of editing and consciously thinking about how to find an ending that would work as a collective piece. It took roughly three days. One to brainstorm and start to write, another to finish writing the ending, and the last was to edit. The ending took the longest because we had to come together and decide on what would work and translate to coordination as a group.

The way we came to “Reflections Through a Two Way Mirror” is that Susan suggested a nature versus nurture idea, to write from these two different perspectives. The purpose was to challenge ourselves in the way that we approached writing. This proved to be a challenge indeed because it was an intriguing concept that was not readily accepted right away. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we went with it to see where it would go. We broke up into two groups, a nature and nurture group: The idea was to explore the mind of a serial killer. Essentially, section two was written by two members and section three was written by the other two members. As a whole, we collectively worked on putting together the introduction, ending, and editing to make it more cohesive. The piece involved some research as well. Because of the complexity of the piece, controversy of the subject matter, and our availability, it took us about three months to “finish it,” but you know how poems are never really finished. That’s another story.

Poems like “Everybody Wants to be an Activist” by Gana and “Take Back the Night” by Diep express a deep political consciousness. What issues inspire you the most today? What were some of the issues that first opened your eyes to politics?

Susan: “Take Back the Night” is actually a piece I wrote in college for an event that we were invited to perform at as Uncultivated Rabbits back at UCI. And at the time, a lot of my writing was in accordance with themes of certain events we were invited to; it was the challenge of writing a new piece. I’d try to find an aspect in the theme and try to connect  or relate in some way. Being involved in Rabbits and performing at events like such, definitely raised my consciousness about these political issues and forced me to think about the world in a way I wasn’t used to thinking. I feel like since college, I’ve been steadily building upon this political consciousness. There are so many issues in the world but as a somewhat recent college graduate and person of the much bigger world I feel like I’m really starting to explore this Asian American/Vietnamese American identity a little more through writing.

Eddy: I do my best to stay as informed as possible and although there are many issues of injustice, the one that inspires me the most today is the fact that there are still Filipino-American WWII veterans who have been denied their share of benefits. I do not know of any relatives who fought in the war, but the faces of the veterans remind me of my grandfathers’ and how they made sacrifices and braved through storms to ensure grandchildren, like me, would have a better life. They deserve more than a simple letter congratulating them for their services.

Some of the issues that first opened my eyes to politics were the increased tuition and budget cuts that occurred, and are still occurring, at my alma mater, UC Irvine, and many other universities across the nation. These issues inspired “Everybody Wants to be an Activist.” While I had friends who demonstrated their commitment on the field, l saw other students who claimed to be down for the cause, but their actions, or lack thereof, showed otherwise. I felt a need to call them out because if I learned anything, it was that taking action is crucial. I’m not saying for everyone to be at the frontlines, but if you want the movement to move, then follow through, lead by example, and be there.

“Movement” by Diep and “Untitled” by Maza both address Hip Hop, taking it back to its five elements. Where do you see Hip Hop going? Will Spoken Word have any influence on this direction?

Mark:  Man, that’s really hard to answer simply because hip hop’s a trend setter so it’s hard to really say where it’ll go next.  It may just do something totally different than what you expect.  I would like to see Hip Hop showcase more international talent.  There are some ill beatmakers/producers in Japan that masterfully fuse the sounds of Jazz and Hip Hop and there are emcees all over the world that just go hard.  What would be really crazy is to hear like a french rapper spitting to a beat produced by a Japanese DJ on an American radio station.  Woo, that’d really show how global Hip Hop has become.

I feel like spoken word has always had some influence on hip hop.  In a way, they kinda go hand in hand.  If we think of spoken word, we think about self-expression, staying true to your beliefs and who you are and where you come from, we think about lyricism or being wordsmiths.  And that’s why we show love and respect for those that go up on stage and are just honest and “real’.  We connect to that more.  When we think about Hip Hop, we think about the same things, particularly when it comes to the emcee.  Both communities even recognize and cite The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and others as the main influences or forefathers of their respective art forms.

Susan: I definitely agree with everything Mark says about hip hop expanding and growing.  As for spoken word… I also agree that in a lot of ways they go hand in hand. I know a lot of people who have gone from spoken word into hip hop and, I am biased, but the work that I’ve heard from these folks have touched upon a much deeper sense of identity and view of the world so… yea. It’s already affecting hip hop and I imagine it’s going to keep raising people’s level of consciousness when it comes to lyricism.

In “Chalk Days,” Sajor poignantly tackles the themes of childhood and nostalgia. Why do so many poets evoke these memories of younger days? What is the importance of remembering these earlier moments?

Steph: As we get older I think we try to understand who we have become by taking a look at what we’ve done in the past. After all, our experiences shape who we are today. “Chalk Days” is essentially representing that part of me that is looking back and interpreting how those childhood events have influenced who I am now. To put it bluntly, it’s all my feelings splattered out onto a page.

I also think so many people write about these childhood memories because they’re so accessible — we write about the familiar, about what we know. As I mention in the poem, when we think about childhood, we initially remember the “good times”… and we like to revisit those happy memories because of the fuzzy feelings they evoke, especially in relation to pop culture. Pokemon! Hey Arnold! Power Rangers! See? Fuzzy feelings.

You guys travel to a lot of venues together. How do you manage to keep things fun and yet focused as a group always on the move?

Mark: I don’t know about focused… but what keeps things fun for me is making fun of Susan and then Eddy and Stephanie. Okay, mostly Susan but some Eddy and Stephanie sprinkled around. (Mark makes sprinkle motions). There’s the inside jokes…

Eddy: We have several inside jokes! One where one of us is replaced by any of our other friends like Kevin Mai (UR), Andrew Figeurora Chiang (musician), Big Brother (one imagination/TDSB), Victoria (UR), and pretty much every single person we’ve met is a potential replacement.

Mark: This works best when someone is on vacation or leaves for a period of time… check the forWord blog archives under memories (forwordcollective.tumblr.com)

Eddy: Speaking of jokes, we always parody each other’s poems such as Mark’s “Untitled” or “Hip Hop” poem.

Susan: That’s just what happens when you spend so much time together and hear these pieces over and over again!

Steph: We stay focused because Eddy likes to crack the whip. Other times, we just get those jokes out and then there’s nothing left to do but focus.

Eddy: Sometimes Susan too… *laugh*

Mark: Currently, the inside joke is that we’re members of Destiny’s Child.

Eddy: Mark is the biggest jokester of the group.

Mark: So we were at a meeting last weekend.  We were assigning lines for a piece, when there was a good 2 or 3 minute lull where no one said anything.  And then, Susan said, “since no one’s gonna take the line…I’ll take it!”  I chimed it with, “Whoa, okay Beyonce!”

Susan: and so began the madness…

Mark: There’s more to this. Eddy started claiming lines, so I assigned him the name “Kelly”.  And then Steph didn’t claim any lines so I called her “Michelle”

Susan: Both by default and because of his passiveness in speaking up, Mark became Letoya…

Steph: It was only natural.

Mark: Bunch of jerks.

*laughter*

Asian Latin fusion food has become a veritable phenomenon. Do you think that Asian Latin fusion food is just a passing trend, or the future?

 Eddy: I believe fusion food is the future as it mirrors our society as a melting pot. Soon we’ll be ordering inihaw with pho. I’d like to try that out one day at least.

Mark: I’d eat it… but I mean there’s some things that work and some things that don’t.

Susan: If forWord and David A. Romero were foods that were fused, I’d eat that. That’s some good stuff.

Steph: Yes.

Who is your favorite Latino celebrity, historical figure, or fictional character?

Steph: Selena just because I listened to her stuff growing up. She was taken too soon! (shakes fist) She had such an amazing voice.

Eddy: Immortal Technique because he raised my consciousness about society with regard to religion and the government… and he’s a DOPE lyricist.

Mark: To be superficial, Sofia Vergara. She’s just really hot!  Ok, Ok, but on the serious, Danny Trejo is probably one of my favorites…the dude just exudes badass-ness and his life story and how he got to Hollywood is just crazy.  I hope someone does a documentary/biopic about his life some day.  I also want to add that my favorite Latino cooking celebrity is none other than Mr. David A. Romero…this guy’s cheese enchiladas are extra cheesy!

Susan: Hmm… I’m really bad at remembering so I can’t think of many but I saw John Leguizamo on stage at a one man show in Los Angeles and he was incredible!

Would you rather date an Asian or someone of Latin descent?

Susan: It really comes down to heart and….

Eddy: Oh gosh…

Steph: Boring!

Mark: Boo! This woman…

Susan: Real talk though, that’s what it’s about.

Eddy: I am in a relationship with one of the members of forWord. Since she’s technically of both descents, I’ll say both.

Steph: Oh my god! *rolls eyes*

Mark: Since I’m not in a relationship, I believe in equal opportunity.

Eddy: He has a piece called “Realization” for the ladies.

Steph: It doesn’t really matter to me…

Any last words or shout outs?

fW: First off, thanks to David for giving us the opportunity as well as his tips for being successful. Then, of course, we gotta shout out Uncultivated Rabbits past and present, Tuesday Night Project, Common Ground, BakitWhy, Kabataang maka-Bayan, Speakeasy (Lady Basco, Tara, Doxx, and the rest of the speakeasy fam), O. Smith and Natural High, Definitive Soapbox fam, Spit fam, Kevin Mai, APIA summit fam, Loc Tran, Emilio Rodriguez, Natina Kihara, Mama Kasi, BigBrotha, Alex Alpharoh, Break the Silence folks, Duende!, ZZyZx, other poets we’ve crossed paths with, poets that have inspired us and drove us to where we are, and last but not least our friends and family.

Eddy: Shout out to my family in the Philippines

Susan: Also, look out for us in 2012!

Thanks to: Susan Diep, Eddy M. Gana Jr., Mark Maza, and Stephanie Sajor…

forWord Collective
Booking: forword.collective@gmail.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/forwordcollective
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/forwordcollection
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/fWcollective
Tumblr: http://forwordcollective.tumblr.com

 

David A. Romero is a cheese enchilada-making spoken word artist who knows something about Mexicans. A lover of boba and a citizen of Diamond Bar, CA, he also knows a thing or two about Asians. http://www.davidaromero.com/

Have any ideas for the blog? Questions? Comments? Hit me up below! Or email me: davidaromero@projektnewspeak.com