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Posted: 2011-03-31
Categories: Projekt NewSpeak

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

By David A. Romero

Do you remember the Alamo? Matt Sedillo sure does.

This national slam poet and published author has turned the phrase “Remember the Alamo” on its head; in the process, kicking dirt in the face of empire (whether it be in the U.S., China, the Philippines, Vietnam, or elsewhere!).

Multiple nights a week, Matt Sedillo can be seen shocking and awing audiences with his powerful delivery and incendiery political content. It is therefore no surprise that this revolutionary poet and speaker was recently published in an anthology of 76 poets from 25 different countries along with such luminaries as Amiri Baraka, Jack Hirschman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Luis J. Rodriguez.

I had a chance to conduct this Mexi-Asian interview with Sedillo the right way,  over a meal at Red Hot Kitchen: Asian Mexican Fusion restaurant in El Sereno, the neighborhood the poet grew up in. There we talked about the sex trade, the power and beauty of culture, and, of course, the Alamo. Click here to watch Matt Sedillo perform \”I Remember the Alamo.\”

 “I Remember the Alamo” could be misconstrued as a poem dealing with issues primarily relating to racism and Mexican-American identity. However, a closer inspection will quickly yield vast amounts of Asian history. How do you manage to relate the triumph of Mexican general Santa Ana over the white secessionist forces at the Alamo in 1836, to events such as Dien Bien Phu, the Tet Offensive, the Battle of Mactan and the Chinese Revolution?
 
I feel that these battles and victories belong to the whole of humanity. Dien Bien Phu for instance, was the first time in modern history that an industrialized European imperialist nation was pushed back by a colony. The reverberations of that (I mean, aside from perhaps Stalingrad) was probably the most historically significant battle in the past 500 years. It is said many of the fighters in the Algerian Revolution who fought in the French colonial army were prisoners of war in Vietnam. They were treated with preferential treatment and were inspired by the Vietnamese to return home and drive the French out of their country as well.  The Chinese Revolution, in terms of sheer numbers of lives affected, is the biggest event of any kind thus far in human history. As I said, I truly believe these events belong to everyone. “I Remember the Alamo” was the first poem I wrote that really seemed to resignate with an audience and I think that points to a general internationalist streak most people have that attend poetry readings. People readily understand parallels. That, and it’s loaded heavy with activist swag.   

You are the first Latino to be interviewed for the “Mexi-Asian Perspective” for Projekt NewSpeak. Aside from being a good friend, comrade and Mexican, when I think of Latinos who address Asian history and culture, your name is one of the first to come to mind. Unfortunately, it is also one of the few. Why do you think that there can be so little cross-cultural exchange in terms of artists from different backgrounds; especially in the spoken word community?

That is hard to say. I think most poets write about what is on their mind. A lot of my work is heavily researched. That is kind of who I am as a person not just as a writer, so for me it comes very naturally to write about issues happening accross the globe. Most people don’t do that so naturally they don’t write those poems. I don’t know really if it is a question of a lack of cultural exchange or awareness, I think it is really a question of what people identify with and how they identify themselves. The fact that we can even make the observation that people are not actively writing about struggles of others points to what is so great about this community namely it is embracing of people from all kinds of backgrounds. I think segments of American culture as a whole are headed in that direction. Self-segregation by custom, I think, is really on the road to being a thing of the past and as with every positive movement in human history, culture is at the forefront of that development. 

“Capitalism is Child Abuse” calls to our attention one of the darkest and most terrible problems affecting the Asian community on a global scale: the sex trade; especially of young children. What compelled you to write this poem? Are there moments when you feel uncomfortable quoting these facts about the horrors endured by the children of countries such as Thailand and India?
 
Well, it is an uncomfortable reality. The point of the poem isn’t just that it is sad but that there are definite root causes to these horrid crimes being committed against hundreds of millions of children everyday. When we speak of the word imperialism we are generally speaking of wars and bombs dropping and people being killed by soldiers and mercenaries. The reality is much deeper than that. Beyond the war without end we are talking about a global economic system that routinely starves children to death every day. And for what? The lavish comfort of less than a percent of the world’s population? Also too often we hear these horrid statistics about things happening in the poorest most exploited nations as a means to silence or mitigate dissent against America’s own police state. “Look how much better you have it than people living in ____” the argument goes. Well, the reality is, I don’t want to live in the squalor of a Nike village, but I don’t want the Indonesians to either. Capitalism is a pathological, murderous way to arrange society. Thirty-thousand children every day need something better if they are to survive the night; let alone lead healthy, productive lives. 

With this blog, I have often been guilty of promoting a very narrow view of Asian identity; one focused primarily on a handful of nationalities. One group that you have focused a lot of your time and energy upon is the various peoples of the Middle East. In “Muhammad at War” you say, “these peoples’ religion/their culture has about as much to do with/why we are over there killing them/as does calligraphy, or hummus/it just doesn’t.” You have also addressed Middle Eastern politics and culture in your poem “Don’t Get Confused.” Did your personal appreciation of elements of Middle Eastern culture precede or follow your political awakenings in respect to the region, its people and its history?

The brutality of the war as well as the demonization of Arabs were the catalyst for those poems. A lot of the anti-war movement is rooted in the same kind of nonsense that puts victim and victimizer on the same footing. So you have someone say, “Oh yes, I reject American imperialism but I also reject radical Islam, I embrace only peace.” Such words are cheap and easy when you are not the one being bombed. People don’t kill and die over abstractions they are facing real material threats and occupation. It was that basic reality that I was addressing. If deep religious feeling in and of itself birthed war and violence perhaps the Appalachian mountains would be burning. Culture does not produce war, economic pressures do. Forwarding the notion that religious dispositions create war is a blatant act of stupidity. It is the geopolitical equivelant to believing in spontanous generation.    

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?

That shit is delicious. 

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

Manny Pacquiao. Mao. Yojimbo (as played by Toshiro Mifune).

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

Is this the part of the interview where I evade the question and make a self-effacing remark about just looking for a warm body with a steady pulse? Why, yes it is.
 
Any last words or shout outs?
 
Mattsedillo.com Shout out to Matt Sedillo.

THANK YOU MATT

 

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

Have any ideas for the blog? Questions? Comments? Email me at davidaromero@projektnewspeak.com