With my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh University about to begin, I will be reading lots of stuff this year. Do not expect weekly reviews, I do not read quickly. But I will share with you anything interesting I do read, whether it’s a novel that’s in vogue, or something from my course that I think is worth knowing that broadened my horizon. I’ll be reading a lot of things about transgender discourse, but hopefully, a lot of things which aren’t, as well.
I can't remember when I ordered Fabian Romero's chapbook*, sometime in September or October 2018. The investment made, the months went by, enthusiasm slow-cooking into defeat, guessing it had got lost in the mail. Then last week I found a soft white envelope in the post. Fabian Romero's chapbook, Mountains of a Different Kind, waiting for me. I read it. I loved it.
There is so much to love about the work of Fabian Romero. They describe themselves as both two-spirit poet and an 'indigenous immigrant queer boi writer,' the gender of several possibilities and perhaps that's the point. Since coming across their work after reading an interview in Nia King's Queer & Trans Artists of Color, I see through the prism of Romero's perspectives the idea of 'borderland' Chicano identities, as written about by Gloria Anzaldua: of figures occupying different domains simultaneously. Romero was born in Michoacan, Mexico, before coming to the U.S. at age seven to encounter the complex racialized fields of the U.S. canvas. Their poetry encompasses this journey with the gentle intersections of gender-queer.
Last week I wrote about the poetry of Venezuelan trans woman Esdras Parra, about how the fragmentation and even the desolation of the imagery affected me. With Parra, you felt you were reading the words of someone who had suffered exclusion, to the point where community no longer existed. Romero's poetry is different; they stress, in fact, the importance of community and solidarity: we can be there for each other, inspite of being told otherwise. we don't have to fend for ourselves in this capitalist world. we can be there for each other. Reading these lines, I realize I never stop feeling a wave of relief when a voice bearing insight also addresses capitalism as something other than a golden calf beyond criticism.
Perhaps what I connect with on a personal level is Romero's focus on language – me coming at the words as a prodigal transgender daughter of a Welsh-speaking community that both exists and somehow doesn't, with a language both real and which – in a capitalist world of lingua francas – feels sometimes like an illicit curio. Romero meditates on their own Chicano experience with language: it is okay to grieve loss of language, it is okay to know loss and it is okay to relearn to speak your mother tongue in the cadence of language lost and then found . . . you are hybrid, you know survival and the broken communication of your dreams, thoughts and words speak of abundance of enough of rich love tied in hybrid tongues. it is okay to speak like you do you are not lost in translation. These words come from a poem called 'Accent' and as someone uncomfortable with my own sometimes hesitant, stumbling cadences when I speak Welsh I connect with Romero's reflection.
The resistance to the erasure of language in Romero's writing is melded with other forces too, though. This includes the toxic conception of colourblindness; namely the erasure of the suffering of people of colour in the U.S. by denying the reality of structural and historical inequalities and unconscious biases. These lines in particular stuck in my mind on the monstering of people who are different:
Junto diaz says
"There's this idea that monsters don't have reflections in a
mirror . . . if you want to make a human being into a monster,
deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves."
And i searched for images of myself so much as a surviving
teen that I believed i really was a mis-creation, a mutant
inside so much that i feared myself
i feared my brute emotions that tore through my broken
There are so many short burst of ideas and themes like these that this blog feels inadequate, the limits of space already encroaching on what's representable. Blogging on Fabian Romero is not like commenting on a book and its driving central theme, it's a trip into mountains where a new page is like turning your head for a different view where instead of a valley, you've got the sea, or a pasture, or the infinite sky. To attempt a first layer of summary, Romero's writing is especially important for the issues of race and the dynamics of language that are dealt with through Romero's economy of style. On a personal level too, though, and to refer to the message left by Romero at the beginning, as you read this i hope you find yourself in a poem or two or three, I found myself in some and was affected by others, feeling the uplift for being able to explore these spellbinding mountains of a different kind.
*Chapbook: a small paper-covered booklet, typically containing poems or fiction
Image taken from Nia King's site We Want the Airwaves
Fabian Romero's Mountains of a Different Kind is available on their website.