Here in the 21st century, we live in a time that is deeply preoccupied with self-identity, with the claiming and casting off of labels. Obsessed with finding the right words to define our our own place in the world, we are more used to viewing language as a point of difference—with our separate vocabularies marking us as belonging (or not belonging) to any number of cultural, ethnic, and social groups.
And yet, language can also be a place of unity, a chance for celebration—as poet Daniel García Ordaz so beautifully demonstrates in his collection “You Know What I’m Sayin’?” Throughout the course of this linguistically rich book, García Ordaz acknowledges the realities of historical prejudices, and the struggles of claiming an often marginalized cultural identity; and yet, these poems never come from a place of bitterness or anger. This collection of poetry and drama is, at its heart, a joyous celebration: of our differences and our pasts, as well as our future and the things that bring us together—as Americans, and as humans. Here, language is a point of shared humanity.
The poet invites us in with an combination of hip-hop beat and rhythm, refrain and repetition—creating an enticing flow that kept me turning the pages and, more often than not, reading the poems out loud to myself. These are poems that beg to be heard, not just viewed on the page. Pieces like “Jazz Beat” and “Los Mariachis” pull in a vibrancy of sound, onomatopoeia, and music. The language weaves between English and Spanish, with dips into African-American and Chicano dialect. Yet even knowing very little Spanish myself, I never felt misplaced by the unfamiliar vocabulary. To the contrary: it felt like an invitation to simply enjoy the sound, the feel, the movement of language—all language.
Ultimately, this book is a smiling celebration of common experience within linguistic diversity, and all the opportunity of language—not just as it is written, but how it is spoken and shared. As the poet writes in the collection’s title piece:
“The spoken word is about passion And silliness and truth. It’s about getting to the root of what’s inside. It’s about showing all the things you hide...”
is the author of You Know What I'm Sayin'? (El Zarape Press, 2011); he is a former journalist, and presently is a teacher and poet, a founder of Art That Heals, Inc., and the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival.
He's been called " . . . the voice of the Rio Grande Valley . . . ."