Gris-Gris, an online journal of literature, culture & the arts

Introduction to the Tequio Youth Poets

by Craig Rosen


I live in Southern California and teach poetry writing, primarily to at-risk and marginalized teens. I work for the Ventura County Arts Council, a non-profit organization, and much of what I do is supported through grants which I also write.
+++One of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my time at the Arts Council is collaborating with the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project, MICOP, a non-profit in Oxnard that serves the indigenous immigrant population, a majority of whom are Mixteco. Even before our current President took office and began insulting and lying about immigrants, the Mixteco and other indigenous people in our county experienced many forms of prejudice, some coming from their Mexican brethren who are not indigenous. MICOP not only offers support services to this community, they have a program, Tequio, that teaches youth how to embrace their heritage and become the leaders of tomorrow. In addition to the prejudice, ridicule and bullying Mixteco teens receive, their parents work in the fields where they face wage theft and forms of abuse that go unreported due to their undocumented status. Their lives are a constant struggle and, in many cases, Mixteco immigrants speak only their native language, which adds to their challenge and to the ways they are marginalized. Self-identifying as indigenous and feeling proud about one’s cultural heritage is difficult in the face of discrimination.
+++On a personal note, the youth I have met through MICOP are some of the most resilient and remarkable people I’ve ever had the opportunity to get to know. Many of them come here as children, barely surviving the journey; some sleep in the fields where their parents work. All of them are poor by American standards yet they recognize their opportunity for a better life and remain positive in the face of constant rebuke and struggle. One girl in my class called herself privileged because she had a sponsor who paid for her to get braces and she is attending Berkeley. I can tell you, as one who grew up around privilege, she is far from that. Her generosity of spirit to recognize the people far less fortunate than her, even while her family continues to struggle to pay their bills, is an inspiration.    
+++MICOP’s Tequio program is all about empowerment.  I worked with a number of Tequio youth who had taken a story-telling and performance workshop. I obtained some grant funds so they could perform their pieces at two different art exhibition openings as part of the photography show I helped curate on the Mixteco and I worked with several of them on poetry writing, focusing on finding and celebrating their voices.
+++At the conclusion of the poetry workshops I began to compile and edit a book of their work that includes, poems, biographical pieces and artwork. MICOP has been working on writing the Mixteco language in partnership with the Linguistics Department at the University of California Santa Barbara. Several poems in this book are written in Mixteco, of which there are numerous variations as the language can change from village to village. We have three variations in this book. An indigenous immigrant who spoke at one of the conferences organized by MICOP said that the surest way to eradicate a culture is through the removal of its language. I fully support MICOP and UCSB’s project at writing this language as well as other indigenous languages. I hope you enjoy the poems.