I recently read her sweeping history of Latin Americans in what is now the United States, Dreams from Many Rivers: A Hispanic History of the United States Told in Poems. I shared the ARC with my #BookExpedition group.
Dreams from Many Rivers reminds me of Silver People, Margarita’s verse history about the building of the Panama Canal — one of my favorite books by her. Like that novel, Margarita’s new book is narrated in poems by a series of voices, some historical, some invented. But Dreams from Many Rivers is larger and more powerful in scope, covering several hundred years. Margarita turns a poet’s eye on genocide, discrimination, and assimilation, while also giving voice to heroes and pioneers of Hispanic culture.
Thanks to Margarita for giving me permission to share this poem from the book today.
WORDS OF PROTEST
New Jersey, 1935
After the court case
that denied my citizenship
back at the turn of the century,
I decided to fight for the rights
with heartfelt letters
to the New York Times,
writing over and over,
always defending justice,
with words as my only weapons.
Now, when I open the newspaper to read
my own protests, I see shocking articles
about events in California, where children
born American are being deported to Mexico.
What does it take to be fully accepted?
We know the truth — we belong here.
By Margarita Engle
Shared with permission of the author.
This poem speaks to me on many levels. It echoes my profound disappointment in the policies of our country’s current leadership. It mirrors conversations and experiences I’ve had as co-author of a book about two families going through the citizenship process (A Place at the Table). And it reminds me to believe in the power of words — of poetry — to make a difference, to change people’s minds and hearts.
Thank you, Margarita.
Read more about civil rights activist Isabel González at History Comes Alive.
Margarita and I talked about Silver People at my old blog, Author Amok. You can read that post here.