Even people who are well-read and write well fail to see through some stereotypes. Say "Hispanic poet" to many educated Americans and they'll say "passionate, political, nostalgic, full of fantasy."
But the image just doesn't hold.That's the message Hector Ahumada and the reading/discussion group Origines hope to get across.
"Hispanic poets are always battling stereotypes," says Ahumada. "So we have three goals in Origines: produce quality work, preserve our language and educate the Anglo-American reader about Latin American poets and poetry."
Since the Spanish language is almost universal throughout Latin America, there's a tendency in the United States to see all the people there as the same. But Ahumada says he hopes we'll eventually look a little closer.
"In Chile," he says, "we're a mixture of people from Germany, Italy and other cultures. Most of my neighbors in Santiago were from Syria, Jordan and Palestine, for instance.
"And not all of us are here in the United States as `economic refugees.' I came to study at BYU and the University of Utah. Other people in our group are here because they married North Americans. I think one of the problems is people here are so familiar with Mexico they project that culture on all of Latin America; but not all of us feel that same `social remorse' often found in Mexico."
Ahumada himself may be the best argument for busting up misconceptions. Even in tumultuous Chile he's never had much use for politics. His models are Irish writer James Joyce and French philosopher Jean Paul Sarte - hardly the kind of writers who produced poems to be read in the trenches.
"Personally," he says, "I think a poet ought to have the ideology he wants. But I never write about politics. I think it compromises my work. It's hard to create when you have to look through Marxist lenses, or any other lenses.
"Of course, compromising your work with politics is an easy way to get published. And I've paid the price for my independence; and that price is being a relatively unknown writer. But I sleep better at night."
Currently Ahumada works in the radiology department of the University of Utah Medical Center. He's a full-blooded citizen of the United States now and has even begun writing in English. A collection of his poems in English will soon be published.
"I'm a naturalized citizen," he says. "Many of us are now a part of this society. But we don't want to lose the positive values and strengths we brought with us. We believe in integration by education, not imitation."
And the people who've lived their whole lives in the United States?
"I hope they take advantage of the chance to learn about other cultures. Not for our sake, but for theirs. The recent war opened some eyes to other ways of life, other ways of thinking. But there are better ways."
One way would be to attend a session of Origines.
The next discussion will be on Saturday, June 15, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Art Barn (54 Finch Lane, below the University of Utah). For information call 583-5662 or 521-9327.
6 x 3 = 18
By Hector Ahumada
you are bosom and sanctuary.
You are mine.
Water of air.
You are mine.
Music of life.
You are mine.