Latinx Artists Collaborate on Chorus – The Lumberjack


by August Linton

Like the flowers of our early spring, an authentic and vulnerable artistic collaboration blooms at Cal Poly Humboldt.

Toyon Multilingual Literary Magazine’s “SANA, SANA: Hope and Healing for Latinx Communities in Times of Precarity” contest was a competition that called for poetry submissions, with the intention of setting the winning works to music.

The poem selected to be performed in a choral work by award-winning composer Carlos Cordero was “Fresh Fruit” by Alannah Guevara. It’s a deeply touching rumination on vulnerability and intergenerational trauma, filled with hauntingly tender images of bruised fruit and parental care.

Guevara says she wrote the poem thinking of her father, who died more than ten years ago. She hails from the Central Valley of California, where many Latinx have settled and work in the vast orchards of the region. Guevara is half Mexican; she sees in her family and community a reluctance to discuss the painful past and an endless hope for the future.

“I have very vivid memories of going to an orchard in the town where I grew up… Everything got mixed up, those words I had and those memories,” Guevara said. “Here in Southern California, the people working in these orchards are Latinx, Mexican. And it made me think about my family trauma, about my generational trauma, about the things my dad let me deal with.

Graphic by August Linton

Guevara is about to become a mother herself. In “Fresh Fruit”, she feels the protection and hope her parents struggled to give her, as well as the intense desire to protect and raise her own child.

The final choral piece is profoundly beautiful, modern, and tied to the emotional core of Guevara’s poem. Cordero was a fantastic songwriter for the “SANA SANA” project, both as an incredibly talented musician and also as a member of the Latinx community.

Cordero’s Friday talk, hosted by CPH’s El Centro Académico Cultural, focused heavily on his personal struggle with vulnerability and how it affected his compositions and musical career.

Cordero’s writing process is highly visual, although his medium is entirely auditory. He works with interconnected word charts and line graphs of emotional intensity to visualize his compositions in a more visceral way.

“[Vulnerability] isn’t always going to come right back to you, but it comes to build or open that doorway for people who want to connect with you,” Cordero said. “I learned in the art that I open the door, I don’t let you in. All I can do is introduce myself.”

He told an opening story about his family’s experience of losing his younger sister to members of a choir he worked with. They came to him with stories of their miscarriages, their losses, and it allowed the whole group to access an emotional connection that hadn’t been seen before.

Cordero is originally from Maracaibo, Venezuela and now lives in Austin, Texas. He says that, like Guevara, he struggled with refusing to have difficult conversations with his family about the traumas they suffered.

His play ‘¡Ayúdame!’ was written as a “Venezuelan plea for life”. The choir members shout “ayúdame, escúchame” (help me, listen to me) in Cordero’s attempt to communicate the suffering and disillusionment of the Venezuelan people.

However, ‘¡Ayúdame!’ also represents the importance of being vulnerable, both asking for help and letting others support you.

Cordero spoke about the expectation within Latinx families and communities for people to be strong, not to show their struggles. As he struggled with the trauma of being Venezuelan in the midst of an ongoing humanitarian crisis, Cordero realized he was in dire need of help, that people needed to ask for help.

“[In ‘Fresh Fruit,’] Alannah showed me that wrestling is OK. It says to our children, to our generation, to our families: we want to show that everything is fine but we can also share their struggles,” Cordero said.

The Cal Poly Humboldt University singers will perform “Fresh Fruit” on Sunday, April 24, alongside other musicians performing other works from the “SANA SANA” project.

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