Professor Martín Espada shares his poetry and passion for social justice at 2021 Commonwealth Honors College plenary lecture – Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students discover the world of social justice through the creative work of the Puerto Rican poet

On October 15, University of Massachusetts English professor Martín Espada explained to students the importance of standing up for social justice and how their ideas can change the world. Espada captivated audiences with an outstanding performance of his poetry on different issues of social justice.

Espada has fought for social justice for decades through his work as a former tenant lawyer, poet and teacher. With over 20 books published, the Puerto Rican poet shares his experiences involving a variety of social justice and current affairs issues to convey the importance of advocacy.

Espada began the Commonwealth Honors College Fall 2021 Plenary Lecture with his poem “Alabanza,” a poem that focuses on the deaths of hundreds of immigrant food workers in the 9/11 attacks. With the recent 20th anniversary of September 11, Espada opened up with this poem to share the importance of “making the invisible, visible”.

He spoke about his career as a tenant lawyer in Chelsea, Massachusetts within the Latinx community. He then performed his narrative poem, “Leaping from the Mystical Tobin Bridge”. This powerful piece shared the story of the discrimination Espada suffered in a Boston city cab. He delivered the message: “To change the world, we must all build and cross bridges.

The conference then focused on specific social justice events that Espada writes about. Espada performed a piece called “Floaters” from her most recent book. “Floaters” pays homage to the loss and the life of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and Angie Valeri. Ramirez and Valeri were a Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned in 2019 while crossing the Rio De Grande. Sharing this heartbreaking poem with the students of UMass showed why it is essential to bring to light the stories of those who cannot tell theirs.

Espada then performed two poems that captured the life lessons he learned from his family and friends. The first poem, which he called a political love poem, was about his wife Lauren Marie Schmidt. Prior to her performance of “Aubade with Concussion,” Espada explained that his wife was a talented poet and a dedicated teacher. Espada described the days Schmidt got up to work before the sun even rose and didn’t come home until late at night.

“To change the world, we need this kind of commitment,” he said.

After performing his political love poems, Espada spoke about his friend and mentor, Louis Garden Acosta. Acosta was a Puerto Rican activist and co-founded different organizations that helped Latinx communities. He went on to explain, “to change the world. we need visions and we need visionaries. This poem is called “Morir Soñado”, which literally means to die while dreaming.

The poem was not only a dedication to Acosta, but it also helped capitalize on the idea that for there to be change, people must have dreams and ambitions.

Espada’s last poem from the plenary conference was titled “Letter to my Father”. He concluded with this poem to point out that “to change the world we need more people like my father, who channeled his anger into art and put his art at the service of his community”.

From the unique perspective of speaking to one’s father through his ashes, Espada’s poem captured what it means to respect, honor, and learn from the loved ones in our lives.

After two rounds of furious applause from the audience, Espada organized a question-and-answer session for UMass students and professors. Responding to questions about hope, poetry, and family, he ended the lecture by giving the audience advice and encouragement.

“We’re going through one of those times now. It’s so hard to hope, but consider the alternative, ”Espada said. “Each of you has risen today. Each of you got dressed. Each of you has walked into this room. All of you are listening to me now. It is the embodiment of hope.

Corinne Arel can be contacted at [email protected] and follow up on Twitter @ CorinneArel_09.

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