Juan Felipe Herrera: US appoints its first Latino Poet Laureate

Herrera's parents were migrant workers in California

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The Independent Online

A man whose parents were migrant workers in California who writes about identity, land and struggle, is to become the US’s first Latino Poet Laureate.

The Library of Congress announced on Wednesday that 66-year-old Juan Felipe Herrera is to become the 21 poet named to that position. His tenure is to begin in September.

“I am the first Latino poet laureate in the United States. But I’m also here for everyone and from everyone. My voice is made by everyone's voices,” Mr Herrera told the Associated Press.

He added: “You know, we speak about understanding each other, having those conversations nationwide - culturally, historically - and yet there's a lot of gaps. So I want to assist with closing the gap of knowing about and hearing about our Latino communities in terms of literature, in terms of writing.”

Herrera was born in 1948 in Fowler, California. His family of migrant workers moved often, at times living in tents and trailers along roads.

His father learned English by paying fellow workers to teach him new words and Herrera attended the University of California Los Angeles on an educational grant.

In his poem, Half-Mexican, he writes:

“Odd to be a half-Mexican, let me put it this way

I am Mexican + Mexican, then there’s the question of the half

To say Mexican without the half, well it means another thing

One could say only Mexican.”

Librarian of Congress James Billington told the news agency that he believed Herrera’s poems were the work of an American original.

“His poems engage in a serious sense of play, in language and in image — that I feel gives them enduring power," said Mr Billington said in a written statement.

“I see how they champion voices, traditions and histories, as well as a cultural perspective, which is a vital part of our larger American identity.”