In Greek mythology Olympia is the mythical home of the Gods, so it made sense that Olympia, WA was the place to visit Aztlan Goddess Lorna Dee Cervantes, poet, philosopher and professor. The City was also a hotbed of American feminism’s third wave in the 90’s and it felt like a good place to cement our partnership to revive MANGO Publications, and push forth another wave of Xicanisma. She was hosting the revival of the annual MANGO Toast & Jam on April 19th and had gathered local poets and musicians from the area to perform and share the history of MANGO’s beginnings and her own.
When we talked back in February, I had mango on the brain and was curious about the fate of the infamous publisher she co-founded and edited from 1976-1986. I thought we could work together to bring back the publisher and its values for a new generation while honoring the heritage of the press. We talked for hours about the instability and lack of recognition that many poets find towards in the later years of their life. Her friend and former Young Lords member, Alfonso Texidor, had recently passed away in December without having published a full-length book, and the founder of the Piñata Children’s Press had starved to death. We talked about intergenerational feminism, the Librotraficante Caravan (which is how we met) and the poetry reading in Berkeley where I had last seen her perform. The reading culminated the end of the 2014 VONA workshop and faculty poets Patricia Smith and Willie Perdomo were featured; Bay area favorites Javier Huerta, and Paul Flores read as well. When Lorna took to the stage and declared, “I just got off a five hour Greyhound bus from Olympia to be to here!” before proceeding to read her epic ode to Ginsberg. The entrance was epic and in my mind she became the most hardcore poet I had ever known.
Through the journey of reviving MANGO, I’ve learned that Lorna’s contribution to American literature is only comparable to Toni Morrison by discovering voices that defined a canon of literature. But perhaps less known of because it was poetry published on an independent and politically active press. Ten years of organizing for political and cultural causes taught me that for anything to last, you must have a strong foundation and support from the most affected. I called renowned poet and El Paso native of Viva Flores, to be the MANGO poet in residence and something like a messenger between the channels that cross the great Aztlan. The endeavor was cosmic, and the ancestors sent us signs as if to say: go on, continue, the world needs this, we are with you.
When I went to Olympia, I felt that energy very strongly. The Annual Mango Toast & Jam was the event where many of the MANGO poets from around the country gathered to convivir, the East coast Nuyoricans, Tejanos and Californianos shared their craft and joy. Their spirit was there. It was April, and their spirit was all around. Angelica Guillen, Lennée Reid, Jim Cantu and poets from the Olympia National Slam team also performed. Betsy Wellings and Stone Soup played great music. The highlight of the night for me was to hear Lorna talk about how MANGO began and to see the actual MANGOs! They books were beautiful, each editor and art director had made their issue their own. While she performed her poetry she shared her beginnings in the Mission District of San Francisco, her decision to move to Olympia after being the Chair of the Creative Writing department in Boulder Colorado.
The next day, Lennée, Angelica and I spent the day at Lorna’s house to share a meal and enjoy 4/20 festivities. After a meal of roasted chicken and veggies prepared by Lorna, we flipped through the pages of the MANGO issues. There was an original Burciaga Drink Cultura as a MANGO publication and a Broadside Series issue that was a collaboration with a visual artist featuring multi-cultural voices from the Bay called Beyond Rice. We were trying to get a sense of how we would collaborate for the revival and decided I would focus on Rebelené, the millennial immigrant sister of MANGO and she on the anthology. Many MANGO editors went on to start their own presses; Burciaga and Berenice Zamora published a joint collection on his Restless Serpents Press. In the vein of that tradition, Rebelené Press will launch a chapbook series to be released in April 2016 that will feature immigrant and radical voices in poetry. Poetry from my generation shedding light and poetic justice in the world war we are living in, a portion of the proceeds will go towards the printing of the MANGO Anthology.
There was a lot more ground to cover in Olympia; there were so many things to ask and say but time and circumstance did not permit me to stay much longer. I was star struck, nervous and anxious but felt very, lucky, very blessed and grateful. Before I left, Lorna touched my head and gave me her blessing, “Keep this woman whole, bless her spirit, she has work to do.”