by August Linton
Like the blossoms of our early spring, genuine and vulnerable artistic collaboration is blooming at Cal Poly Humboldt.
The Toyon Multilingual Literary Magazine’s ‘SANA, SANA: Hope and Healing for Latinx Communities in Times of Precarity’ was a contest that asked for submissions of poetry, with the intention of having the winning entries set to music.
The poem selected to be interpreted into a choral work by the award-winning composer Carlos Cordero was Alannah Guevara’s ‘Fresh Fruit.’ It is a deeply affecting rumination on vulnerability and intergenerational trauma, filled with haunting and tender images of bruised fruit and parental care.
Guevara says that she wrote the poem thinking of her father, who passed over ten years ago. She’s a native of California’s Central Valley, where many Latinx people have settled and work on the area’s vast orchards. Guevara is half Mexican; she sees in her family and in her community an unwillingness to discuss the painful past, and an unending hope for the future.
“I have really vivid memories of going to an orchard in the town I grew up in… It all melded together, these words that I had and these memories,” said Guevara. “Here in Southern California, who’s working in those orchards is Latinx people, Mexican people. And it got me thinking about my familial trauma, my generational trauma, the things that my dad left me to deal with.”
Guevara is about to become a parent herself. In ‘Fresh Fruit,’ she feels the protection and hope that her parents struggled to give her, and also the intense desire to protect and uplift her own child.
The final choral piece is deeply beautiful, modern, and connected to the emotional core of Guevara’s poem. Cordero was a fantastic composer for the ‘SANA SANA’ project, both as a stunningly 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 towards vulnerability, and how that has affected his compositions and musical career.
Cordero’s writing process is a very visual one, although his medium is entirely auditory. He works with charts of inter-connected words and line graphs of emotional intensity to visualize his compositions in a more visceral way.
“[Vulnerability] isn’t always going to come back to you immediately, but it’s coming to build or to open that door for people who want to connect with you,” Cordero said. “I’ve learned in art that I open up the door, I don’t make you come in. All I can do is present myself.”
He recounted a story of opening up about his family’s experience of losing his younger sister to members of a choir he was working with. They came to him with stories of their miscarriages, of their losses, and that allowed the whole group to access an emotional connection that was not visible before.
Cordero is originally from Maracaibo, Venezuela, and now lives in Austin, Texas. He says he, like Guevara, has struggled with an unwillingness to have hard conversations with his family about the traumas they’ve experienced.
His piece ‘¡Ayúdame!’ was written as a “Venezuelan plea for life.” Members of the choir cry out “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 by asking for help and by letting other people support you.
Cordero spoke about the expectation within Latinx families and communities that people be strong, that they don’t show their struggles. As he struggled with the trauma of being Venezuelan in the midst of an ongoing humanitarian crisis, Cordero realized that he sorely needed help, that people need to ask for help.
“[In ‘Fresh Fruit,’] Alannah showed me that the struggle is OK. It says to our kids, to our generation, to our families: we want to show that everything is ok but we can also share in their struggles,” said Cordero.
The Cal Poly Humboldt University singers will perform ‘Fresh Fruit’ on Sunday, April 24th, alongside other musicians performing other works from the ‘SANA SANA’ project.