I can count on my fingers the number of texts I read by Latinx authors in college, where I studied literature: a few poems by Federico García Lorca, a short story by Junot Díaz. I didn’t read any Latinx writers in my twentieth-century American literature class. Before college, there was one novel in one high school course, and Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street in middle school, an attempt to “understand the Latino experience in the United States.” The problem, of course, is that there is no one American Latinx experience. The rare authors who made it into my education bore the impossible responsibility of representing an incredibly diverse community.
The latest anthology from The BreakBeat Poets responds to such reductionism with expansiveness. LatiNext features the work of more than 100 poets in a nearly 300-page collection that aims to counter “definitions, monolithic stereotypes, and outmoded ways of looking at the Latinx experience.” It delivers a cacophony of new voices, a party thumping with hip-hop bass lines and salsa rhythms, suffused with joy and energy, frustration and courage. Every kind of Latinx poet is invited: the black boy in Harlem, the gay girl who feels watched over by la virgen de Guadalupe (“she supported all my crushes / even if she doesn’t remember them,” writes Victoria Chávez Peralta), the poet whose slang mimics rap lyrics, the poet who quotes Dante, the heartbroken child of a deported father, the distant intellectual, the sardonic millenial, one poet interested in delicate imagery and another fixated on Trump’s infamous “shithole countries” remark. If the anthology’s length and diversity of form and style guarantees that not every poem will resonate, it’s just as true that there is something here for every reader.
LatiNext sings: sometimes figuratively in rap-like rhymes and musical language, sometimes literally through transcribed lyrics, like those in Jasminne Mendez’s “Learning the Dance: The Rebellion,” which quotes Colombian and Caribbean singer-songwriter Joe Arroyo’s “La Rebelión.” Spread across two pages, its inconsistent spacing imitates syncopation. No fewer than four poems are dedicated to Cardi B, the wildly popular Latina rapper, “Queen of the Bronx”—Elisabet Velasquez writes, “Everybody Loves Cardi B But...only if we can intellectualize the hood / only if we can point fingers at her and not patriarchy / ...only if she doesn’t remind us of what we were told not to be.” Other poems reference other artists, old and new: Tego Calderón, Terror Squad, Kendrick Lamar.