Poet speaks on Cinco de Mayo

     Jimmy Santiago Baca feels as though he lives two lives-in his first life, he works with all the successful types, like those from Yale and Harvard. In his second life, he works with those who are less fortunate, like those who have to fight to pay their bills and those who go to jail-the work he truly enjoys.
     “America feels as if my knowledge and wisdom will be deligitimized by these people,” Baca said during his program on May 5. “In order for you to succeed, you have to forget about those who have no chance. That’s the biggest problem I have.”
     Baca, the internationally recognized Latino writer and poet spoke about such problems, touching on hard-hitting subjects like racism, sexism, classism, drug abuse and violence during his speech that was sponsored by the Puente Program and the Associated Students of Skyline College.
     The program mainly focused upon Baca’s belief that through working with one’s community, one can truly make a difference in the lives they have encountered. He also stressed the importance of standing up for what one believes in.
     “‘Be a decent man’, my abuelita [grandmother] used to tell me,” Baca said while telling a story of how he once went to jail with a drunken Mexican man because he objected to the police beating this man. Though he could have walked away from the situation, all he could hear were his grandmother’s words-he knew what he had to do. While he gave support to this oppressed man, no one gave support to him when the police beat him in his jail cell at 4 a.m.
     “No one stood up to say ‘stop’,” Baca said. “They were terrified of standing up for their rights-but you can’t do that. Things like that make me come here.”
     Baca all too much knows of what can happen when this apathy strikes. Abandoned at a young age, Baca grew up on the streets facing myriad hardships, seeing many family members murdered (including his parents) and ending up in prison by age 21 for drug possession.
     It was during this time, however, that he taught himself how to read and write, eventually writing poetry that would later be submitted to renowned magazine, Mother Jones-the act that would put him where he is today.
     Baca taught at Yale College but later resigned and went back to his community in New Mexico where he opened a school in which he currently assists youngsters who wish to use education to improve their lives.
     Reading several poems from his collected works, each one had a personal story attached to it, ranging from a woman whose white husband forbade her from telling people she was a Latina, to a young man on the streets of New York trying to sell him cocaine to make ends meet for his young daughter.
     Puente student Juan Nevarez, who got Baca to come to Skyline, for which he canceled a previous engagement to lecture at a college in Texas, said that after hearing Baca speak at U.C. Davis last semester and reading one of his books, he determined to contact the writer.
     “The pride he shows about his culture-the love he has for his people and all people, as well as his solidarity to others became all the reasons of my admiration of this man,” Nevarez said. “I got on line, found his email address and sent him a message; he soon agreed to lecture at Skyline.”
     Baca ended the presentation answering questions from the audience and exhorting them to make an effort to improve society.
     “We’ve been taught that we’re powerless-but we’re not,” Baca said. “Use the power that God gave you to go make a difference.”