On Wednesday, April 17, Jimmy Santiago Baca, an American poet from New Mexico, visited Carleton to share his latest book, When I Walk Through that Door, I Am.
The night started off with Hollis L. Caswell Professor of Educational Studies Deborah Appleman giving a brief backstory of how she met Baca. Appleman teaches creative writing in a high security prison for men, located in Stillwater, MN. She reached out to Baca in hopes that he would write a forward for a book put together by the men in the prison in which she worked. Baca did so and told Deborah that he wanted to meet the men behind the words. What better way to bring him to Minnesota than to have him visit Carleton and then meet the men behind the book, Words No Bars Can Hold.
“It’s so important for students to see their culture, their reality, their experiences reflected in writers and I think he is deeply aware of that,” said Appleman. “He is really committed to bringing voice to people who are voiceless.”
When Baca was young, he was abandoned by his parents, so his grandmother put him in an orphanage that he escaped when he was 13 years old. He was incarcerated in his twenties for five years in a maximum-security prison in Arizona, where he learned to read and write. From there, his passion for writing poetry began.
Baca went on to obtain a bachelor’s in English and a doctorate in Literature, and has received many awards, among them, the Hispanic Heritage Award (Poetry Foundation). He has led many writing workshops in prisons and at schools and through his books he continues to bring attention to social issues in America.
Baca read part of his new book Wednesday night, where he shared the life of the protagonist, Sophia, a Salvadoran woman, who attempts to migrate to America with her son after her husband is murdered by a gang in El Salvador. Sophia is caught, separated from her son, and raped by ICE officers, which reveals the inhumane ways in which the American government deals with immigrants.
“What is important is that we have all these political ways of going about raising awareness, but I think what is so important about his work is that it gives a space for these narratives to be acknowledged,” said Amairany Fuentes ’19. “Through his creative writing, it’s a space that is cathartic where you can relive these things but also be happy that someone even acknowledges these experiences.”
“It brings these issues home to Carleton, it’s not this abstract thing,” said Appleman.
The night ended with Baca sharing a story with the audience about the importance of asking questions. He mentioned that when he was younger he witnessed a lot of injustices done to school workers, like janitors, where they were robbed from their money and rights, but he never said anything about it.
“The janitors can’t come here but maybe our grandkids can,” says Baca. “Maybe their grandkids could come and maybe one day their grandkids could sit in that chair, right there and when Mr. Baca asks, ‘Do you have a question?’ Maybe they would have the right to raise their hand. Maybe our grandchildren will one day be able to speak up because we can’t.”
This story was followed by many hands in the air, waiting to get their questions answered.