L.A. is full of poets. Two of the hottest in the scene are the Mexican-American spoken word artists Matt Sedillo and David A. Romero. Recently chosen by Russell Simmons to be some of the first spoken word artists featured on his new YouTube channel All Def Digital, these two poets have made it their mission to represent Los Angeles worldwide.
For this special article of Art! The Magazine, the two poets traveled to some of the locations of their respective poems and videos to interview each other and get the story behind the poems.
MS: “Undocumented Football” is set during the East L.A. Classic. For those who might be unfamiliar with the history behind it, can you speak a little to what exactly the East L.A. Classic is?
DR: The East L.A. Classic or “The Classic” is the homecoming football game for both James A. Garfield High School and Theodore Roosevelt High School. The Classic is one of the most highly acclaimed and attended high school football games west of the Mississippi and has taken place every year since 1925. It's kind of a friendly battle between the communities of East L.A. (Garfield) and Boyle Heights (Roosevelt). To the best of my knowledge, the rivalry is about even, with Roosevelt slightly edging out Garfield in wins.
My father was an alum of Roosevelt, so from time to time his old buddies from the neighborhood would get together and go to the Classic. I was fortunate enough to go with them a couple of times. The first time was one of the first big football games I ever went to and I remember being overwhelmed by the bright lights and the cheering fans. This was the sense of excitement I tried to bring to “Undocumented Football.”
MS: Is there an actual Miguel?
DR: Miguel is primarily based upon Isaac Barrera, an immigrant rights activist and former high school football player. I watched Barrera perform some beautiful poetry at Corazon del Pueblo's “Flowers of Fire Open Mic,” and what really fascinated me between poems was his personal testimony of being undocumented and playing as a running back and middle linebacker for Belmont High School.
Looking for a unique way to tell the story of undocumented students, I knew Barrera's was the type of underdog sports story that a lot of people could get behind and I started to develop the idea of “Miguel, #42” who played as a wide receiver for Roosevelt (since then, I have met a number of “Miguels” who once played for Roosevelt, Garfield, and more).
It's been my pleasure since the writing and recording of “Undocumented Football” to get to know Barrera a little better and he wants you all to know that he “still holds a record” with Belmont's football program.
MS: What can our readers do to support the undocumented?
DR: Check out the Immigrant Youth Coalition and the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. Both come highly recommended by Barrera.
DR:When did you write “L.A. is full of pigs?”
MS: I wrote it in pretty much one sitting after a rough night at General Hospital. I came up with the phrase “L.A. is full of pigs” while in San Francisco doing some book promo with my publishers.
DR: Stylistically, “L.A. is full of pigs” is the combination of two forms of poetry. One, is the literary, classical tradition, where words like “shopworn” are familiar. The other, is a spoken word influenced by hip hop where the repetition of the word “beat” leads into a call and response crescendo. Was this balance of opposites intentional? Does it reflect the arc of the poem?
MS: “L.A. is full of pigs” is a poem that begins as a narrative and eventually becomes a damning social critique. In the beginning, I am really telling a story. I am telling my story, the story of not having health insurance and being neglected by a system that is not organized to address human need for any other purpose than seeking profit. The transition is when I speculate “How many more bounced checks/ Free clinics/Carry cash/And leave the account in the negative/Stand between me and him/Me and the bitter wind?" From that point on ,the poem speculates about the fears of becoming homeless and having to deal with the LAPD. Who, for the homeless, for us all really, but for the homeless in particular, are very much a paramilitary force.
DR: What's the most important idea to walk away with from “L.A. is full of pigs?”
MS:The poem “L.A. is full of pigs” is not only about police brutality or homelessness. It is a poem about the links between both the neglect and the abuse that is carried out by a system that is only capable of exploiting and/or discarding people. People really don't understand till it is too late how society is actually organized. The reality is that you have far more in common with someone on the street, and are far more likely to be in the same position as them, than you do with the people who own the economy. We need to stop seeing someone who has been discarded by society and react to that by counting our blessings. We need to start asking questions, like; what kind of society do we live that allows for such things to happen? We need to wake up and see the direction things are going in and understand who is causing that and who is enforcing that. FTP!!!