5 Questions With David A. Romero
30 states and nearly one hundred campuses many return visits. David A Romero is hands down one of the most successful traveling poets on the college circuit today. Whether its a performance, a workshop or a keynote, David A. Romero may just be your man. His accolades are numerous, his craft immense, his legend grows by the day.
We here at Tele-Jaguar had the opportunity to chop it up with the great David A Romero and pose 5 questions. Here are his answers. Enjoy.
1) You have performed and led workshops now in 30 states. That is an incredible achievement. With such accomplishment I am sure comes a tremendous source of experience. What advice do you have for people trying to break into the circuit and travel tips once they are on?
Thank you very much. I am thankful to the students, professors, department chairs, and student life administrators who have booked me.
Here’s some advice. Perform, as often as you can, in as many places as you can. Dealing with different kinds of audiences builds experience. It also ties you into different networks. The more networks you have to draw upon, and possibly tie together, the better. Invite friends to watch your performances. Ask them to take pictures. Make a list of all the places you’ve performed in. Write a bio. Make books; maybe start with chapbooks and then move to full-length books. You can submit to publishers or self-publish. Record videos: live performance videos, and music video style videos. Make a CD and/or digital playlist. Try to get on the radio and/or TV. Get blogs and newspapers to write about you and your work. Create social media accounts for yourself as a performer. Build a website. Look for representation or be your own representation. Prove you can entertain a crowd for a half hour, to two hours. Create a press kit, price sheet, and sample contract. If you don’t know how to do this, go to my website: www.davidaromero.com, download mine, copy the text, and change it so it fits you. Think of potential clients. Contact them. Send them your materials. Use the networks you’ve built by performing. Ask for advice on how to build your career and take notes. Study artists who have accomplished more than yourself, not just those artists who are at the peak, but those artists who are only a tier or two above you. Study media sources that have covered them, awards have they earned, what clients have booked them, etc. If you perform similar work, then those same people might be willing to feature, award, and book you. Contact them. Create new work. Repeat the process. Build momentum each time. Never stop looking for the next opportunity to advance your work.
When it comes to travel, the experience starts before the trip itself. Think about any other trip you might go on. You have to think about where you’re going, what the weather is going to be like, where your’e going to stay, how you’re going to get there, how you’re going to get around once you’re there. I go to Kayak to look up flight prices, add $200 to accommodate for price surges, taxes and fees, and travel insurance. Then I look up hotels. Then I go to RideGuru and look up the rideshare prices for transportation in the area.
Alternatively, you can look up car rental rates or public transportation. Some places don’t have rideshare services available. Some places don’t even have any taxi services for miles and miles. You might have to book your ground transportation days in advance. It never hurts to over-prepare. Give yourself plenty of time to account for any setbacks there might be: cancelled flights, traffic, closed highways, having to wait for your luggage at the carousel instead of bringing it with you off the plane, etc. You will also make a lot of mistakes that will cost you time and money. You might read the time wrong and miss a flight. You might get lost in an airport. You might lose something and have to double-back. You might have to go to the bathroom at an inopportune time. You might book the wrong date for your flight or hotel and not realize that until you arrive at the airport or hotel. I went on a trip once with only $10 to my name after having paid for my flight and hotel. Everything had to go perfectly for me to ride two buses from PDX, into Washington state, and check-in to my hotel. Once at my hotel, I had to rely on the kindness of the receptionist to waive the fee for incidentals. There were cookies at reception. That was all I ate that day. I was incredibly lucky, as I have been many times during my travels. This is why I say, it never hurts to over-prepare. You should always have access to more money than you think you will need. Do not rely on getting paid the day off. It almost never happens, even if they tell you it will. Do not rely on selling product. You might not end up selling a single thing, even if you announce to the audience that you need money to get back to your hotel, the airport, etc. You will never fail to be surprised by both the kindness, and the indifference of, strangers.
2) You were recently interviewed by CNN about your workshops on cultural appropriation. What insights can you share with our readers about the topic?
I have been fortunate enough to have presented at eleven different colleges on this topic; among others.
Cultural appropriation is when cultural elements: food, clothing, music, dance, art & symbols, language, rituals, etc., are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context – sometimes against the expressed, stated, wishes of representatives of the originating culture. Cultural appropriation is everywhere. Recognizing something as cultural appropriation can be a victory in and of itself. Sometimes cultural appropriation is as clearly racist as a race party, sometimes it’s a simple pattern on a piece of clothing that we can’t exactly place, but think looks “cool” or “exotic.” Recognition of cultural appropriation comes from having knowledge of the original cultural context, seeing that the context has been changed, and recognizing that someone else is receiving credit and/or profiting from it.
Cultural appropriation can be distinguished from closely related phenomena: cultural appreciation and cultural assimilation. Cultural appreciation is intercultural exchange that explicitly references cultures; giving them respect and recognition (however, one person’s appreciation may be another’s appropriation, and vice versa). Cultural assimilation is when members of a minority culture take on cultural elements of the dominant culture under threat of law, direct force, or, in order to succeed in society.
The most common misconception about cultural appropriation is that it is merely imitation, and because, “imitation is the highest form of flattery,” that there’s nothing wrong with it. However, think of a movie where a character encounters their doppelganger. The doppelganger mirrors their movements. At first, this is amusing. The character is spellbound. It seems innocent enough. What follows, however, is the doppelganger breaking the mirroring act, knocking the original out, and taking their place. That’s the kind of imitation cultural appropriation offers; not merely mirroring, but replacement, and just like in the movie US, the doppelganger can eventually forget they’re the doppelganger. They can come to believe they are the original, and everything they have, everything they have stolen, rightfully belongs to them. This has happened in everything from rock n’ roll music to yoga, to Lacrosse.
3) Tell us about the scholarship.
I created “The Romero Scholarship for Excellence in Spoken Word” three years ago to award high school seniors for their achievements in spoken word and social justice. The award level is $500. The scholarship is awarded based upon a number of factors: the quality of a poem on social justice, their poetry and artistic achievements, their academic and/or athletic achievements, as well as any social justice related activities in, and/or out of, school. So far, the scholarship has been awarded to one student from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, one from Sierra High School in Colorado, and one from Edgewood High School in West Covina. When I read these students’ poems, read the letters of recommendation written by their teachers, and view their applications, reading about all of their achievements and volunteer work, I am profoundly moved. It makes me so happy that I have a chance to help them; to give them some money for tuition, books, food, whatever it might be, and to help shine a spotlight on them and their artistic work. It’s important to invest in the future, and from what I have seen from these young poets, the future is bright.
4) You have three books already, quite prolific, but you also have a fourth coming, can you share some details on that with our audience?
I am the author of two full-length books of poetry, Diamond Bars: The Street Version, and Fuzhou, as well as Ellendale Night, a pocketbook collection of poems. All books were self-published in cooperation with Dim Lights Publishing.
My fourth book, third full-length collection, My Name Is Romero, will be published in late summer of this year by FlowerSong Books. I have to thank my friend Matt Sedillo for introducing me to publisher Edward Vidaurre. He is a strong supporter of emerging Latinx poets. Matt’s book, Mowing Leaves of Grass, also with FlowerSong, has been featured in national news, and is selling hundreds of copies. I am hoping for about half of that success. That would be nice. If I managed to surpass that, even better. We have a friendly competition among us. It helps to drive us to new heights.
My Name Is Romero contains most of the poems I’ve been performing for the last decade. It has the most polished work I have ever created, whether that be in the form of poetry, prose, screenplay or anything. The poems run a gamut of tones, styles, and themes. The book contains a good amount of what I’m most known for, which is probably humor, but also contains some of the most somber and outright, heart-wrenching poems I’ve ever written.
My Name Is Romero is the kind of book that makes think that it would be ok if I died tomorrow. I haven’t said all I’m going to say as an artist, and I still have a lot of living to do, but if this was it, yeah, I’d be satisfied. I hope it’s what I’m remembered for.
5) Do you actually like cheese enchiladas?
You’re, of course, referring to a poem, “Cheese Enchiladas,” that appears in my first book, Diamond Bars: The Street Version. This poem, with a hook inspired by Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” was written early in my career and is easily still my most popular poem. This poem came out a workshop with Poetri, Tony Award-winner and former host of Da Poetry Lounge, who asked attendees to write poems about our favorite foods. It was then, sitting there, that years of bottled up delight in the cheesy idea of singing a Mexican remix of that hook finally found a home in me writing that poem. So, to directly answer your question: I don’t just like cheese enchiladas, I love them, and while I concede that the phrasing is redundant, no need to put “cheese” in front of enchiladas, it’s baked in the recipe, and, enchiladas taste good with chicken and a host of other shredded meats, there’s something about that simple mix of sauce, corn tortilla and cheese that is magical. It’s the first food I learned how to make, and for good reason. Cheese enchiladas will always taste like love and home to me.