Over millions of people from different countries around the world migrated to the U.S. for better opportunities or as an escape from the violence left due to past wars. These people face challenges by adjusting to a new environment and different societal expectations. With this transition into a new life comes the ongoing challenges they face with transnational identities. In my paper, I discuss how two transnational poets, Yesika Salgado and Javier Zamora, used their work in poetry to bring to light societal issues that many people with transnational identities face living in the U.S. through their own experiences in life and how they demonstrated the importance of representation in the work of literature for transnational poets. I also discuss cultural issues, like Marianismo and Machismo, that Salgado and Zamora feature in their work, which is seen as ‘inappropriate’ in the Latin(x) community.
In today’s world, there are over millions of people who have migrated from different countries into the United States Whether it was due to economic inequalities or to escape the violence that was left due to previous wars. They all come with the hope to give their families a better life with more opportunities to accomplish their dreams. Through this process of getting used to a new environment comes the challenges with transnationalism, the identity that they develop being from their home country and living in a new one. One of these challenges is the feeling of being excluded due to the lack of representation, especially in the work of literature. Transnational people should feel represented through all works of art, to feel as if they are not alone. This can be seen through the art of two poets; Yesika Salgado’s Corazon and Javier Zamora’s Unaccompanied. Although Salgado’s work is focused on the first-generation experience and Zamora’s on the immigrant experience, the work of both poets capture the transnational experience through various poetic devices; subsequently, leading readers to gain a better understanding of a transnational identity and the need for cultural representation in the work of literature.
Authors of books do not choose the name of their book and its cover at random; they find something that captures the true essence behind their work, something that has meaning to their life. The poets Salgado and Zamora chose distinct names and covers for their books to tell their stories as transnational poets. The cover of Salgado’s Corazon depicts bright colors, especially the color red and showcases an image of a mango tree. At first glance it can be difficult to point out, but right next to the mango is a heart growing on the tree branch. In a live interview by Book Circle Online, Salgado explained how she used the mango to represent her cultural roots saying, “whenever I think of a mango tree, I think of home.” Even though she was not born in El Salvador, she feels as if it is her home as the daughter of two Salvadoran migrants. In the interview, she makes a comparison between the mango and the heart from her book’s cover on how, “as humans we’re terribly messy people.”.How we must be willing to go through the messy parts of life in order to fulfill our need of love, which is how she came up with the title of her book Corazon. Zamora’s Unaccompanied is very different, his book depicts rather dark colors, different shades of gray with an image of the U.S. border. Zamora was interviewed on a podcast with KCRW, a radio station based in Santa Monica, where he described his book as a collection of memories from his experience crossing the border alone, saying “beauty manifests itself in different ways, even in a traumatic experience.” Zamora’s experience crossing multiple borders as a young child from El Salvador inspired him to name his book Unaccompanied, putting his life in the hands of complete strangers. As a child, Zamora did not realize the trauma, it was until he got older and wrote Unaccompanied in order to feel closure from his trauma. Both poets connected their titles to not only the overall concept of their books, but to their cultural roots through mangos or the borders that one crosses from El Salvador.
Though the outside presentations of the books play an important part, their poetic work inside of their books is what completes their art. The covers of the poets’ books set up the overall tone carried throughout the collection of their poems. For instance, in Salgado’s Corazon, the color that stood out at first glance was the color red. This particular color was used by Salgado to portray various emotions and meanings; Salgado’s use of the color red depicted a more optimistic tone to reflect the happiness and pain she experienced throughout her poems with her hunger for love. Whereas Zamora’s cover showed a more sad and serious tone through the different shades of gray, to represent the trauma he experienced of leaving behind his family in El Salvador to reunite with his parents in the U.S. at a young age. Both poets used distinct forms in their books to capture the overall essence in their poems. Zamora uses Cacophony in the majority of his poems to portray the trauma he underwent as a child, how he processed what went on around him, especially in his journey across the border. Whereas Salado utilized Euphony to portray the different places her love lived, through the way she described her body, sexuality, and relationships to family and lovers.
Their poems featured nostalgia to reflect their longing for different things; Salgado’s longing for love and Zamora’s longing for his home country in El Salvador. Both Zamora and Salgado portrayed their struggle to fit into the expectations held by not only American society, but the expectations within the Latin(x) community. In a live podcast interview with KCRW, Zamora described how American society views transnational people, “you’re either a complete criminal or you’re either a straight A student and most of us are in the middle”. These expectations have caused pressure among migrants that often limits what they want to accomplish, which is what inspired Zamora to share his personal experiences as a transnational poet in America. His work in literature is not just for those who want to learn what the true immigrant experience is, but to encourage those who have experienced similar things to share their stories and the trauma they have held inside. It is not common for people in the Latin(x) community to talk about their personal experiences with others, especially not through the work of literature. In Corazon, Salgado brings up her journey with loving her body for what it is because of the overwhelming pressure to fit into beauty standards. In Salgado’s poem “Gorda,” she showcases her journey being called this name growing up and how she was able to use it in a positive way to debunk the beauty standards of women like her. Salgado now uses the word ‘Gorda’ to make herself known in the work of literature because of how uncomfortable it makes people in society due to the negative connotations the word has in both Spanish and English. Salgado was able to change the way ‘Gorda’ and ‘Fat’ are used today as a way to take back the power of it, instead of letting the word damage her self-confidence.
"Their poems featured nostalgia to reflect their longing for different things; Salgado’s longing for love and Zamora’s longing for his home country in El Salvador."
Not many are aware of the disparity within gender roles within the Latin(x) community. This is due to how normalized it is among Latin American society for centuries. Salgado and Zamora were able to bring light onto issues that many Latin Americans ignore to avoid a change in Marianismo and Machismo expectations. In the article, “In her debut book, Salvadoran-American poet Yesika Salgado pours her heart out to help you heal,” by Christine Bolanos, when discussing her relationship to her late father stated, “His passing has really affected the way I love people and that’s referenced in the book”. In Salgado’s poem “Traditions,” she discusses her mother’s relationship to her father as he struggled with his alcohol addiction and how Salgado sees herself in her mother. In Marianismo, women are expected to be fully committed to their husband and kids. No matter how difficult their relationship is, divorce is seen in a negative way in the Latin(x) community, so they keep to themselves and maintain the relationship instead of breaking away from it. When seeing this tradition played out in our own families, it can be difficult to notice how we naturally fall into them and follow them. Growing up being Daddy’s girl and taking care of an alcoholic father, Salgado became more prone to put up with bad relationships, which is how her relationship with her father affected her relationships with her lovers. In the Book Circle Online interview, Salgado said,”I took care of him my whole life, I’m not taking care of another man.” Salgado wrote about this issue through the use of her own perspective to emphasize how it can affect future generations. In Zamora’s Unaccompanied, he chose a different approach to also discuss this disparity between how men and women are treated through the perspective of his own mother. In his poem “Mom Responds to Her Shaming,” he imagines what his mother dealt with for the infidelity committed by his father when he was a child. Zamora expressed his mother’s anger towards Zamora’s father, “/ Hijueputa, I was seventeen, the valedictorian, / you wouldn’t use a condom” (50 lines 8-9). Here readers are able to understand what was going on in his mother’s life before becoming a mother. In Latin households, if a young woman gets pregnant, she is automatically blamed as if it was only her who had a part in the making of a child. The woman is blamed for “not being careful” or “not using protection,” when in many instances it was the man’s decision to not wear protection. To emphasize how unfair women like his mother are treated, towards the end of his poem he wrote how she had to sneak into her own house just to see Zamora. I believe Zamora included this to show his sad memory of his mother’s absence after his birth and how painful it must have been to deal with not only being shamed for something she did not do, but not being able to see her own child. Among bringing up things like the first -generation experience and the immigrant experience, poets Salgado and Zamora made the decision to bring up this cultural issue that has been going on silently in the Latin(x) community. They were able to use their platform as transnational poets in the art of Literature to showcase topics that are seen as ‘inappropriate’ and how important it is to put a stop to this normalized cycle.
Culture is central to one’s identity. Our experiences shape the way we think and what we value throughout our lives. Transnational poets Yesika Salgado and Javier Zamora used their platform to not only share their individual stories and personal memories, but to bring up cultural and societal issues that come with the transnational identities. There is not enough transnational representation in the work of Literature, causing many to feel excluded from really resonating with the art of poetry. Although their poetic styles differed, Salgado and Zamora were able to portray this issue in poetry, to inspire others to pursue their own dreams, whether it is through poetry or even music to tell their stories on their experiences. Not only did this reach an audience who is not as represented, but readers were able to understand a small portion of transnationalism through poetry.
Yesika Salgado Discusses ‘Corazon’: Book Circle Online by Author Interviews - AfterBuzz Books • A Podcast on Anchor.”
Bolaños, Christine. “In One Year, Poet Yesika Salgado Left Her Day Job and Became the Author of Buzzy New Book.” Remezcla, 7 Dec. 2017
Leland, Andrew. “Borderlands: The Organist.” KCRW, KCRW, 9 Aug. 2018,