October 2018 – After a cancelled flight, a missed connection and a rain-soaked, traffic-choked three-and-a-half hour slog from LaGuardia Airport to Madison, N.J., slam poet, actor and author Carlos Andrés Gómez arrived at Drew University ready to take his foot off the brake.
“My life just makes it too easy to write poems,” Gómez said.
His poetry is rooted in his identity as a Colombian-American Latino. More broadly, Gómez is interested in exploring the ingrained biases present in every culture and even baked into language itself. In Spanish, he noted, a stadium full of women takes on the masculine pronoun “ellos” the moment a single male shows up. That’s why many Latinos now prefer the gender-neutral “Latinx” to Latino or Latina.
Gómez recited several of his best-known poems, including “Juan Valdez,” also known as “What Does a Latino Look Like?” It’s based on a real—and really awkward—conversation he had with a woman who assumed from his light skin tone that Carlos Andrés Gómez was his stage name.
I have met Latinos who look like Juan Valdez
and can’t speak a word of Spanish.
Others who look like Hilary Duff
with a mother who looks like Hillary Clinton
that are from Paraguay
and teach Spanish grammar in Puerto Rico.
I have met Latinos who cook like their broken English moms
and mispronounce their own last names …
Many in the audience at Crawford Hall had similar stories to tell, and Gómez, a former public school teacher who still aims to educate as much as entertain, was happy to share the spotlight.
“There’s very little of this happening in the United States right now,” he said of the frank and often funny dialogue that ensued. “Every human being in this room is like a breath of fresh oxygen to my life.”