Yo soy Joaquin: An Epic Poem

I am Juaquín or, Yo Soy Joaquín is a bilingual epic poem written by Corky Gonzales. Corky wrote the English version and the original Spanish version published in 1967 was translated by Juanita Domínguez.

The language of this poem mirrors the complicated relationship to language that Chicanos in the United States faced. During his life Corky and most Chicano writers worked in English while fighting for bilingual education. Unlike the Civil Rights Movement that fought for integrated schools, busing and equal access to education, the Chicano movement often pursued the right to set up their own schools in pursuit of bilingual education which was illegal at the time under many state and local laws. At the same time many Hispanic Americans and Latinos didn’t want to identify as Chicano nor did they see the value in retaining their Spanish language.

Corky’s criticism of Gringo Society clearly includes frustration over the domination of English but ironically Spanish is also a colonist language. Even the movement’s chosen name Chicano, or originally Xicano, derives it’s origins from a Nahuatl, a language used by the Aztecs. The movement was constantly attempting to reconnect and trace it’s roots to the most authentic and native source. This source is ultimately discovered to be Atzlán–the mythical homeland of the Chicano. Geographically this area covered Northern Mexico and the South West of the United States. However, this area never existed as a nation nor it’s people as a unified group. Nonetheless, Atzlán is frequently mentioned in Chicano literature and served as a unifying concept for the movement.

This poem’s strength is in it’s recognition of it’s own complex history as nearly all Chicanos could trace aspects of their heritage to Spanish, Aztec, American Indian and Gringo American sources. As Joaquín declares: I have been the bloody revolution, I am the Victor and the Vanquished, I have killed and been killed. This is an important sentiment for anyone studying the history of the Americas and the heritage of the people living there.

This poem traces the political history of the area discussing Cuauhtémoc, Cortez, Bento Juárez, Zapata and many others who may be less well known outside of Mexico but whose history is definitely worth a bit of research.

One of the criticisms I find most compelling is the lack of emphasis of the importance of the Chicana with little input into the history of women in the area. Joaquín is ultimately identified as the artistic spirit of Diego Rivera but lacking is Frida and female artists. The Chicano movement had to address this as women in the movement struggled to overcome Machismo, what we would now call toxic masculinity, whose origins in the traditional Mexican and Catholic family structures persisted in their communities.

Most importantly, this poem served as a starting point for the Chicano movement. A rallying cry either for or against, this poem spoke to people and one way or another and got people out of their seats and onto the streets.

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