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Poetic justice: Local writers raise awareness of migrant crisis

Martín Espada is among the poets scheduled to read Wednesday evening in Boston.Nahal Mottaghian

Poetry has long served as the protester’s preferred art form. From civil rights to women’s liberation movements, it’s capable of stirring masses to action and, as importantly, spreading succinct messages of resistance and empowerment across borders.

This Wednesday, poets in over 40 American cities will unite for a series of readings that aim to protest violence at the US-Mexico border while raising funds to counter it. Organized by writers Javier Zamora, Jan-Henry Gray, Anni Liu, and Christopher Soto, “Writers for Migrant Justice” set out to raise $5,000 for volunteer-based organization Immigrant Families Together before Wednesday. By last weekend, it had surpassed that goal.

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Boston’s event (at Arlington Street Church, from 6-7:30 p.m.) was organized by four local wordsmiths — Cheryl Clark Vermeulen, Oliver de la Paz, Anna V.Q. Ross, and Alana Folsom — who enlisted dozens in Boston’s literary community to participate.

Those scheduled to read on Wednesday include de la Paz, José Angel Araguz, Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, Mary Buchinger, Martha Collins, Nicole Terez Dutton, Martín Espada, Danielle Legros Georges, Jennifer Jean, Sonya Larson, U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo, Fred Marchant, Willy Ramirez, Yara Liceaga Rojas, Anna V.Q. Ross, Natalie Shapero, Grace Talusan, and Crystal Williams.

Said Espada, a poetry professor at UMass Amherst, in a press release: “These are poets that speak from the heart of the communities most gravely endangered in our times, or on behalf of these communities, poems that reflect the unstoppable diversification of this society, poems that assert our common humanity in the face of dehumanization.”

“We can’t be silent — thus complicit,” added Vermeulen, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, when contacted by the Globe. “Writers make demands of themselves every day to reveal truths, no matter how difficult.”

Wednesday’s event, she said, feels especially meaningful as artists search for ways to oppose the Trump administration’s treatment of families crossing the border. “Like so many, I am disgusted by our administration punishing people for seeking safety and opportunity,” she said. Poetry, she believes, is an effective tool for deepening the national dialogue surrounding citizenship and immigration.

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De la Paz agrees. “I’ll be reading a poem about strawberry picking,” he said. “[It] seems like an innocent poem but is highly politically charged when you think about who is picking the strawberries that land on your table.”

A self-described “new New Englander” since shifting from the West Coast, de la Paz teaches at Holy Cross; his first book, “Names Above Houses,” chronicled the lives of a newly emigrated Filipino family in San Francisco, once his family’s port of entry.

“My family fled the Philippines in 1972 after Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, and my uncle was on one of Marcos’s blacklists as a college student activist,” recalled the poet. “We had to immediately leave because of the political upheaval and the threat to my parents. I wasn’t a naturalized US citizen until I turned 13, so I see direct parallels to what is happening now and what has happened to my family.”

While Wednesday’s event is free, snacks will be available for purchase; poets will also sell their work, with all proceeds benefiting IFT’s mission of providing legal representation and adjustment support for formerly detained immigrants, as well as necessities — like soap, toothbrushes, and food — for currently detained immigrants.

The event is sponsored by area groups like the MIRA Coalition, which works to defend and empower immigrants in local neighborhoods. Organizers hope Wednesday’s event can bring visibility to such efforts and encourage attendees to get involved with fighting for immigrant rights locally.

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“We cannot let migrants’ rights be eroded,” said Vermeulen. “We wonder who may be next. In all, we are honored that so many writers and organizations are working with us to make this event happen.”

Isaac Feldberg


Isaac Feldberg can be reached by email at isaac.feldberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @isaacfeldberg.