CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She maintains a blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com. She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
My story, like many
others, did not begin when Columbus landed on these shores. No, my story, like
many others, begins with my mother and her mother and her mother and my father
and his father and his father before that. It is a story of people, of
practices that my great-grandmother taught my mother and that my grandfather
taught my father.
My story has roots in
Europe as well as here, what we call the Americas. It has grown many stems and
many branches, but both come from the earth, nourished by the same rivers. This
cross-pollination has resulted in a new breed, a new fruit that mixes together
the qualities of the different seeds.
But my story, the
story of Latin@s in this land, has a very violent and vicious backstory. It is
a history we have had to deal with since our creation. The cross-pollination of
us has tried desperately to eradicate our native seeds through genocide, rape,
Wipe out any trace of
our native roots, and they will forget they were ever indigenous to this land.
“We are all immigrants” is the banner they fly over our heads. We don’t live on
reservations. We don’t know our tribal affiliations. We are not native.
How many times have I
heard stories of full-blooded Indian grandmothers locked away in little rooms
because their families are ashamed of their native roots? How many Chican@s
would rather celebrate Cinco de Mayo than remember Wounded Knee? How many
Latin@s believe that English is a colonizing language and forget that Spanish
has silenced just as many native tongues? We divorce ourselves from our native
pasts and embrace our Spanish heritage because we believe we have no claim to
our native roots, but we do…
Our blood is filled
with as much native blood as Spanish or other European. Our stories are filled
with as many native characters as European plotlines. Our poetry drips with as
much native imagery as Western forms.
But where our native roots show more than
anywhere else is in our practices. We still have amongst us curanderos and
wiseros and heuvos under our beds. We still talk about ojo and know the healing
powers of aloe vera. Tortillas, potatoes, tomatoes, and maize are still the
cornerstones of our diets, as they were thousands of years ago.
But we still
have a gap in our heritage, a vacancy that has been shoveled over with
different traditions, tongues, religions, and practices. We don’t have a
visible link to our stories and our practices because of erasure by beliefs
that call our native heritage pagan, barbaric, and superstitious. Forgetting
the fact that the Maya were practicing algebra, astronomy, and agriculture long
before many understood the world was round.
But my story is Your
story. They have the same roots.
The Latin@’s history
shares the same roots as the native peoples of this land because, as Joy Harjo
once told me, “We are all cousins.” We are all family estranged from each other
because we have chosen to believe that imaginary borders can divide a people.
The Rio Grande, the river that I have known my entire life, has never stopped
me from crossing its waters: Fences and men with guns do. We create these
boundaries mostly because we are told they are important, but these boundaries
never serve our people’s interests. They do more to divide us than to protect
us. But we are just as much to blame for these divisions as those who created
these divisions. It is up to us to change things; it always has been and always
In many ways, we share
more in common with native peoples all over the Americas then we do with anyone
else. Ironically, the food that is synonymous with Native peoples tells our
story better than any other.
Corn (maize) has a
unique history because it has never grown in the wild; it has always been
cultivated. The only known wild plant that has a link to maize is teosinte. Now
teosinte doesn’t look like corn, nor does it behave like corn in any way, yet
it shares almost its entire DNA with corn (maize). Teosinte, a Mexican
wildgrass, and corn (maize) can even be crossbred naturally, and they will grow
and prosper without the aid of gene therapy. What scientists have been able to
conclude about the origins of corn (maize) is that corn (maize) retains four
out of the five genes from teosinte and that these genes have been relatively
unchanged since corn’s (maize’s) creation.
Corn (Maize) is unique
because it is able to cross-mingle its origins and still maintain a dual
identity, which causes subtle changes while retaining its native genes. These
strains become different species of corn (maize), yet they still retain their
native wild plants in their genetic memory. So even though corn (maize) is one
of the only plants engineered in nature by man, it still remembers its wild
roots and is still vital to its evolutionary process.
Our mestizaje, our
native and European ancestry, operates in the same way; we still remember in
our genetic code our native roots, but unlike corn (maize), we have to remember
and practice our native roots as deeply as our Spanish heritage.
My Chican@ story is
your Native story. We have the same roots.
--excerpted from I Have Always
Been Here, Otras Voces 2013.
DESCRIPTION & COPYRIGHT INFO
1 Christopher Carmona website logo.
2, 4, 5, Copyright by Christal Cooper
Christopher Columbus is shown landing in the West
Indies, on an island that the natives called Guanahani and he named San
Salvador, on October 12, 1492. He raises the royal banner, claiming the land
for his Spanish patrons, and stands bareheaded, with his hat at his feet, in
honor of the sacredness of the event. The captains of the Niña and Pinta
follow, carrying the banner of Ferdinand and Isabella. The crew displays a
range of emotions, some searching for gold in the sand. Natives watch from
behind a tree. Attributed to John
Vanderlyn, the first American painter to be trained in Paris. Vanderlyn worked on this canvas for ten years
with the help of assistants. Public
Dat So La Lee demonstrating basket weaving, 1900. Public Domain.
Don Pedro Jaramillo (Birthdate
unknown – died in 1907)is a curandero,
or faith healer from the Mexico-Texas region. He is known as "the healer
of Los Olmos" and "el mero jefe" (English: the real chief) of
the curanderos. Public Domain.
"Las Tortilleras": women making
tortillas, early 19th century Mexico. Hand-colored lithograph. Original size
between neat lines: 43.6×30 cm.
Lithograph by Frederic Lehnerb after a drawing by Carl Nebel
(1805-1855). Public Domain.
Carmona. Copyright by Christopher
Maize: (a) Lower part of the plant (b) top of plant
with male inflorescense (c) middle of plant with female inflorescenses (d)
ear/cob: (1) two pollen grains of a male inflorescense (3, 4) female flowers
(5) female flowers with stigma (6) fruit bottom view (7) fruit side view (8)
fruit cross-section views. Attributed to
Franz Eugen Kohler, Kohler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen. Public Domain.
An image depicting Teosinte, Maize-teosinte hybrid,
Maize. Attributed to John Doebley. CCA-SA 3.0 Unported License.
Variegated maize ears. Attributed to Sam
Fentress. GNUFD License 1.2 and CCA-SA
Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker,
53, is one of the greatest persona poets
of our time, giving voices to African Americans who have made good differences
to the world.
One of those African Americans he
writes about is the legendary jockey Isaac Murphy (1861 – 1896) in his book Isaac
Murphy I Dedicate This Ride, published in 2010 by Old Cove Press.
Walker did not know of Isaac Murphy’s
existence until he was in high school, attending Danville High School in his hometown
of Danville, Kentucky.
At the time of learning about Isaac
Murphy, Walker was two personalities in one:
the nerd and the jock. He told
Progressive Radio that there were some students who thought he had a twin,
because the nerd and the jock were so different, but yet, they were one in the
It only seemed fitting that his classmates
christened him, twice elected class president, with a new name of “X” to take
into account the two sides of Walker.
It wasn’t until 2009 that Isaac Murphy
came into Walker’s life – when Walker was commissioned to write a play about
Isaac Murphy’s legendary career and life.
The commission of writing the play grew
to the desire to write a collection of persona poems about Isaac Murphy with
Isaac Murphy’s voice, the voice of Murphy’s parents James and America Burns;
his mentor Eli Jordan; and his wife Lucy Murphy, whom Walker dedicated the
poetry collection to.
Walker, the second of ten children, is
a private poet, and never writes about himself, or about his family, but the
influence of women in his life has been a strong one, stemming from when he was
a boy, enduring a gruesome arm injury by getting his arm caught in the barrel
of an old time washing machine.
While he was recovering from the arm
injury, his mother brought him books, magazines, and other materials to
read. It is because of this (and not
having a television set) that he developed his love for reading and words and
recognized their “magical power.”
He read The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew Series, Sherlock
Holms, and devoured Childcraft Encyclopedias, a gift from his
mother. It wasn’t until his high school
years that he started writing poetry.
Walker is proud of his history of being
reared by women and credits their influence in giving him the ability to create
the female voices in his persona poems, especially the female voices in his
historical book of poetry about the Lewis and Clark expedition via Clark’s
personal slave York’s voice in Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York.
“I believe that because
I was raised by women, have been blessed with six sisters, and survived multiple
failed relationships, I actually lived the research material I needed to create
most of the authentic sounding female voices in my historical poetry.” Walker told CX Dillhunt
and Drew Dillhunt in an online interview last year.
Using the same research that he
obtained while writing the play on Isaac Murphy’s life and career, Walker sat
in his home office and wrote the persona poems in longhand with ink in his personal
In his home office are: posters of Malcolm X and Jamaican political
leader and poet Marcus Garvey; photograph of his bride, Taunya, of less than a
year, and other family photos.
Also in the office are three bookshelves of
books, magazines, and other writing materials.
Perhaps the most creative thing in his office, besides paper, is his golf
He told Kentucky reporter Candace
Chaney in April of last year, “A lot of
my writing process is just about sort of teasing things out. I golf to kind of clear my head and work
The prolific poet writes at
least one poem a day, does not believe in writer’s block, and does not carry a
cell phone when he is writing: “I try not to take my cell phone with
me. It gives me free space to think, to
tease those things out, to think about a new poem or new idea or new
structure." Walker told Chaney
in April of 2013.
Walker has written six poetry collections,
four of those are persona poem collections.
“Persona poems are poems written in the voice of someone other than the
poet. Adequate research is necessary to
make these poems effective.”
Walker believes young people, especially African
American Men, will benefit from reading these poetry persona collections
because they will learn about history and discover good role models.”
Walker is associate professor of English at the University
of Kentucky. He is presently working on
two poetry collections, a play, and has just completed his first novel, which
he described as a dream come true.
Walker’s favorite poem from Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This
Ride is “Prairie Song,” because of its connection to the African
American literary tradition. What makes this poem an unusual rarity is that it
is written in the voice of Walker, telling of his personal experience visiting Isaac
Murphy’s final resting place.
Frank X Walker
Straddling the distance between
African Cemetery No. 2
and the Kentucky Horse Park,
between the straw-lined stables
at Churchill Downs
and the view from Millionaires Row,
between our racist history
and our proud past,
I offer these words, this elegy,
this praise song for Isaac.
For every master teacher
blessed with a willing student,
for Jimmy Winkfield and William Walker,
Pat Day and Calvin Borel,
Eddie Arcaro and Angel Cordero Jr.,
for every jockey hypnotized
by the speed, power
and the music of racing.
For every trainer, groom, hot walker
and stable hand who palmed a brush,
carried a bucket or lifted a shovel.
For every Derby Day hero
generous enough to take a jockey
along for the ride,
for every yearling dreaming
of a garland of roses,
for every also-ran.
I recommit this husband to his wife,
this son to his mother,
this student to his teacher.
I offer all of them to each of us.
I dedicate this ride to a man
whose life’s work was a blueprint
for anyone black, white or brown
hoping to build something better,
hoping to fulfill their own potential,
to use all their gifts and blessings
in an honorable way.
Isaac Murphy’s life teaches us
How to honor our parents,
how to love full speed,
how to outrun prejudice and oppression.
I dedicate this ride
to America and Kentucky’s son,
to a legacy worthy of a star on the walk,
a boulevard named in his honor,
Wrap your arms around his story,
close your eyes,
feel the wind whispering in your ears.
Grab the reins of any and everything
that makes your heart race.
Find your purpose. Find your purpose.
And hold on.
*Copyright by Frank X Walker and Old Cove Press.
*Printed with permission from Frank X Walker.
AND COPYRIGHT INFO
Photo 1, 6, 13, 17, 18
Frank X Walker. Attributed to Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Copyright by Frank X Walker and Rachel Eliza
Jacket cover of Isaac
Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride.
Kentucky. Attributed to Russell and
Sydney Poore. GNUFD License. And CCASA
3.0 Unported, 2.5, 2.0 and 1.0 Generic.
Isaac Murphy. Public Domain.
racing. Public Domain.
Lucy Murphy. Public Domain.
Manual barrel washer,
manufactured by J.V. Obradampf, Germany, 1930-1935. GNU Free Documentation License. CCASA 3.0, 2.5 , 2.0, and 1.0 license.
cover of The Tower Treasure
Encyclopedias in a home in India. GNU
Free Documentation License and CCASA License.
cover of Buffalo Dance The Journey Of York
X in March of 1964. Attributed to Library
of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. is
photograph is a work for hire
created prior to 1968 by a staff photographer at New York
World-Telegram & Sun.
It is part of a collection donated to the Library of
Congress. Per the deed of gift, New York World-Telegram &
Sun dedicated to the public all rights it held for the photographs in this collection upon its donation to the Library. Thus,
there are no known restrictions on the usage of this photograph.
Garvey at his office on August 5, 1924.
Attributed to George Grantham Bain.
Library of Congress – no known restrictions on this photo.
putting green. Public Domain.
cover of When Winter Come: The Ascension
cover of Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of
image of jacket cover of Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride
X Walker. Photo attributed to Tracy A
Hawkins. Copyright by Frank X Walker.