The results of the 2010 census have been out for some time. Now comes the serious work of digging into the statistics to analyze the appropriation of government services.
One figure that has been changing significantly over the last couple of decades is the increase of the Hispanic population, both in this state and in the country overall. I don't traffic much in numbers, but I do like words, so to get an inside perspective on the demographic shift, I spent time this week with two Mexican-born poets who now make their home in the United States.
Raul Sanchez is a Seattle poet whose debut collection has been published this summer. "All Our Brown-Skinned Angels" is filled with poems about identity. Sanchez calls them "scribbles" - "from all the places/I left behind" - some bitter memories, and some tender ones.
Sanchez writes about family, culture, and society. He talks of his dad, a Mexican immigrant laborer, in "My Father Was a Bracero" and in an unabashedly sentimental poem titled "Family Tree." He writes about his daughter in "Dandelion."
There are overtly political poems. "Brown Angels at Work" and the title poem, "All Our Brown-Skinned Angels," quietly rage at the poor treatment of immigrant workers: "we live amongst people / who carry stones / instead of hearts." And "Mex-I-Can" voices pride in being "brown as the earth I'm standing on" and calls for solidarity.
But it is the most intensely personal poems in this collection that are the most potent.
In some of them Sanchez grapples with the Spanish blood - blood of the oppressors - in his lineage.
In "Right Time, Wrong Place," writing about being apprehended by police in a case of mistaken identity, he juxtaposes the language of the Miranda rights with a blow-by-blow description of the way he was treated by the cops.
Speaking of juxtaposition, it was interesting to read through Sanchez's collection after first spending time with "Floricanto en Aztlan," a seminal work of Chicano poetry first published 40 years ago by California-based poet Alurista (Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia).
Alurista was one of the featured guests at the Skagit River Poetry Festival earlier this year and a new edition of his work has been published by University of Washington Press, so there's the Northwest connection. But his focus is on indigenous heritage, oppression, and political voice - ideas that resonate, over time and across geography, from one generation of poets to the next.
"Floricanto" is of a somewhat tougher mien than Sanchez's work - having less time for lament, more for overt defiance.
Alurista was an early literary practitioner of Spanglish - from line to line his words shift from English into Spanish and back again with a fluidity that is becoming more widespread today, though it is still not entirely accessible to those whose command of Spanish (or English) is limited.
These poems powerfully underscore the challenges of negotiating two prideful cultures at once.
BARBARA LLOYD MCMICHAEL writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org