Who'd have thought the son of two migrant workers could rise to the pinnacle of poetry honor?

The United States Library of Congress has appointed Juan Felipe Herrera national poet laureate. And, wow, he is extraordinary.


Juan Felipe Herrera. Image by Slowking4/Wikimedia Commons.

As a child, Herrera lived a nomadic life out of tents and trailers on farm roads throughout California. His folks, both migrant farmworkers from Mexico, moved with the seasons of agriculture for the often hazardous and thankless work in the fields.

Herrera and his father. Image via University of California Riverside/YouTube.

Despite steep social and economic odds, Herrera has achieved the top of his art on a mountain of original talent, unshakeable work ethic, and passion. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said Herrera was selected as poet laureate because his poems “champion voices, traditions and histories, as well as a cultural perspective, which is a vital part of our larger American identity."

Here are five great things to know about the nation's premier wordsmith:

1. He WILL make your brain work.

Herrera's writing is riddled with cultural references and mind-scrambling metaphors, but the images he conjures can launch even the least versed of his audience into a state of wonder.

Image via Poets.org/YouTube.

2. His poems are meant to be heard.

Many of Herrera's poems were written for spoken delivery. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he spoke of his humble beginnings with spoken word:

"I used to stand on the corner in San Diego with poems sticking out of my hip pocket, asking people if there was a place where I could read poems. The audience is half of the poem."

In this video, Herrera reads excerpts from a few of his poems, beginning with "187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross The Border," a call-and-response piece that involves the audience in an affirmation of each line of the story.

3. He's down with the kids.

Herrera's contemporaries are pretty excited about his knack for connecting young people to poetry. And with the rising popularity of spoken word among American youth, his appointment comes at a great time.

Herrera with a bilingual class in 1984. GIFs via Rick Tejada-Flores/YouTube.

Robert Casper of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress is stoked about Herrera:

"He speaks poetry in a way that I think is super-inspiring. ... He's the kind of poet who gives you permission to love poetry, to be excited about it, to be energized by it. To think that it's something freeing and fun but also relevant to the issues we face, the challenges we have; to understanding the world we're in."

4. He's an icon of recognition for a growing community.

Herrera is the first Latino — Chicano (Mexican-American), to be specific — to ever receive this honor. Latinos, who represent 17% of the U.S. population, are an important part of the country's cultural tapestry.

Image by Voces de la Frontera/Flickr.

As much of Herrera's writing focuses on working-class Latino experiences, a lot of people are very excited to see their heritage recognized in a culturally significant way.

5. He cares about the world and all its people.

In an interview with Washington Post, Ron Charles asks Herrera about a line from his book "Senegal Taxi" that goes, "Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!" to which he replied:

“Waking up is the biggest thing. I'm a political poet — let us say a human poet, a poet that's concerned with the plight of people who suffer. If words can be of assistance, then that's what I'm going to use."

And if that's not reason enough to love him, check out this video playlist of readings and interviews with Herrera. It won't take long to make you a fan. Then you can send him a congratulatory tweet to what has to be one of the best handles in the Twittersphere: @cilantroman.

Former President George W. Bush and current president Donald Trump may both be Republicans but they have contrasting views when it comes to immigration.

Trump has been one of the most anti-immigrant presidents of recent memory. His Administration separated undocumented families at the border, placed bans on travelers from majority-Muslim countries, and he's proudly proclaimed, "Our country is full."

George W. Bush's legacy on immigration is a bit more nuanced. He ended catch-and-release and called for heightened security at the U.S.-Mexico border, but he also championed an immigration bill that created a guest worker program and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people.

Unfortunately, that bill did not pass.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Picsea on Unsplash
True

It is said that once you've seen something, you can't unsee it. This is exactly what is happening in America right now. We have collectively watched the pot of racial tension boil over after years of looking the other way, insisting that hot water doesn't exist, pretending not to notice the smoke billowing out from every direction.

Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away—it prolongs resolution. There's a whole lot of harm to be remedied and damage to be repaired as a result of racial injustice, and it's up to all of us to figure out how to do that. Parents, in particular, are recognizing the importance of raising anti-racist children; if we are unable to completely eradicate racism, maybe the next generation will.

How can parents ensure that the next generation will actively refuse to perpetuate systems and behaviors embedded in racism? The most obvious answer is to model it. Take for example, professional tennis player Serena Williams and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

Keep Reading Show less

I saw this poster today and I was going to just let it go, but then I kept feeling tugged to say something.

Melanie Cholish/Facebook

While this poster is great to bring attention to the issue of child trafficking, it is a "shocking" picture of a young girl tied up. It has that dark gritty feeling. I picture her in a basement tied to a dripping pipe.

While that sounds awful, it's important to know that trafficking children in the US is not all of that. I can't say it never is—I don't know. What I do know is most young trafficked children aren't sitting in a basement tied up. They have families, and someone—usually in their family—is trafficking them.

Keep Reading Show less

Roland Pollard and his 4-year-old daughter Jayden have been doing cheer and tumbling stunts together since Jayden could walk. When you see videos of their skills, the level of commitment is apparent—as is the supportive relationship this daddy has with his daughter.

Pollard, a former competitive cheerleader and cheer coach, told In The Know that he didn't expect Jayden to catch on to her flying skills at age 3, but she did. He said he never pressures her to perform stunts and that she enjoys it. And as a viral video of Jayden almost falling during a stunt shows, excelling at a skill requires good teaching—something Pollard appears to have mastered.

Keep Reading Show less