Chingona Fest: Erika “La Erika” Garza-Johnson

I attended the University of Texas-Pan American and granted it may not be all fancy like some Ivy Leagues but, it was filled with intelligent and talented people. One spring semester when I was taking Dr. Rob Johnson’s South Texas Writers, I met a poet and heard her read in our class. Her name was Erika Garza and by god was I intimidated by her ease with the poetic form and acceptance of who she was as an individual. I was nowhere near as comfortable as she was in her own skin.

It was seeing her, Lady Mariposa, and having the opportunity to befriend Daniel Garcia Ordaz while in college that made me want to become a writer. Although, poetry is not my fortay, La Erika and others command that their presence be known and it is along the Frontera where they weave their words. I am very excited that she will be performing at the Chingona Fest this weekend.

La Erika

What inspires and motivates you?

I can’t pinpoint one thing that inspires me. But, since I have to: life. Life inspires me. All that comes with it: beauty, nature, death, the body, friends, my children, birth, love, hate, anger, chachalacas, taquaches, menudo, art, family, my mom and dad, dichos, ancestors, my husband, the border, the RGV, other writers, and the list goes on. I am inspired on a daily basis. Do I pen it down? Not always, but I am motivated by inspiration.

What made you want to participate in this type of Empowerment Festival?

Lady Mariposa (my best friend/sister poet) told me about it. She calls me a Chingona. I also wanted to support Chingona Fest and celebrate all the amazing, talented women of the RGV. I wanted to represent that poetry is not just something people read at coffee shops or art galleries. It’s alive everywhere. I  have read my poetry at the rock and roll bar Simon Sez, at Jackie O’s, my backyard, hell, the pulga is next! I am very excited about reading at Cubby Hole surrounded by art, music, belly dancing, you name it. All Chingonas, all the time.

How would you describe your poetry/art?

My poetry is all over the place. Someone once called it Schizophrenic. I would call it Capirotada. It’s got a lot of stuff in it.Sometimes, it is funny. Sometimes, it’s depressing. It’s not just Chicana poetry, either. I have performed it  alot. I started around 2001 or so. However, I have been writing since 1992. I think my poetry is best described as a journey, a journey through my life. It’s personal, it’s emotional, it’s raw. I love imagery. I love wordplay. I love to paint with words. I also like to sing! So, sometimes, I throw in a song. Just for fun!

As a Latina/Hispanic/Chicana/Mexican American, what is one thing that has affected your craft and how do you deal with it or balance it in your life?

Growing up, I didn’t think about being Mexican American. I knew I was, but I wasn’t really conscious of it and I just wanted to be American. I wanted to be a poet. But, the poetry we were taught was written by dead white guys and some suicidal rich ladies. Howver, when I started reading other types of writers, namely,  Carmen Tafolla, Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, Juan Felipe Herrera, Luis Alberto Urrea, Reyes Cardenas. You know the big names and I was a changed poet. I didn’t know you could write like that. I didn’t know you could code-switch and use it as a poetic device. I didn’t know you could be proud of your identity and your Chicana-ness. This only added fuel to my fire since I needed to come to terms with my Mexican and American identity to balance my life.

Is there one person/writer who has heavily influenced you and why are they so important?

Lady Mariposa aka Veronica Sandoval, the Academic Chola, influences me. She keeps me in check. She and I started hosting poetry readings around the same time. I was pissed. Here this girl, who wakes up in her 20’s and wants to be a poet. Damn-it, I was going to be the poet, no fiar. (At the time, I didn’t think the Valley was big enough for the two of us and I was pretty immature. Now , there is a new one born everyday. It’s kinda nice.)

Lady Mariposa was a force. I  had to keep up with her. She and I were frenemies but not really. She was too beautiful, talented, and not to mention too sweet to dislike. She supported me and I had noc hoice but to respect and admire her. It is funny now in retrospect. She is one of my biggest influences. I learn from her and she learns from me (I Hope). She is my poetry Comadre por Vida.

Another person who influences me is Lauren Espinoza, the young one in this performance group we created called The Trinity. Lauren is the glue that brought me and Lady together. Oh, and Fideo. Fideo brought us together as well.

If you could recommend one book to our readers, what would it be?

Just one? Ok, Borderlands: La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua.

This is just one of many talented women who will be attending Chingona Fest.   I hope to see you there and help us support all the Chingonas out there!

Jessie

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