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Poetry event highlights social justice and Latin American voices

Poesía de Justia Event, April 15
Advocating for social justice and reclaiming identity was the central theme April 15 at the Sacred Root Tea Lounge and Kava Bar, as several poets — most of whom were young women of color — graced the stage to perform spoken word poetry.

People attending Poesía de Justicia Event (Isabella Grullón)

The event, Poesía de Justicia, was an afternoon filled with spoken word performances from college students and Ithaca residents bringing awareness to social justice issues. Poesía de Justicia is an annual event put together by Cultura Ithaca, a local organization that seeks to immerse people in the Ithaca area in Latin American culture and hosts art-focused educational events.

Carolina Osorio Gil, the director of Cultura Ithaca, has been organizing this event for several years, and said the autobiographical essence of many of the poems made them very powerful.

Audience members discussing poetry (Isabella Grullón)

“It was a small event, which was nice, in an intimate space which gave room and a safe place for people to share their poetry which can often be a very sensitive and personal thing to share,” she said.

A focus on Latin American culture took center stage Saturday afternoon, as many of the spoken word pieces were interlaced with Spanish and focused on the personal experiences of Latina women and women of color.

Cornell University student Javier Agredo said he enjoyed all of the performances and appreciated the intimacy of the space.

“I really enjoyed the diversity of experiences that people talked about,” he said. “And I also really enjoyed that this really did feel like a safe space where people could talk about their life their struggles and everything they’ve encountered.”

Ithaca College junior Ava Bryan, whose stage name is Ava Knew, performed at Poesía de Justicia as the event’s special guest. Knew performed two pieces: a new rap piece called “Gas Pedal” and a poem named “I Can’t Breathe.” Bryan said “Gas Pedal” is perhaps one of the more prevalent songs in her music career.

“‘Gas Pedal’ is really for the person of color in the white institution,” she said. “It’s for that person who realizes that they understand the system and understands what’s going on, but they also know that they want to live their lives at the same time.”

Bryan has always gravitated toward poetry and the spoken word, and said poetry can sometimes come easier to her than her music.

“The only thing that I’ve always come back to is poetry,” she said. “It’s that rhythm. It’s that natural wave of easing out your own pain but also realizing that there is power in your words.”

Food provided at the event (Isabella Grullón)

In addition to being hosted by Cultura Ithaca, the event was primarily organized by Cultura student volunteer Tatiana Fotopoulos. She said the specific social justice theme of the event was motivated by the current political climate.  

“I thought that it would be good to not only highlight people of color, Latina poets, but make it a social justice event,” she said. “Just really highlighting and creating a space where people can show what matters to them, whatever medium that is.”

Osorio said the event is one of the many ways the organization has helped to create a safe space for the Latin American community in Ithaca. She said participation from members of the Cultura Ithaca and the local area has contributed to this creation of a safe space.  

“We’ve had to create our own safe spaces a lot,” she said. “And a lot of it is led by the community and the participants themselves. … I really strive to include students, elders, multigenerational, teens, kids, all ages in creating these space and having spaces to listen to people and what they want and what their needs are.”

Fotopoulos said the medium of spoken word has its roots in providing a cathartic form of expression for marginalized people, an aspect that was present throughout the event.

“Historically, written words or poetry can be a way for people who are historically marginalized to really come through and show who they are, trying to just like show what they want out of society,” she said. “And it’s a good way to create alternatives in society.”

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