“Back in the day,” recounts chicano poet Gregg Barrios, “I went to the University of Texas at Austin, where there were only 200 Hispanics enrolled in a university of 30,000,”

“One of the other 200 Hispanics was a young man named Ricardo Romo, who I befriended,” Barrios said. And yet, it was Krisellen Maloney, dean of libraries, who had to excuse the absence of UTSA’s President Ricardo Romo at Barrios’ poetry reading.

“He has been looking forward to this for so long, but I am afraid he won’t be able to come,” Maloney said while the audience mumbled. “He got a call from the White House, where he was appointed by President Obama to be part of the Committee for Hispanic Excellence. He hopes you will excuse him.” The audience bursted into applause.

While Romo was at the Presidential Mansion, Barrios was being honored by some of the most influential literary figures in the Chicano movement which included, Sandra Cisneros, author of the acclaimed novel, “The House on Mango Street,” selected as The New York Times Book of the Year, and John Philip Santos, author of “Places Left Unifinished at the Time of Creation”, finalist for the National Book Award, the Distinguished Scholar in Mestizo Cultural Studies at UTSA. Among the speakers on Oct. 5, were UTSA’s professors Ben Olguín, and Norma Cantú.

It was Santos who acted as master of ceremonies in the event which was considered one of the highlights of the Hispanic Heritage Month. The poetry reading, called The New Latino Generation was accompanied by an art exhibit that will be on display until Nov. 5 at Gallery 23 in the University Center.

“Buenas tardes, y’all,” Santos said jokingly before beginning the event, which was held in the Acacia Room in the University Center. Later came Barrios’ poems in the voices of Frances Treviño-Santos, Olguín, and slam poet Anthony Flores. Cantú followed. She said, “Somos la tierra y el cielo. Esta tierra y este cielo./ We are the land and the sky. This land and this sky,” giving an introduction to the much expected reading by Cisneros.

“I am very glad we are honoring you this evening, Gregg,” Cisneros said. “Most of the time authors are not honored until they die. It is a shame, really. What good are all those words and homages once the writers are gone?”

Barrios, a former journalist for the Los Angeles Times and a book editor for the San Antonio Express-News, is also a playwright whose work “Rancho Pancho” is based on “the tempestuous love affair between Tennessee Williams and Pancho Rodriguez, who inspired the character of Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,” according to the Barrios’ publisher.

His incursion into theater left, along with other publications, a coming-of-age poem written by Barrios dedicated to actors that debut in show business that was performed by Brad Milne.

“This is what happens when sparks of creativity meet each other,” said Santos, before introducing actor Rick Frederick.

Frederick’s interpretation of “El Hijo de Frida y Diego,” a poem from Barrios that encompasses an episode in the lives of painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, was particularly well received.

“His mastery of the text was superb,” Xavier Gibbens, senior English major said. “The way he managed to capture all the drama, joy and suffering, and how he used Frida’s and Diego’s paintings as audiovisual help was great. Simply great.”

Gregg Barrios, born in Victoria, Texas, in 1945, is considered by many as a leader of Chicano literature and the Chicano movement. In his lifetime, he was an acquaintance and friend of Norman Mailer, Andy Warhol and many others.

His most recent book, “La Causa,” is a collection of poems that depict the evolution of the Chicano movement and is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and as an e-book.

His poetry reading was sponsored by the UTSA Office of the President, UTSA Libraries and the Consortium for Social Transformation and the Mexican-American Studies Program.

 

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