Top to bottom: Emanuel Xavier with SOMOS... Project Director Francisco Lazala, MC Elizabeth Latex, Robert Ortiz and Dino Foxx (all photos by Andrés Duque except for top pic, courtesy of Emanuel).
On Saturday I headed to the Bowery Poetry Club for the Mariposas benefit on behalf of the SOMOS... Project at the Latino Commission on AIDS (the program fights homophobia in the Spanish-speaking Latino community of New York). Since October, when I got the news that spoken word artist and actor Emanuel Xavier had been attacked and beaten up badly, I had followed his progress closely and even wrote a cover story for Gay City News but I had yet to have a chance to see him face to face.
Emanuel sustained some inner-ear damage for which he is still being treated but he has begun to perform again as well as organize showcases for other performers. He first reached me in December with the idea of putting this benefit together and I suggested that he engage SOMOS... He wanted to name the event Mariposas (Butterflies), a word used in many Latin American to refer despectively to gays, and I thought it was fine not only as an appropriation of the term but also for what butterflies usually reprsent: A process of transformation and of inner beauty rising up.
The night was hosted by the legendary Elizabeth Latex, who also performed. Emanuel was joined by percussionist Joyce Jones and spoken word poets Robert Ortiz and Dino Foxx (an Austin, Texas native making his New York City debut - you can hear some Dino's poetry by here).
For an early Saturday night, a lot of people showed up and, while both Robert and Dino expressed initial nervousness, they seemed to warm up as the night went along. The crowd was great with Diva André from the House of Xavier sitting up front and calling certain performances "crunch!" And, despite Robert's boricua background and Dino's Chicano background, their poetry touched amazingly similar themes of family unity and disunity, ethnic bonds and divisions, assimilation and displacement as well as sexuality and love. Both were extremely moving in their own ways.
Emanuel performed some of his best-known pieces including "Americano" and "Tradiciones" with the incomparable Joyce Jones backing him up on percussion. And, even though some of his darkest work has always had touches of humor, there seemed to be a lot more darkness in this particular performance than at any other times I've seen him perform. His newer poems dealt with issues related to community and family violence, the separation of a couple over the issue of expressing love in public and of being able to leave a legacy behind in showing the way for a younger generation of poets. In a biting and trenchantly sardonic piece, he also addressed writers like Harold Bloom who has dismissed spoken word poetry in the past and, in the most moving moment of the night, thanked his personal heroes in "Legendary," which he dedicated to Pepper Labeija and other children of the night who are gone.
All in all, an amazingly moving night. Thanks Emanuel.
[NOTE: For Dino Foxx's take on the night, go here]