As part of the 2020 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Claudia Castro Luna in response to a video of her reading her poem “Asi” aloud. Claudia Castro Luna wrote letters back to three of these students; their letters and her replies are included below, along with several additional responses from students.
Claudia Castro Luna also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Dear young Poets,
Thank you so much for taking the time to pen such beautiful and sincere letters in response to my poem, "Asi." It gave me great pleasure to read about your lives and how the poem spoke to your particular circumstances.
I am originally from El Salvador and came to the US when I was fourteen years old and a high school sophomore. My family left El Salvador as it succumbed to a civil war that lasted twelve years. I did not speak any English and my high school did not have any other newcomer students like me. For this reason, place and belonging are themes I return to often in my writing.
Several of you wanted to know which exactly is this city I refer to in my poem. Some of you spoke of real places in your lives where you feel belonging. Others asked if this city of mine is an imaginary construct. The city in the poem stands for a metaphorical space where I can be exactly who I need to be at that moment: smart and sassy, full of self-doubt, silly, studious and reserved. The city is my body, the place where my intellect and my spirit reside. The city is also the poem itself. In writing the poem I create a place of belonging for myself. I write myself into being. This city I penned, and inhabit, accepts all aspects of myself: the physical, the spiritual, the intellectual, the writer, the mother, the daughter, the friend.
The reference to my hair in the poem was also a source of many of your questions. In the poem, my hair is a metaphor for self-acceptance. Long ago, when I was in high school in fact, I stopped thinking too much about my hair. Unruly and big at times, with soft gentle curls at others, no matter what I did to it, it insisted on doing its own thing. It insisted on being itself. Over time I also have learned to insist on being myself. My hair is only one small aspect of who I am. There is a universe inside of each of us that welcomes how we are, how we were, all of the possibilities within us.
It took time for me to understand that in order for others to accept me, I have to embrace myself completely. This is why the poem addresses the languages I speak as well as my emotional and physical selves. In other words, all of me. Asi.
With heartfelt gratitude,
Claudia Castro Luna
Washington State Poet Laureate