As part of the 2020 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Raquel Salas Rivera in response to a video of him reading his poem “notas sobre las temporadas” aloud. Raquel Salas Rivera wrote letters back to four of these students; their letters and his replies are included below, along with several additional responses from students.
Raquel Salas Rivera also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Because you are already poets, because you are making this world, I wanted to write you a letter about my poem, "notas sobre las temporadas/ notes on the seasons." When I wrote this poem, I didn't expect that many people would read it. I wrote it hoping it would help me understand my complicated, loving, and intense relationship with the place of my birth, my home, Puerto Rico. As you may have intuited, I am trans and I write primarily in Spanish. Most of my work deals with my transness and how it has been shaped by both my home and my later displacement from that home.
This poem was my attempt to answer the claims that there was no place for inclusive language in Spanish, and, more specifically, that there was no place for non-binary pronouns because Spanish was so binary. Every time I heard this argument, it infuriated me because it reminded me of even older statements that similarly claimed that being trans in not natural, that we don't exist, and that we can't exist.
Yet, here I am, existing.
And every time I affirm that I am alive, every time I write about this body and how it moves through the world, I am making room for others. How wild that something so simple could seem so radical!
Many of you asked about the lions in my poem. They are the lions that live in the Mayagüez zoo. They aren't originally from Puerto Rico, yet everyday they survive here and by now they are as much a part of my hometown as I am. I chose them because they are both rare and familiar, much like being trans in Mayagüez is rare and familiar. I chose them because I identify with their sad early afternoon roars, with their desire to be free. I wrote them a letter they will never receive, but which I hope comes true.
I wish I could transmit what Mayagüez is like year-round. I wish you could feel the midday heat, that we could eat Rex Cream together and see the City Hall Christmas display. Mostly, I wish there was a way to give you the love I feel for this place in the palm of my hand, so that you could suddenly understand why I yearn for its embrace, but not its acceptance.
I am sorry I could not answer each of your letters individually. Nothing would have made me happier, except maybe having you here in Puerto Rico for an evening, so you could see just what I mean.
Raquel Salas Rivera
Santurce, Puerto Rico, 2020