Poet and author Jimmy Santiago Baca performed for a full house Tuesday evening at the MultiCultural Center Theatre.
Baca spoke about some of his experiences as a writer, with many of his anecdotes focusing on racial issues, and read several of his most recent poems, most of which focused on his family. Baca’s poetry collections include 1987’s Martin and Meditations on the South Valley. In 2001, he authored the memoir A Place to Stand.
Baca talked about the rewarding experience of sharing his work.
“It feels really good for a Chicano homeboy like me to be taken care of because of my work. It’s one thing to be in The New Yorker, but it’s another to be loved and taken care of by people who know my work,” Baca said.
Baca, who grew up in Santa Fe, N.M., was abandoned by his parents at a young age and incarcerated for drug dealing at age 21. He learned to read and write during his 5-year sentence. He said he has not forgotten his heritage or his past, though he has become well-known through his writing.
“I was supposed to read with Amy Tan or someone really big because I was big. This was weird because anything that’s ever happened to me that was big has stepped on me with a big shoe,” Baca said.
Baca said he is paid about $1,500 an hour for his appearances but volunteers his services to charities at least twice for every performance he gives to help those less fortunate than he.
Besides exposing students to Baca’s work, the event also promoted a theater lab at UCSB, which Baca will help staff this summer. The program will be run by both Naomi Iizuka, assistant professor of dramatic art and dance, as well as San Francisco-based theater company Campo Santo.
Baca, who has authored five screenplays, is working with Campo Santo on writing a play that will be used in the lab. It will occur at the end of July and is designed to get students involved with all aspects of the production of a play, including writing, directing, acting and dancing.
“The focus is not going to be on the play, but on the world within the play. Everyone will be in the world together; we’ll be looking at things from the actor’s perspective, researching the history,” said Sean San Jose of Campo Santo, who spoke briefly after Baca’s performance. “Everyone is a performer and a teacher.”
Iizuka introduced Baca at the beginning of the evening and said Baca’s work has given strength to the Chicano community.
“Baca is not only a great poet, but also a hero. His poetry is beautiful but filled with the power and impulse to make the world a better place in a basic way,” Iizuka said. “His poetry gives voice to those people whose voices are marginalized by society and culture.”
The MCC was filled over capacity for the performance, with some people sitting on the floor. Saul Zevada, senior Chicano studies major, said he enjoyed the performance.
“I think he was really inspirational because he doesn’t set limits; [he] just speaks his mind,” Zevada said. “He was able to reach me personally more because I knew he was speaking his mind.”