Local spoken word CD questions “nation of immigrants” myth


The Loft Literary Center, in late 2008, released what has to be one of the Twin Cities more interesting and most valuable spoken word CDs, ¿Nation of Immigrants?: Minnesota Spoken Word Artists & Poets Question the World. It prods the land of “Minnesota nice” to cease a passive aggressive shell game and come clean about its entrenched contempt for cultural diversity.

To purchase the CD, contact Bao Phi at 612-215-2585 or bphi@loft.org, or mail a check for $14 to The Loft, Suite 200, Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55415. You also can order the CD at www.loft.org. The CD also is for sale at Northland Poster and Magers and Quinn bookstore.

As a press release for the disc states, “[T]he CD seeks to question, challenge and explode the notion that we are a ‘nation of immigrants’ — a political buzz phrase that often buries the histories of those it pretends to represent.”

¿Nation of Immigrants? is curated by Vietnam-born poet Bao Phi, as accomplished a non-White name as the area as to offer and program director of Equilibrium, an international outreach series at The Loft Literary Center. He’s ascended in a remarkably short time, going over the past decade from a firebrand on the fringe to an established presence.

It’s surprising that the writers he’s put together for this project include stark voices with heavy reps. Among them are Lakota poet Bobby Wilson, whose incendiary pen contributes “Grand Suns” and “Riches”; African American legend Tish Jones (“Question”) and White Earth Anishinaabe icon Marcie Rendon (“Ancient Migratory Journeys…”).

With “Grand Suns,” you’re sorely reminded of the American Indian Movement’s (AIM) historic standoff at Wounded Knee (for which Leonard Peltier still is jailed) wasn’t a bunch of crazies taking on the FBI out of malcontent madness. Wilson sardonically orates, “Who gets to look upon the sun/White men better run/When the ghosts come from/What your grandfather done.”

Nor does Wilson’s bitterly intoned “Riches” cut any slack, stating, “I’m jumpin’ steppin’ stones on stolen shores/Skippin’ the history lesson/That ain’t my story/Colonial glory with chromy courage unholstered/But the lions purr in my city.” When he says, “I have no pity, ’cause I gets none/Just one Indi-un, runnin’ under the sun/Until kingdom come/From the barrel of a White man’s gun,” it doesn’t take an interpreter to hear where he’s coming from.

Tish Jones isn’t particularly gracious, either. With “Questions,” Jones asks of America’s jury-rigged political process for “Someone who sees problems within the community/Not someone who thinks the problem is the community.”

Marcie Rendon is in characteristic, take-no-prisoners form, offering in “Ancient Migratory Journeys…”: “I am Yaqui, Pasqua, Mexican, Pronghorn, Sand Lizard, Gringo/I am the sons and daughters of migrant dreams/Gringos come South, looking for eye-candy, hot tamales and discounted medical care/Mashicos head North, hungry for a slice of apple pie with dreams bought on credit and hopes Western Union-ed home each fortnight.”

¿Nation of Immigrants?: Minnesota Spoken Word Artists & Poets Question the World, of course, isn’t the first spoken word compilation of note to come out of the Twin Cities. Inarguably, though, it is the most profoundly challenging, taking on the insidious conceit that posturing on politically correct ground will always get around to dealing with reality.

The problem remaining is that even with the release of this CD, what, if anything, is going to change? It should, in fact, throw no one for a loop in the event arts organizations recruit ¿Nation of Immigrants? contributors as lip-service tokens to draw funding like a lightning rod while steadfastly attending their White-folk-rule agendas. And, generally speaking, opportunistic defenders of the status quo have ammunition to transparently proclaim, “See, we so champion diversity that we support dissent.”

There isn’t a great deal to be done about inertia, not in one fell swoop, but you aren’t going to find a stronger effort, however, than that executed by ¿Nation of Immigrants?

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to dhobbes@spokesman-recorder.com.