Last week, Bloomsburg University students gathered in the Multicultural room in the Kehr Union to welcome famed poet and professor Javier Ávila; to refer to the event as a lecture would underplay Dr. Ávila’s energy during the event, which is more appropriate to refer to as a performance.
Dr. Ávila presented “The Trouble with My Name,” and the BU community can thank SOL (the Student Organization of Latinos) for sponsoring the performance. The amount of people from the BU community who attended the event was much more than expected, and more chairs had to be added in order to accommodate the large crowd.
Dr. Ávila has received numerous awards for his poetry throughout the years. In addition to these poetry awards, in 2015 he became the first Puerto Rican to be recognized as the Pennsylvania Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Dr. Ávila told the audience that his performance would focus on the American Latino Experience, but he was able to tie in many other ethnicities and diversities into his stories and poems.
He began his performance by proving some background about his life. He was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He went on to explain how much lighter skinned he was compared to some of his family members and peers in Puerto Rico, but when he moved to Pennsylvania he was no longer known as “blanquito” like before.
Many of Dr. Ávila’s stories discuss the hardships he faced after leaving Puerto Rico and trying to fit into his new surroundings, but he approached the topics in a humorous way. He explained how others didn’t seem to understand how he could possibly feel like an American and a Puerto Rican at the same time. Whether others understand it or not, it was clear to the audience that Dr. Ávila is a proud Puerto Rican and a proud American through and through.
Dr. Ávila shared that there are a few “giveaways” about himself that alert society to his cultural differences. One of these “giveaways” is the pronunciation and spelling of his name. Dr. Ávila told a story of a time when he first moved into his neighborhood. His new neighbor had seen him trimming bushes and asked his name. Upon hearing the name Javier, the neighbor wrongly assumed that he was a hired gardener and asked him what his hourly rate was.
Of course, Dr. Ávila played along for awhile until admitting to his neighbor that he wasn’t a gardener, but rather, was the new homeowner. Once this story was finished and the laughter of BU students died down, Dr. Ávila remarked, “When you want to make a point, you have to be willing to lose friends” and reminded us to, “pick your battles.”
Aside from his relatable and funny personal stories, Dr. Ávila also read some emotional and inspiring poems from his poem book titled “The Trouble with My Name.” One of the shorter poems within this collection tied in perfectly to his discussion about names. Dr. Ávila read the following short yet amusing poem aloud, “María de los Ángeles de la Cruz de Jesús is not an atheist by accident.”
Dr. Ávila shared that he married a white woman and that they have a beautiful son whom he lovingly describes as “white-tino.” Like Dr. Ávila, his son, Oscar, proudly claims his Puerto Rican heritage and his American nationality.
Near the end of his performance, Dr. Ávila talked about the mindset of many older American’s skewed idea of returning to America’s “Good Old Days.”
In response to limited mindsets such as those Dr. Ávila told the audience: “No one is getting their country back, what you are getting is a better country.” Before he read his touching poem, “Bloodline,” Dr. Ávila told another story that ended with a fascinating and hilarious analogy, “Don’t be the drop of sweat, salty and unnecessary, that falls into the cup. Instead, be the rich coffee within the cup.” In other words, don’t be that person who is unaccepting of diversity or who doesn’t respect your neighbors, be accepting and love all the fellow citizens who make up your country.
After the performance, an interview with SOL President, Pedro Frias-Rosario was held. Frias-Rosario said he resonated completely with some of Javier’s personal experiences: “growing up people would mispronounce my name too.” Frias-Rosario liked Dr. Ávila’s charisma and the way he approached the discussions of diversity. He also liked how Dr. Ávila frequently referred to his poems throughout the performance.
Frias-Rosario shared that “Bloodline” was probably his favorite: “I really liked this one. It went in-depth with both sides of his family and his son’s family. It went deep into both sides of his families’ histories. Most people don’t bother to go that deep into their family histories.” Frias-Rosario truly enjoyed Dr. Ávila’s performance and would like to thank everyone who attended the event for being supportive.
When asked more about SOL as a student organization, Frias-Rosario replied “we are a family, we are teaching culture, and we want to diversify our group.” He encourages BU students to join himself and the other SOL members for their Monday night meetings at 7 p.m. There are currently close to 100 students involved in SOL, and nearly half of them meet regularly.
Frias-Rosario would also like to give a huge thank you the SOL faculty advisor, Miss Maddie (Madelyn Rodriguez), for encouraging SOL to sponsor this event: “I want to give her a shout out for all she does for BU’s Multicultural Center.”