Chingona Fire is a Latina Feminist poetry collective that works to create events for women of color in Los Angeles.
Angela Aguirre and Yesika Salgado are the two women behind the duo. Both mujeres have been in the poetry circuit for years, but soon realized there was something missing: a sisterhood, and safe place for WOC and femmes. With an ever-growing fan base they are spearheading a new wave of feminism within the colorful Latinx community.
In early February, I stumbled upon the duo performing at Da Poetry Lounge in Los Angeles. The turn out was incredible and I became immediately impressed by the positivity these women had sparked within the community. Angela and Yesika lit the mic and emblazoned its way throughout the packed theater for the night. It was a memorable evening filled with stories as powerful as the women uttering them.
I was deeply inspired to explore my own writing and identity as a Latina. I knew there were more things I could stand to learn from these women. After some carefully-curated DM messages to the duo’s Instagram, I had the pleasure of catching up with las chingonas to get a more personal view.
I admit, I did a little stalking. We have the same birthday; I can say for myself that I am a very sensitive person. Is that true for you? If so, do you find that hurts or helps your performances?
Angela Aguirre: Girl, stalking is what makes an interview good!! I respect it.
And YES I’m super sensitive. But the funny thing is, people have this idea of me that I’m so tough. (I think its my eyebrows lol) In my writing, I can be my most vulnerable. When most people read or hear my work, what I get complimented most on is my honesty. When I write, it's like I can rest on the page. Finishing a poem for me, is like taking a long exhale. I get to say things in my writing that I might be too afraid to say out loud.
You write often about emotional matters, have you ever broken down on stage?
AA: My father died in 2011. I remember when he was still alive, I wrote a poem called “Crazy Ernie” for my dad. He was from a barrio called “East Side Clover” in East LA and his street name was “Crazy Ernie” It was his birthday, and I had invited him to Da Poetry Lounge. My plan was to surprise him with the poem because he just thought he was coming to hear me spit- he had no idea what the poem was about. The poem chronicles his life from childhood, to teenage years, to going to prison, his drug abuse, the recovery, becoming a father, getting diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, almost dying the first time, and our personal relationship. While I was performing, I heard him take a deep breath at one of the lines and I broke down completely and cried on stage. I knew how heavy it was for him to hear. But I also felt the importance of the moment between us. It became really hard to make it through the rest of the poem because I was talking through tears, but I did it. When I got off stage he held me so tight. He was crying too, and he just kept saying how proud he was of me. A funny story is, not long after, he made me send him the poem. He must’ve printed out 100 copies and literally passed them out to everyone he knew. He was always so proud of me. I’ll never forget that.
Being that you’re bi-racial, did you find it challenging to balance two very different racial identities? Which side do you relate to most?
AA: I often preface my poem “Borderlands” (about my bi-racial identity) by saying “when you’re not from here, and you’re not from there… it can start to feel like you’re from nowhere at all.” Growing up, I never felt like I belonged anywhere. When people look at me, they don’t usually see a white girl. They see a Latina. My brown skin, my long straight black hair, my big gold hoops, and dark lipstick… its confusing for them when they attempt to speak to me in spanish and I reply in Spanglish.
In college, I discovered the work of Gloria Anzaldua and it changed my life. Her concept of “the borderland identity” changed my relationship with my identity. Understanding that I didn’t have to choose one side or the other, and discovering that being born on the proverbial “borderland” was its OWN identity, finally gave me a home. I was both. I am both. I will always be both. I come from my mother’s blue eyes AND my father’s brown hands. I never had to choose.
How long have you been performing? Do you still get nervous no matter how many times you perform?
AA: I’ve been performing for seven years. I started at Da Poetry Lounge after taking my first writing workshop with one of the hosts at the time, Natalie Patterson. She helped me workshop my poems and helped me see that what I had to say was important. It needed to be heard. My story needed to be told. That changed the course of my life forever.
For me, the stage is both the safest place on Earth and the most terrifying place on Earth at the same time.
I absolutely still get nervous on stage. I have definitely gotten more comfortable on stage because of Chingona Fire and all the events we’ve hosted. But Chingona Fire is different than just reading my poem at a random open mic, because its something I helped build. Its somewhere Yesika and I can truly be ourselves and have that be appreciated. It's a room full of women who come to feel empowered. That to me, is so much more important than any of my irrational fears of embarrassment.
How did you get started in spoken word/poetry? Por que?
Yesika Salgado: I began writing poetry as a child. I don’t remember when I understood what I was doing was poetry, but I don’t recall a time in my life when it wasn’t a part of who I am. Poetry has always been a coping mechanism for me. Through living with, losing and grieving my alcoholic father. Dealing with body image issues, depression and just life.
Coming from a Latinx background, it’s common to be pressured to follow the cultural and patriarchal standards, based off your writing how did you push past this pressure?
YS: I always knew I'd be a writer. I never cared for anything else. I didn't graduate high school because of family circumstances. I was considered a failure. I worked retail jobs for years, my family saw me as a hard worker but I was miserable. When I quit my job last year to do my art full time they were confused and scared for me. But I knew that this is the only thing that fills me. My family doesn't necessarily like that I tell folks our business for a living lol but they've learned to respect my passion. I'm the weird one. The eccentric niece. I like it.
Who/what inspires you?
YS: My Mami. My abuelas. My Papi. My sisters. My niece and nephew. My blood. Life. Love. I write a lot about love. I love being in love and falling out of it sucks, so I write through it. Men. Oh yeah, men hella inspire me haha
What would you say to women that are scared to try something new, like slam?
YS: If you are scared but there's a voice that says “I wanna try this” then do it. Jump in.
If you felt like you were gonna die on stage but still wanna do it again, do it again. Keep doing it until you start feeling like you're flying.
That's how I did it. I had no idea what I was doing on stage but I kept competing. I've lost way more times than I've won. But my performance improved. I learned. Asked questions. Observed. I did it. You should do it too, if you want to.
How do you practice self-love?
YS: Selfies. I get hella dressed up and stand in front of a mirror and snap away. Finding my own beauty is rewarding.
What would you say to women that are scared to try something new, like slam?
YS: If you are scared but there's a voice that says “I wanna try this” then do it. Jump in. If you felt like you were gonna die on stage but still wanna do it again, do it again. Keep doing it until you start feeling like you're flying. That's how I did it. I had no idea what I was doing on stage but I kept competing. I've lost way more times than I've won. But my performance improved. I learned. Asked questions. Observed. I did it. You should do it too, if you want to.
What are some goals for Chingona Fire for 2017?
YS: I see us growing. Bigger events, more workshops. We want to host a women's retreat where we go away somewhere and learn dope things from other women. Like self-defense and yoga and zine making. Then at night we’ll party. I see Chingona Fire becoming a bigger sisterhood than we imagined.
About the Poets:
Angela Aguirre is a Los Angeles based poet and teaching artist who enjoys utilizing her creativity in meaningful ways. She is currently the Site Coordinator at La Pintoresca Teen Education Center in Pasadena, CA. Angela has a Bachelors degree from California State University, Los Angeles in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Social Change. She has recently completed the Community Literature Initiative held at USC. Her book of poems and writing prompts, Confessions of a firework, was published in 2016 by the World Stage Press and is available at Worldstagepress.org. She hopes to inspire young people to recognize their power and to work toward creating a better world through art.
Yesika Salgado is a Los Angeles based Salvadoran poet who writes about her family, her culture, her city and her brown body. Yesika has shared her work in venues and campuses throughout the country. In 2013, she published her first collection of poetry titled, The Luna poems. She is a member of the 2014 and 2016 Da Poetry Lounge Slam Team and placed top 10 in the nation both years. Her work has been featured in Latina Magazine, Univision, Vibe Magazine, Neon Magazine, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and many other digital platforms. She is the a Huffington Post contributor and recently released her second collection of poetry titled WOES.
Follow Chingona Fire at @chingonafire
Angela on Instagram @angelaloves
Yesika Salgado @yesikastarr