Between Lands, Languages, y Culturas: Iván’s Story

Iván, a poet based in the San Fernando Valley, experiments with words, images, and sound as he navigates the world. Recently, he’s had to navigate a lot, from his undocumented status to the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests around police brutality and social justice. These moments are at the forefront of conversations, and he uses his voice to fiercely advocate for these issues.

Iván’s identity and upbringing are woven throughout his creations. Born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, Iván and his family immigrated to the United States when he was ten years old. Due to his legal status in the U.S., he has not returned to Mexico to visit his grandparents and exists in a state of Nepantla: in-between lands, languages, and cultures. 

“A lot of the time, I feel a wanting to break myself free from this repression of not being able to travel freely,” shares Iván.

His undocumented status serves as inspiration, and writing is his healing process. In Rayita en el cielo (full poem below), Iván shares the difficulties of growing up undocumented while staying connected to family in Mexico. The poem is inspired by the phrase, “Voy a hacer una rayita en el cielo”, meaning “I’m going to make a line in the sky,” something his grandfather tells him after not having talked in a while because their schedules do not align.

“‘Voy a hacer una rayita en el cielo’ is a phrase said to celebrate when someone has done something positive or unusual,” Iván describes. 

“His voice is raspier
than it was eight years ago
when I last hugged him at the terminal
before his flight back home
since then I’ve only heard
his voice filtered through metals, traveling
through fiber-optic lines & satellites.”

An avid music fan, Iván grew up listening to the songs of Rock en Español bands. He discovered Calle-13, an unapologetic hip-hop band and a master of wordplay. He paid close attention to the lyrics and wanted to replicate the metaphors himself. Without realizing it, Iván was writing poetry. He began taking his craft more seriously when he was a sophomore in college and discovered poets of the Beat Generation, identifying with their rebellion and non-conformity with mainstream American culture. Inspired by the Chicano poets and undocumented poets who utilized art to speak out about their stories, Iván continued writing poetry.

As he experiences the present, Iván seeks answers from the past. “My universal poetry themes are immigration and restorative justice. My writing is experimental and avant-garde. I’m also interested in technology, and mixed media is often within my work,” Iván explains. 

“Papá David walks around
Tenochtitlan for me
He picks up some books and takes photos in
la plaza de tlatelolco
He reconnects with the ruins
and I’m there with him.”

From his roots in Mexico, Iván strives to connect more with the indigenous languages found in Mexico with the hopes of it being studied and spoken more widely. These days, he spends time researching historical events to understand what we are currently living through while finding direction towards the future.

During the pandemic, Iván was forced to look for other job opportunities.

He struggled to make ends meet as a delivery driver, but after receiving a $500 grant from MAF’s LA Young Creatives Fund, he was able to buy a laptop and edit his resume. With this new technology, he continued his artistic endeavors and found work in his field: a summer internship learning about local organizing. He also participated in a collective art project to uplift stories of undocumented and deported communities in Mexico and the U.S.

Iván is currently working on a collection of poems he hopes will soon be published. He continues supporting and showcasing other San Fernando Valley writers and artists as a fellow at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts and Assistant Editor for Drifter Zine. He plans to travel more with his partner and family and envisions reuniting with his grandparents soon.

Iván’s advice to aspiring writers?

“Start publishing your work and read it out loud at open mics. It’s an intro to seeing other poets read their work and what it’s like. Having the courage to read your own stuff is very helpful to develop your voice as a writer. But overall, I think that writers should write for themselves.

The LA Young Creatives Fund supported 5,000 artists like Iván and closed last month. You can find more information about the LA Young Creatives Fund here

To read more of Iván’s poetry, see Rayita en el cielo below and visit his website. You can also find him on Instagram @ivansali_ 


Rayita en el cielo
By Iván Salinas

Papá David will draw a line in the sky
Today is a miracle
I’ve answered the phone

Q ovo mi niño, hasta que me contestas
¿Estás trabajando?

It’s not my day off
I did work today
but I’m driving back home
and there’s time
to talk

His voice is raspier
than it was eight years ago
when I last hugged him at the terminal
before his flight back home
since then I’ve only heard
his voice filtered through metals, traveling
through fiber-optic lines & satellites

It’s easier to communicate this way
It’s easier
than getting on a plane 
where you’re asked for papeles 

I ask him: ¿Cómo está mi mamá Pera?
Bien, hijo…ya sabes. He says, indifferent.

Life is the same
siempre bien 
for Papá David y Mamá Pera
it’s my life that’s constantly changing.

Back home, en la vecindad
my friends
all still children
in my memory
they’re now grown up
raising their families
in the same rooms we had    
Mamá Pera says this will always be my home
and it will be here
for when we return.

Paseo de la reforma. México, D.F., Enero, 2022.  Photo taken by Papá David.

Mamá Pera always tells me to pray
And I never do
But I know she prays for me
And that I do believe in.

Mira, cuando tengas tiempo tu dile a diosito, echame la mano
Y verás que te va ayudar 

But I can’t remember the last time I looked up at the sky
and asked diosito for any help.    

When I call Papá David over the phone
he just wants to know
when am I gonna make it?
Why don’t I apply for a job as a TV reporter for Univision?
I hate being on camera and I change
the subject, I ask him if he’s heard
the statue of Colon is being removed
en el paseo de la reforma
replacing it
with the statue of a mujer indigena

–Si, te voy a mandar unas fotos pa’ que las veas, ahorita tienen una réplica
–Órale, aqui tambien estan derribando unas estatuas de las misiones. Te mando unas fotos. 

The statues in the missions
are also taken down in this valley
Papá David likes to mention there’s Spanish blood in him
Mamá Pera y Papa David forget
somos de sangre indigena. 

Papá David walks around
Tenochtitlan for me
He picks up some books and takes photos in
la plaza de tlatelolco
He reconnects with the ruins
and I’m there with him.

While we wait for papeles
and go to appointments in consulates and aduanas
with lawyers and customs
we only see
each other’s faces
reconstructed in pixels

I tell Mamá Pera
she can visit
while Papá David waits for her.
I tell Papá David: “Ya merito, ya veras.
Quizás hasta yo te alcanze allá en unos años”

Tlatelolco, México D.F. Enero, 2022. Photo taken by Papá David.

Every time we talk
They’re just happy to hear my voice. 
I’m fortunate they can hear me say los amo, los extraño
Los quiero volver a abrazar.

While we wait for papeles
phone calls will keep us together
Fotos de Papá David will keep us connected
to home. So I still recognize it.

While we wait,           
I will make time
to answer the phone
Papá David & Mamá Pera
can draw another line in the sky

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