This is America at its best. What it proclaims itself to be. You have two migrant farm workers from Fowler, California, who gave birth to a son who spoke Spanish primarily in his youth. This quiet boy, Juan Felipe Herrera, who lived in tents and trailers, would force himself to speak and even sang in the choir.
“In middle school, I said to myself that it’s time I begin to speak.”
This same boy grew into a man whose writing work, specifically poetry, would be named the nation’s “Poet Laureate”, by the Library of Congress. He is only the 21st person to hold this distinction. Now, 66, Juan will begin in September to fulfill this appointment which includes creating projects to increase the visibility of poetry in the U.S.
“I feel all our generations of California have brought me here, and I can speak for them-tell their stories.”
He found his niche in UCLA where he graduated, adding degrees from Stanford, and the University of Iowa, where he participated in a Writer’s Workshop. He taught creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, where he retired recently. James Billington of the Library of Congress had this to say about Juan.
“His work is an American Original.”
“I see how they bring a cultural perspective, which is a vital part of our larger American identity.”
The story of a son of Mexican workers, and a father who paid workers to teach him a new word in english, left an impression on the son, who went on to dominate a second language verbally, then creatively through the written word. Juan Felipe Herrera is now the point of reference in the field of poetry. This is a true American success story.
“This is a mega-honor for me,”
“The honor is bigger than me.”