Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Latinos Celebrate One of Their Own as Poet Laureate

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Latinos Celebrate One of Their Own as Poet Laureate

Article excerpt

The appointment of Juan Felipe Herrera, the U.S.-born son of migrant farmworkers from Mexico, as the nation's first Hispanic poet laureate brought joy to North Jersey Latinos, who said it represents the many contributions of immigrants to the United States.

"It shows we have a voice -- that we have something to say and that we need to be represented at all levels of government, literature, science, et cetera," said Rosa Soto, director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at William Paterson University, who teaches a Latino literature course at the school. "This is phenomenal thing for us."

Herrera, 66, is the nation's 21st poet laureate and will assume the one-year appointment in September. He is the author of 28 poetry books, novels for young adults and collections for children, most recently "Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes," a picture book showcasing inspirational Latino-Americans.

He served as California's poet laureate from 2012 to 2015. In his new position, Herrera will open the literary season in the fall and close it in May.

Laureates in recent years have also started poetry projects to broaden the audiences for poetry, according to the announcement from the Library of Congress.

"His poems engage in a serious sense of play -- in language and in image -- that I feel gives them enduring power," said James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, in announcing the appointment. "I see how they champion voices, traditions and histories, as well as a cultural perspective, which is a vital part of our larger American identity."

After the announcement on Wednesday, the news circulated on Twitter and Facebook.

"All across the board, my African-American friends, my Latino friends ... students from my past, they all posted, it was amazing, it was a Latino network," said Soto, who is of Puerto Rican ancestry and resides in Passaic County.

Soto said Herrera's poems contain themes about the family and the immigration struggle.

"He's speaking for a lot of different people, not just Latinos," she said, noting she plans to teach about Herrera's work in future classes. "I don't think a lot of people understand the hard work that immigrants have brought to the United States. …

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