The following is a guest post from Ada Limón, the 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress.
In the beginning of this year, I had one of the most intense and meaningful trips of my laureateship. On January 7th my husband and I flew to Mexico City so I could participate in Un Fandango por la Lectura, a celebration of music, dance, and poetry hosted by Dr. Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, wife of the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador–with special guest Dr. Jill Biden, the First Lady of the United States. This Fandango took place in the Salon Tesoraría, Palacio Nacional, during the North American Leaders Summit, and it highlighted the commitment to the power of language and the importance of reading shared by Dr. Biden and Dr. Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller.
Even though my husband and I could only stay in Mexico City for a little over 48 hours, the trip was deeply moving. My paternal grandfather was from Mexico, and somehow flying into the capital felt almost like a homecoming.
We were met at the airport first by Dominique Martineau, our contact for the Presidency of the Republic and the organizer extraordinaire of the Fandango, and then by members of the State Department including David Fay, Regional English Language Officer. In the arrival lounge, we also met the incredible band La Santa Cecilia with the singer “La Marisoul,” who were slated to perform in the Fandango. We checked into the hotel and then, with Dominique and her colleague Rodrigo, we walked through El Centro, Alameda, and down Cinco de Mayo Street, to the rooftop restaurant at Círculo Mexicano which overlooks the Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México. After tacos de pescado, we took a driving tour of the city, savoring each neighborhood. Towards the end, we stopped by La Casa Azul to say hello to Frida Kahlo’s ghost for my mother, who is a painter. Then back to the hotel to rest.
The next day was Fandango day. After a brunch at Azul Historico and the best chilaquiles rojo one could ask for, along with traditional Mexican hot chocolate made right at the table, we went back to the hotel to prepare for the big event.
I was immensely honored to share the stage with Dr. Biden and Dr. Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, as well as with indigenous poets from Mexico reading in their original languages. A total of five languages were represented during the poetry reading portion of the event: Spanish, English, Purépecha, Nahuatl, and Mixtec. My grandfather was Purépecha, and I know if he were alive he would have been utterly moved. I read my poem “What I Didn’t Know Before” and the Secretary of Culture read my poem “Wonder Woman,” while Dr. Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller honored me by reading “Cargo,” a poem I had originally written as a letter poem to the poet Natalie Diaz. She read beautifully, and I was moved to tears thinking about how proud my grandfather would be. There was dance performed by Veracruz Dance, and music by Santa Ceclia and Mariachi de la Sedena all punctuated with the powerful voice of La Marisoul.
Afterward, the poets and musicians gathered for dinner at Mercaderes where the great indigenous poet Natalio Hernández read some of his poems and La Marisoul joined him in an impromptu song. There was much talk about the importance of preserving and celebrating indigenous culture and language and how poetry is a way to support those efforts. And of course there was very good mezcal served with slices of oranges and sal de gusano. I was told that I must remember this, “Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también.” I suppose the same could be said of poetry, “For everything that’s bad, poetry, and for everything that is good, poetry too.” This was definitely good.
The following day, we had a quick brunch at Cafe Nim and visited La Biblioteca de México briefly before the flight. We had a tour of the incredible building that was an old tobacco factory and now was an enormous and sun-filled library. What makes this library particularly unique was that it holds the five personal libraries of Mexican writers. Each library is designed to reflect the writer’s home and style while keeping their entire collection preserved in its entirety. A true gift to witness.
And just as quickly as we arrived, it was time to return to the airport. We wish could have stayed longer, but we couldn’t have asked for a better 48 hours in Mexico City. It was my first trip of 2023, and I hope it sets the tone for how poetry can unite us even across borders.