Las Abuelas Cuentan


One of the first things Marta said to me when I was selected as RILA’s first poet in residency was: “I do not like poetry.”

Tough for you, I thought, as we started a year-long collaboration that has been both rewarding and deeply engaging. While her distaste for poetry is rooted in mandatory reading, to me, poetry has always been a way to find the extraordinary in daily life.

I knew my job wasn’t to convince her to like poetry, or to make her see the ways in which poetry can transport you with its many rhythms or embrace your soul with metaphor. To me, poetry is what happens when you are present. So, present I was, as we set out to facilitate creation for community members. In my opinion, something magical happens when people have space, time, and prompts to exercise their imagination.

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Over the last twelve months we met at La Galeria in Central Falls and at the Roger Williams Gateway Center in Providence to be present, to share stories and to experience creating together. Naturally, poetry came as a result. Some of our prompts included: Love letters I never sent, Things that I learned from My Mom, What words Describe your Self-Portrait, Who is my Abuela? Among many others. I also set out to interview community elders for my oral history project, Las Abuelas Cuentan. It was a moving experience that started with my aunt, Carmen Villamán. You can read more about her story on this website, soon.

Below: Juan Garcia makes Sussy chuckle during his interview.

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Las Abuelas Cuentan will be part of Nuestra Raíces.

A whole year has gone by and while Marta still does not like poetry, something we both laugh about, I remain grateful and fully convinced that poetry has a magical way to facilitate communication and to create alliances that will transcend 2023.

We will have a final gathering, as my residency closes, on January 27,2024 from 10-11:30am at La Galería. I hope to see you there!
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It is all about gratitude this month! We started by honoring our family and friends who have crossed over at our yearly Día de los Muertos celebration at North Burial Grounds. The invitation was to write notes to our loved ones, remembering what made them so special to us. Allowing ourselves the moment to grief together and to celebrate their beautiful presence in our lives. We remembered once again that as long as we keep telling the stories of their lives, they will always be with us.


We also gathered to make gratitude maps. Imagining our lives as a road, reflecting on the moments that made us pause (stop sign moments) or go (green light moments) also on the accidents that made us completely reroute our course. The map led us to the present moment where we listed the people, experiences, and things we cherish today.

Gratitude anchors us in the present moment, it gives us perspective on what has worked, it can also be a sense of inspiration for the things we want to accomplish. What are you grateful for? What has gone well this year? How are you extending gratitude to yourself and others around you?

Café Recuerdos happens on the third Thursday of every month at 5:30 pm. In December (our last gathering for the year) Café Recuerdos will be held at the Broad Street Gateway Center | 1197 Broad St. Providence, RI 02905.
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October had us in deep self-reflection by exploring authenticity through text and art making. I posed the question: What are the words that describe who you are? And our friend and colleague, visual artist, Rene Gómez guided us in making our own self-portrait. The exercise sparked a lively exchange about how much easier it is to describe the people we know and love, and how when it comes to describing ourselves, we must dig a little deeper. We all helped each other as we tried to find the right shapes for our facial features or the perfect pen to draw our hair.

In the process of creating our self-portrait we had candid conversations about the way we see ourselves and the type of poetry that came from it was both healing and inspiring. We took time to notice our inner dialogue, how we see ourselves in relationship to place, community, and family. The exploration gave us insight into what we consider essential and what we want to work towards. In a time of wearing masks and dressing up it was great to make space for seeing ourselves as we are.

If you are looking for introspective time, try answering this prompt: What words describe your self-portrait? What makes you, you? After you have your words listed, try writing a poem that starts with the words: I am… (Want to share it? Post it and tag RILA!).

Café Recuerdos happens on the third Thursday of every month at 5:30 pm. Click here to find out more!

Our last Café Recuerdos will be held at the Broad Street Gateway Center | 1197 Broad St. Providence, RI 02905
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It is hard to believe that I’m almost at the end of my year residency with RILA. I often hear that time flies, but this year I have truly felt it!

From its inception, this project has been rooted in storytelling. Every exchange has given me a deep understanding of how the many journeys of people in our community often intersect. From hosting monthly meeting with Café Recuerdos to writing poems at Roger William’s Gateway Center or interviewing grandparents in our community. These exchanges have taught me about the will of our human spirit to overcome obstacles, and how faith has played a crucial role in sustaining our community.

I was particularly touched by the story of Socorro Cano, a Colombian grandmother who came to the United States at the height of the textile industry in Rhode Island. She shared about the history of the first Colombian immigrants in Central Falls, how they helped each other as they built a new home away from everything they’ve ever known. Her story reminded me of my own family and how hard it was for my mom to leave her children behind to start a new life in a different country.

Engaging with our elders has been a joyous, listening experience. Hearing first-hand accounts of the political climate and historical context of their younger years is a true gift. I’m so glad we have been able to provide space for them to talk about what they consider essential in the present. Our conversations inspired other gatherings, where we wrote letters and poems to our younger selves. We reminisce about what we learned from our mothers as we looked at pictures of the women of our families. We made flag banners about selfcare and rituals of renewal both old and new.

As we are getting reading to enter the last part of my residency, I’m excited to wrap up our last group of interviews with our elders. My heart is full with new memories and the sounds of the guitar of past Café Recuerdos.

I hope you join us in enjoying a few cafecitos before the end of the year. Come experience all the magic that happens when we open space for the creative process to unfold.
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Stay tune for more! Save the date for RILA’s Día de los Muertos annual celebration on November 2nd at the North Burial Ground in Providence. Go here more more

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In the month of July, Café Recuerdos had as its central theme our rituals of renewal, those activities that we do to disconnect from the routine. Going to the beach, hanging out with friends, traveling or just staying at home watching movies. In short, everything that helps us take our minds off everyday things. Renewing ourselves is healing.

We reminisce about family vacations, like getting together with cousins to tell horror stories and play hide and seek or falling asleep under the sun to then spend the rest of the vacation with a burning sensation in your body. We talk about the smell of our memories, the fruits that color our palate and all the ways in which we can create spaces, in our day to day, to relax.

Renewal rituals are necessary to recover our energy, to refocus and to resume life from a new perspective, rested. We know that it is easy to fall into the wheel of routine, repetition usually gives us a sense of control and allows us to settle into our comfort zone. Sometimes it can be expensive to allow ourselves to get out of the ordinary, but can we create spaces to recharge our energy that do not have an additional cost? Absolutely!

Here are some renewal tips that have worked for me:

1. Taking a deep breath, becoming aware of our breathing is a way of being present, this can calm anxiety, taking a deep breath is enlightening us from within.
2. Going for a 20-minute walk is great for circulation and familiarizes us with our neighborhood.
3. Rocking on a swing is fun and healing.
4. Sleep, renews our energy.
5. Laughing rejuvenates us.
6. Give thanks, give thanks for everything that has gone well, for what we have.

Taking care of ourselves from our personal and mental geography helps us to create healthier communities. Individual renewal contributes to the well-being of all and this is a ritual in which we can all participate.
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Café Recuerdos will be on break in August. We will resume in September!

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It was an emotional June for me, as I sat down to interview tía Carmen. I had prepared the questions ahead of time, thinking this would be a breeze. Tía Carmen is a natural storyteller, she has been telling the stories of our family for decades now. However, sitting down with her was hitting me differently this time.

My aunt will be 80 years old this October. As she was looking back at her own life, talking about her love for her daughter and granddaughters, I saw a different side of her. The woman with dreams, struggles and undying faith. In our family, tia Carmen is the one you go to when you need prayers, she is the only person I know who has never doubted her faith. Her iconic phrase is “Dios provee/God will provide,” and when she says that, you believe her. There is no doubt in her voice, no quiver, when you are going through a hard time that’s comforting support. Someone who has unwavering certainty, even when you don’t. Watching her recall the stories of her childhood, giving us a glimpse into that time, made me extremely emotional.

Tia Carmen is the oldest of my mom’s siblings – there are nine of them, each one with a different kind of gift. Tia’s eyes became young again as she talked about my grandmother’s sense of humor and creativity as a seamstress. According to her, my grandmother was very committed to her community and used her talents to make dresses and bows for all the little girls in her town, to feed the homeless. Perhaps that’s where we get our love for community, that’s the inheritance from our abuela and from my aunts and uncles.

No family is perfect, and mine is certainly not the exception, but I’m so thankful for this conversation with my aunt, because it allowed me to dwell on the strength of the women in my life. Tia Carmen, my mom, cousins, daughters, sister, and of course, my own. Legacy is built on a daily basis, it’s an active act and tia Carmen continues to work on hers, one prayer at the time.

Las Abuelas Cuentan is an oral history project about the wisdom and legacy of the elders of our community. If you would like to be a part of the project reach out to me at:

Our next Café Recuerdos has a new location, find out more here

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May has been a busy month at RILA!

Café Recuerdos was dedicated to talking about our grandmothers. Guests were asked to bring pictures of their abuelas and share the stories of who they are/were. What is their legacy? What were their favorite sayings? What do we miss the most about them?

We rejoiced looking at pictures of these amazing women, and although many have passed on, their indomitable spirits and teaching remain with us.

Many talked about our abuela’s cooking and the universal need for constantly cleaning the house. We remember the warmth of their home remedies and their desire to make sure everyone was safe and taken care of.

Our abuelas are the foundation of many of our memories, we uphold the meaningful ones and release what must be unlearned.

Laura @Gateway

We also met for Barrio Tours along Broad Street. As Marta Martínez was teaching us about the history of Latinos on Broad Street, we talked about how much the landscape has changed since the first Latinos arrived in Providence!

After our walk, I lead the group in a sensory activity, we engaged our five senses to describe the tastes and sounds of El Barrio. The poetry that came from the activity is on display at the Gateway Center.

This month’s activities reminded me of how we interact with spaces and the many ways our stories are informed by what we see, hear, touch, taste, and touch. Our memories have texture, we are transported in time when we go back to the places that make up our personal geographies. In many ways, we are walking islands, making up the very diverse map of Rhode Island. I hope you join us on the tour! For times click here.

Café Recuerdos is a monthly conversation series around a specific topic. We hold intentional space for sharing stories and café! Stop by on the third Thursday of every month at La Galería.

The next Café Recuerdos is Thursday, June 15th 5:30-7pm. Come enjoy the nomadic sounds of musical guest: Lisandro Guevara, playing rumba flamenco, bossa nova among many other things. More information here

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April | What is Poetry?

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Someone who admits to dislike poetry asked me to write about what poetry means to me. Let me start by saying this is not an attempt to convince them or anyone else to like poetry. Instead, this is an exercise in self-reflection. These are a few of the many definitions I came up with:

  • Poetry is a sensibility rooted in the way we experience the world around us. It has nothing to do with writing, although putting it on paper is one of the countless ways to express it.
  • There are poets who never write a single poem.
  • Written poetry is the reaction to an exchange of emotion between you and something or someone else, that exchange makes you more human in return, more aware of your own fragility.
  • Poetry is an awakening to what we have in common, the way we express this joint awakening then gets categorized by the form we use (spoken word, lyric, epic, etc)
  • Poetry makes that which is understood by our inner knowing, the intangible, visible. It is the recognition of our own humanity.
  • None of the above.

My first encounter with poetry came when I was around 8 years old, a beloved teacher asked me to memorize a Ruben Darío poem for a school event. As I recited the poem something shifted inside me, I saw the magic of words, their power to shift emotions, to soften a gaze, to move people. I was hooked, which represented a challenge since I didn’t have access to many books growing up.

One day, my mom took out a loan to buy an 8-volume encyclopedia, it was one of the most poetic gestures she ever had. I read about famous poets, I’m happy to say my collection has grown since, and that my mom still has the encyclopedia.

April is National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate the power of words to move us, to make us more human. I hope you will join us in this month's Café Recuerdos, especially my friend who doesn’t like poetry, by bringing a favorite poem to read. It could be your own or someone else’s. Let’s read poetry together to find the many forms in which we are one, in the human condition. You can also just come to listen! Café Recuerdos happens on the third Thursday of every month, register here.
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