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Artist addresses abuse through poetry

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Before I was transported into another realm by the beauty of Ignacio Rivera’s language, I was taken in by their eyes, magnified by their large glasses. Rivera’s eyes communicated a collage of pain and hope that was inexplicable, but even more impressively, Rivera’s eyes took in the pain and hope of the audience and used the wars raging inside all of us to nourish their passionate and illuminating performance.

As the poetry began to escape Rivera’s lips, I realized that “All of Me” was an appropriate title for this body of stories. The highs, lows, love, hate, bravery and fear of a complex life were delivered with unflinching honesty, but never a heavy hand. The audience was not spared of the gruesome details that comprised Rivera’s experience of sexual abuse and rape at the hands of their sister. Rivera drove deeper and deeper, projecting these haunting memories often without the coating of figurative language. My skin chilled as Rivera showed me the agonies of who they once were – a confused, scared child, ignorant of the magnitude of their torment.

The struggle Rivera would share was not confined to their own soul. They told many tales depicting the wounds inflicted upon black, latinx, trans and queer communities. These stories illuminated the immorality of American structural oppression and the looming, menacing, dominating force of whiteness. A particularly awe-inspiring story was one about the United States’ abuse

“Rivera claimed to be a healer at the beginning of the performance, and in that moment, I was healed.” – Iain Carlos ’20

of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Anger radiated from Rivera as they told of Vieques being used as a test target for the United States’ nuclear weapons, of Vieques’ mothers fearing for their children’s health.

This story was a revolution for me. I am Puerto Rican, and I was not aware that Vieques had suffered this way. I never learned about this in school. I am forever indebted to Rivera for teaching me this invaluable lesson.

Equally as stunning as Rivera’s presentation of suffering was their presentation of love, hope and intellectual freedom. They smiled and bounced with confidence as they described how their identity has shifted. They spoke of coming out as a lesbian and later trans and genderqueer with pride. My mind and my heart swelled as they discussed how important raising their daughter in a sex-positive environment was.

The grandest moment of hope for me was when Rivera educated the audience about a lie that has been told about Puerto Rico – that the Tainos were wiped out. In reality, the Tainos live on, and Rivera has embraced Taino culture. Rivera claimed to be a healer at the beginning of the performance, and in that moment, I was healed.

There were countless other moments of truth and beauty within “All of Me.” Rivera has proven the power of artistic expression to provide humanity with hope, catharsis and knowledge.

As evidenced by the events of last spring, and in reality its entire history, St. Olaf is an institution that suffers from the disease of a toxic, dominating whiteness. Rivera has done us a great service in our battle for progress.

irwin2@stolaf.edu