By Savannah Daniels

The Spanish and Portuguese Department earlier this month presented  “Verbal Kaleidoscope” the first interdisciplinary conference at UC Santa Barbara dedicated to Indigenous literatures. Several poets of the Zapotec, Mazatec, Spanish, Basque, and other language groups recited their work in what organizer Osiris Gómez described as a display of diversity.

“Verbal Kaleidoscope is a metaphor for cultural and linguistic plurality, said Gómez, a Spanish and Portuguese Ph.D. candidate. “The world, even at a community level is immensely diverse…With every swirl, movement, transition, we face new challenges and promising forms.”

Gómez said the goal of the conference was to create a space for Indigenous languages to become visible, and he underlined the strength of poetry as one of the strongest forces in literature, which goes “side by side” with the rise of Indigenous peoples. "Poetry is sacred…all its forms – song, spoken word, chants, litanies, prayer." Gómez said. “Poetry allows for the opening of a more intimate vein.”

Gómez added that a second goal of the conference was to force us all to ask better questions about what it means to be Indigenous. He said the gathering focused on the experience of being a minority and the role literature plays in that identity across national boundaries.

In 2016, for his dissertation on the Indigenous literatures of Mexico, Gómez traveled across Mexico where he read the work of, and then befriended, Mazatec poet Juan Gregorio Regino and others who participated in the conference. Participants from Mexico included Zapotec poet and essayist Irma Pineda Santiago and Patrick Johansson, a professor and scholar from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).  Speakers from the  Basque culture included scholar María José Olaziregi, poet and novelist Itxaro Borda, and poet Leire Bilbao.

 Essayist and poet Irma Pineda Santiago, from Mexico, addresses the crowd at UCSB's first Indigenous Literature Conference.

Essayist and poet Irma Pineda Santiago, from Mexico, addresses the crowd at UCSB's first Indigenous Literature Conference.

Gómez felt a sense of self-discovery while conducting his research. "A country tells us that we are all mestizo (a mix of Native and European ancestry), but we are all Indigenous," he said. He then posed a crucial question: In Mexico, where more than 68 languages and more than 360 dialects are spoken, how can one sole identity exist? Gómez concluded that understanding and tolerating a past that existed before colonial times is crucial for the growth of a nation. 

Others conference sponsors from the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts included:  the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, the Art, Design and Architecture Museum, the Comparative Literature Program, the Department of English, the Department of Linguistics, Latin American and Iberian Studies, Las Maestras Center for Xicana Indigenous Thought and Art Practice.

Savannah Daniels is an intern with the UCSB Division of Humanities and Fine Arts. She a Senior, double majoring in Communication and History.

 Basque poet Leire Bilbao speaks to the conference audience.

Basque poet Leire Bilbao speaks to the conference audience.