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Ethnic City: a gathering of Chicago poets

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"The West ain't what it used to be / and it's getting ain'tier every day," grumbles Chicago poet Carlos Cortez. "Colonel Sandhog and McDunghills / with authentically expensive / Indian curio shops. . . . and I can't find a sack of Bull Durham / anywhere!"

Sandra Cisneros, who makes her home in New Mexico, writes of remembering at the last minute to shave under her arms before meeting her family in Mexico. "I open my arms wide, armpits clean / as a newborn's soul without original / sin . . . and embrace them like the good / girl my father would have / them believe I am."

Carlos Cumpian wants to banish the concept that Chicano poetry deals only with new politics or old myths. So poetry that doesn't fit that concept will be part of the two-day Nezahualcoyotl Poetry Festival, to which Cumpian has invited 13 Chicano poets, all of whom live in American cities ranging from San Antonio and Houston to East Lansing and Detroit, and all of whose poetry explores what it means to be of Mexican origin in a European-based nation.

It's not just literary myths Cumpian wants to banish. He also wants to dispel myths about Mexican culture, such as the assumption that Mexican and Spanish are synonymous. "Even the word "Hispanic' is a reflection of the European element--it's a Spanish word. But you also have the native influence of the Aztecs. Nezahualcoyotl, after whom this festival is named, was not only a king but an engineer--he designed and built a system of aqueducts which brought water to the capital--and a poet-philosopher whom people quote today like we quote Aristotle and Plato. He was also the first indigenous ruler to foster the notion of monotheism. All this, years before Cortez landed at Veracruz."

The festival will be held May 10 and 11 at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum at 1852 W. 19th St. Other writers are southwestern artists Juan Felipe Herrera, Ray Gonzalez, Demetria Martinez, Raul R. Salinas, Jose Montalvo, and Evangelina Vigil- Pinon, as well as Michigan's Trinidad Sanchez and Rosa Maria Arenas, and Chicago's Louis Rodriguez and Raul Nino. Cumpian will perform on May 11. The program starts at 7:30 PM; tickets are $8, $6 for students, and $5 for museum members. For more information call 738-1503.

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