Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Topics: Performance, Culture, Chicana, Nuevo Mexicana, Poet
Quote: “Burque is a rough town. There’s a lot of bad that happens here, but in my heart I know there’s more good that tops that bad. Writing about that pain that we face here I think is so important because it not only helps us heal and find closure but it helps us expose the heartache that we need to constantly work on.”
My name is Mercedez Holtry. That’s Mercedez with a “z” and not an “s.” That’s one of my biggest pet peeves is when people spell my name wrong. I grew up in Albuquerque; born and raised. I’ve lived my entire life in Old Town except for when my house burned down and I had to move to the heights for like a month while they rebuilt it. But other than that I’ve in Old Town my entire life. I have a really huge Chicano family that is loud and compassionate and caring and sometimes they’re drama and sometimes they’re not but ultimately I’m a really family oriented person. I went to Albuquerque High. I’m now going to UNM and I’m going to graduate with a bachelor’s in both Journalism and Communications and Chicano Studies. So I’m excited about that. I’m graduating this December and I’m a slam poet and I do poetry here in Albuquerque. I started when I was 17, I started performing poetry when I was 17, I’ve been writing my whole entire life but I didn’t start performing my poetry since I was a junior in high school and ever since then I’ve been a poet in the community. I’ve slammed at a couple of national poetry slams. I’ve definitely become someone in the community that helps run some of the shows and events. Yeah, it’s like my heart. The poetry community in Albuquerque is like my heart, it’s what I love to do. And so that’s a little bit about myself. I just turned 23 the 15th.
Burque in a sense is a rough town. It can be rough, it can be filled with heart ache. There’s a lot of bad that happens here but in my heart I know there’s more good that tops that bad but writing about that pain that we face here I think is so important because it not only helps us heal and find closure but it helps us expose the heartache that we need to constantly work on here in Albuquerque. I think being from here is beautiful in both a bad and good way if that makes sense because then the art itself become really powerful, if that makes sense.
I’m not sure. I had a couple of different plans. I guess options that I wanted to keep open. I was thinking about moving from Albuquerque to go to grad school but right now I’m at the point where I don’t want to go back to school. I want to graduate and travel and live life a little bit. Another option I was thinking about is touring, doing like a southwest or west coast tour for poetry and getting that experience over and done with now that I’m young and I don’t have kids or bills or marriage or commitments to deal with. I think that would be a really awesome experience. I would be broke for a while but I think it would be worth it. Another idea was, you know, finding a job, a grownup job [laughing] and getting my feet on the ground and going forward but that feels so boring that I’m like, I don’t know if I want to do that right now right now.
In the later future I do want to open up my own community center. When I was a freshman in high school they closed down the boys and girl club in Old Town. And that’s kind of where I grew up, I spent most of my time there after school playing basketball, meeting friends. So a lot of my life was there. So when they closed it down it was a big heartache for me ‘cause I was like where do I go now? This is home in a lot of ways. A home away from home, you know. This I where my brother grew up and I grew up and my cousins grew up and my best friends grew up and even my friends that I still talk to now since we were little. We’ve all grown up together there. So bringing that place back in my own way is kind of like a dream of mine, but not only limiting it to sports and basketball and afterschool programs but putting poetry also within the curriculum of the community center, arts, and the fine arts. Something like that would be really cool to run one day. I also spent a lot of my youth at Warehouse508 which is where I got the idea of putting together a community center that incorporates both sports and art and so at Warehouse 508 they definitely gave me a space to be the poet that I am and they definitely cultivated me with the program. I grew up there as well in the later years of my youth, to where now that’s also a home away from home, too. So I think community centers or places for youth to gather and come together and produce amazing work and show talent are important for communities here in Albuquerque.
We don’t [put money into art]. You know if it wasn’t for some of the poets coming in to my school I would have no idea what slam poetry is. I would have no idea what a lot of different art forms are. I would have no idea how much hip-hop means to voices and youth of color. So I think definitely putting art in a curriculum is important.
So my grandparents on my mother’s side immigrated here in the 1970s. So my entire side from my mom are from México, they are from Chihuahua. So I grew up speaking Spanish in my house of course, because my grandparents still to this day have refused to learn English. They stick to their Spanish heritage which I’m proud of. I think that’s great. I mean they know a little here and there but for the most part we have all learned Spanish to accommodate them in a new country. So yeah, Spanish is the main language spoken in my home between all of us.
My dad’s side is confusing ‘cause my last name is Holtry which is German, or at least I’ve been told, I’m not quite sure. So my great grandfather was an orphan and I don’t know if that was his real name or the name of the people who adopted him or the name they gave him. We have no idea so a lot of that is a missing link for my dad’s side of my family. Well they grew up, my dad’s side, has always grown up in a Chicano neighborhood, Wells Park, so they consider themselves Chicano growing up. My grandmother on my dad’s side, her maiden name was Peralta, and Chavez, and so I come from a long line of Spanish names as well. So a lot of the time we just claim being Spanish. It wasn’t until I started studying Chicano Studies that I realized that claiming to be just Spanish is also claiming to just be White and I had to really do some setbacks from how I identify because I also want to embrace the indigenous side of being Mexicana or Chicana, but also embracing being Spanish, and kind of just taking that Identity and rolling with it and so now when people ask me, “What are you?” or, “If your last name is Holtry, why do you speak Spanish, why are you Mexican?” You know what I mean. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a Mestiza. I’m a mixed child. I come from all of this beautiful rich history within New Mexico. Especially here because New Mexico was a part of México before. It’s still a part of Aztlán and it’s really a trivialized part of the United States of America. Sometimes we’re not even considered a state. Like some people think we’re Mexico. So I feel really proud to be from here where the history can go back for centuries and centuries and we can still claim, “This is our land, this is our blood, this is who we are.”
I’ve heard that we also have Jewish roots in our family. So it’s a mix of things. There was one claim to be Italian at one point, too and I was like, “I don’t know, I love Spaghetti but I don’t know if that’s accurate.” I want to get my DNA test done and figure out what exactly, what percentage of what. One thing I know for sure is I’m half Mexican ‘cause my mom. That’s my mom. And the other half whether it’s Chicano or Spanish or indigenous, German, or Jewish, I’m proud, whatever I come out to be, I’m proud of it.
My mom just didn’t want me to have the exact same name as my great grandmother. Her name was Mercedes as well. I think my mom wanted to make me a little bit more unique, and make the s a z. but I like it. I think it gives my name some character. It’s a pain in the butt to correct people constantly when they spell it with an s but you know it’s whatever I love my name so whatever.
I would tell youth that poetry has really brought some amazing opportunities, you know, to my life. So I think taking advantage of any and all opportunities that your mentors give as far as art goes, take them. It’s so important. It’s so wonderful to come out of New Mexico and see the world and travel and meet people. I mean I have friends all over the place and if it wasn’t for poetry or for people pushing to write and perform and do what I do, I don’t think I would’ve met as many people as I know now and I don’t think I would have experienced all the beautiful things in this world, you know. Not only jut in the country, but in this world in general. So I feel like, yeah, if you have the opportunity to write and someone is encouraging you and supporting you and giving you the resources to become an artist, take them, because you have no idea where art can take you. It’s so amazing to go places and to do things.
I can remember sitting in a classroom and having a teacher tell me my poem isn’t an “A+” poem because it’s too Burqueño, it’s too Spanish, it’s too Mexican, it’s too hip-hop, you know. And then coming to a community where all of that is embraced and all of that is pushed forward and that’s really what slam poetry is about is getting that grass roots and presenting them and showing where you’re from and then seeing how that poetry can take you to so many different places.
In high school I was sitting in a classroom or in an auditorium and seeing you know, Carlos Contreras, or Hakim Bellamy, or Jessica Helen-Lopez, do poetry and then 5 years later I’m on the same stage as them doing the exact same thing for a big production like Just Speak or Just Listen or Just Move and still continuing to network within these really amazing poets and people in New Mexico. So it just goes to show that if you work hard at what you love and you’re committed to your art and your craft, it can take you to amazing places. And people in the community are going to support that and love that and embrace you. For any youth interested in writing poetry and doing art in any capacity, push yourself. Don’t give up on that cuz it’s a beautiful thing when artists can come together. And the more artists we grab and gather and get together the more culture we can create within these communities that need them, especially.
I find it interesting… everyone here in Albuquerque has a family member or someone who has really deep roots to a neighborhood or certain piece of land. I was talking to my uncle the other day and he was telling me a bunch of these crazy stories about some of the land grants here in Albuquerque and in New Mexico in general and how our family played a big part in that and I had no idea. Here I am learning this history in Chicano studies and not knowing my family took a big part in that. Learning about that is really awesome because then you can be like, “No, no, no, this is our land. I can trace it back. I can trace it back to so and so years ago.”
For me personally, Albuquerque will always be home no matter what and I think that’s super important to share. Because a lot of people in Albuquerque, they’re like, “Oh it’s so…there’s no opportunity here. There’s no hope.” And I don’t feel that way. I feel like we might be small in a lot of ways but you know we got a lot of heart here in Albuquerque. We got a lot of opportunity also to offer. It’s just a matter of finding those opportunities and making them happen. So I love where I’m from. Even if I were to move one day I would definitely come back ‘cause this will always be home. I’m such a Burqueña in that sense. Where the river is me, the mountain is me, the trees are me, that’s who I am. That’s how I identify. So I love it. I love it here. The sun! The green chile! The Zia. Like, all those stereo typical things. I’ll claim that ‘till I die. Just kidding, that was dramatic but seriously [laughing].
Photo credits: Adam Rubinstein