Best known as the author of A Place to Stand, his memoir-turned-documentary about growing up an orphan in New Mexico and learning how to read and write poetry in prison, Jimmy Santiago Baca writes with what Denise Levertov once called “unconcealed passion.” For decades he has been committed to centering the stories of marginalized people, particularly Chicano communities and incarcerated youth. His work ranges from writing the screenplay for the cult classic film Blood In, Blood Out, which chronicles the lives of three men living in the barrios of 1970s Los Angeles, to founding Cedar Tree, Inc., a non-profit organization that facilitates writing workshops in prisons and youth detention centers.
Now in When I Walk Through That Door, I Am: An Immigrant Mother’s Quest for Freedom, the Pushcart Prize-winning poet continues this legacy, putting a human face on the crisis of family separation at the United States-Mexico border. Oscillating between prose poetry and more traditional verse, the book-length poem tells the harrowing story of Sophia, a young mother from San Salvador who travels north in search of asylum after her husband’s brutal murder. The imagined hero of this epic poem was inspired, Baca explains in his author’s note, by a refugee named Sae-Po he worked alongside years ago. Before arriving in the U.S., Sae-Po had fled Myanmar with his family and spent fifteen years in a refugee camp on the border of Vietnam. “He didn’t want to be rich; he wanted to be at peace, for his kids to have opportunity and a decent education," recounts Baca. When Sae-Po and his family suddenly disappeared from their apartment in Albuquerque, the poet began, in his grief, to craft Sophia’s story.
Through Sophia’s timely and eye-opening narrative, Baca places the reader at the heart of the ongoing battle over immigration in the United States. After being separated from her four-year-old son at the U.S.-Mexico border, she sets out on a long journey from a New Mexico detention center to find him: “I keep walking/ carrying you in my thoughts/ I feel I am walking up a mountain…For mothers like me, climbing a mountain/ is sometimes the only cure.”
“This slim, salient volume will open readers’ eyes wide to the true human stories behind blaring headlines about immigration policies and debates.”
“Jimmy Baca’s new book brilliantly reimagines the epic poem—and reshapes the epic hero as a young immigrant woman struggling to escape violence and find the child that has been torn away from her. A work that speaks strikingly and passionately of our times.”
—Richard Blanco, inaugural poet and author of How to Love a Country
In Bookstores Everywhere February 19, 2019!
When I Walk Through That Door, I Am
Jimmy Santiago Baca