Marc David Pinate, Poet

The following interview was conducted in 2000 for Comfusion Magazine.

Jaime Wright: Can you tell us what MACLA is about and does in the community?

Marc Pinate: MACLA stands for Movimiento Artistico y Cultural Latino Americano. It is an organization committed to making the arts available to working class Latinos in San Jose. This is done in two ways: first, by presenting visual artists and performers for low or no cost (admission to the art gallery is free year round), and second, by sponsoring workshops in various art disciplines (photography, spoken word, acting, crafts, etc.) while providing a venue for members of the community to hone and present their artistic talents.
       More importantly, MACLA is an organization that is not afraid to take risks, that seeks to stay on the cutting edge and continually redefine what “Chicano Art” is all about. If you want mariachis and baile folklorico, MACLA is not the place to find that type of “safe” cultural expression that keeps the mind numb and free from any critical discourse.

Wright: Who are your major influences? and why?

Pinate: I’d have to say that the most significant influences on me as a “Chicano writer” were Jose Montoya and Jose Antonio Burciaga. These were the first Chicano poets whose work I ever read. Before that I was a writer without an identity. Before reading these two “maestros” I didn’t know that you could use Spanish and English in a poem or that you could use “spanglish” words like “wacha” (watch out), “troque” (truck), and my favorite, “the most chingonest.”
       I was first exposed to the work of these men in college and it drastically changed the way I wrote and what I wrote about. Before, I was writing a lot of stupid love poems and life-sucks poems, the kind of stuff most high school kids write about, I suppose.
       I’ve met Jose Montoya several times and he’s even heard me perform a few times and given me compliments, which to me meant the world. Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of meeting Burciaga before he died of brain cancer back in 1996 (que descansa en paz). But, call it karma or call it fate, his son, Tony Burciaga, played in my band, Grito Serpentino, for two years. He had his father’s artistic ability (but in music instead of poetry) and I felt blessed to have been able to work with him.
       Another influence was e.e. cummings. I started writing without capitals in high school after doing a report on him. I liked his style in life perhaps more than I liked his poetry. The hip hop movement has been an influence, as I suppose it has influenced most spoken word artists in this day and age. Then of course there are “The Last Poets.” Oh shit...these guys were the end all, be all. When I first heard them I wanted to be one of them, walk around Martin Luther King park in NYC wearing dashikis or black leather coats with drums playing in the background, shouting out my rhymes to anyone who would listen. Those guys had a lotta heart and that’s what I hope people will say about me someday, “that guy had a lotta heart.”

Wright: As a poet, how do you feel about spokenword/performance poetry vs. poetry on the page? What are their differences? Advantages, disadvantages?

Pinate: I cant say that one is better than the other, they are each their own each his (or her) own. PERSONALLY, I prefer performance poetry, but that may be because I was an only child and I’m always starving for attention. Seriously, I feel that the spokenword stuff is better received by audiences, at least the kinds of audiences I perform for: that is, working class people of color, Latinos mostly...people that went to shitty schools, whose culture is not completely “american” (whatever that is), who are marginalized, who have rage, who are beautiful, who are only shown as maids and drug dealers on tv, people who go to college not because they want to make a lot of money but because they want to change the world, people who are freedom fighters and revolutionaries. For these kinds of people what’s on the page doesn’t suit them. It isn’t visceral enough, it doesn’t hit home like a good spoken word piece with music and loud raw energy. And especially for kids...I gotta compete with loud-ass rap blasting out of headphones and car speakers, with parties and bong rips and trying to get I gotta put some razzle dazzle into my poetry, I do that when I perform and let me tell you, people listen. I want to see a page deliver what a live performance can deliver.

Wright: What is the main motivation that drives your poetry and other creative endeavors? Can you explain this motivation or these motivations in terms of the individual artist and society? Society, in terms of either the Latino community or the mainstream or both.

Pinate: I suppose its just the need in me to create, to tell a story, to build something from where there was nothing. I can’t explain that, it’s just something I have to do. I have to create. I’ll be sitting on the couch watching tv or driving my car or lying next to a woman and suddenly, I have these thoughts, these ideas for a story or a show and I begin to envision the performance, the play, the song, the poem, whatever...and I can see the audience going crazy about it, just diggin’, and then I have to go do it.
       Then there’s also a certain responsibility I feel I have to the Latino community. I am an artist, a writer to be exact. I have friends that are lawyers, social workers, city workers, soon to be doctors. These are all professions that can significantly help the Latino population, and these friends of mine... they are truly great people, they work for “the people.” Me...well I’m not any of those things, but I am a writer, so I need to use this gift in a way that helps my community, that helps it in a way that lawyers and doctors, and social workers and teachers can’t. In a way that heals their wounded souls, that sneaks some critical thought into their heads.

Wright: A major theme in poems such as “Downtown when..”, “Cruisin’”, “Humberto Rivera” and even “Drum Song” to an extent, deal with the marginalization of Latinos and Latino Culture from the mainstream system of oppression that traditionally caters to the stereotypical “white-male patriarch,” thus silencing anything “other;” by addressing the marginalization/categorical oppression of Latinos, who do you wish to reach or speak to within your poetry? Is it Latinos, the mainstream, or both? And what message do you want your audience to derive from your poetry?

Pinate: I guess the first person I write for is myself. Beyond that I think the majority of my work is directed towards the Latino community. I think non-Latinos can definitely enjoy it or be affected by it, but the way I see it, Latinos don’t nearly have enough of their own poets, people who are writing specifically for them, about them. I mostly perform for Latino audiences, so I always keep them in mind first. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. When the day comes when there’s an equal number of Black, Asian, Latino and White writers in high school curriculums...then I guess I would write for a bigger audience, but until then I guess I’ll stick to trying to fill the giant gap that still exists between writers of color and European/White-American writers.

Wright: In “Downtown when...” you point out with the “No Cruising Zones” ways in which mainstream institutions, such as the police, are used to perpetuate and criminalize marginalized communities (any community that is non-white, non-heterosexual, and not upper-middle class or richer), do you see any solutions to a problem that causes Mexican cops to hate Mexicans, Black cops to hate Blacks, and even homosexual cops to hate homosexuals? Does this question polarize and thus oversimplify a complex problem? How do you feel a solution can be worked toward that somehow will change what seems inherent within humans—the tendency to desire and abuse power regardless of the outward cultural appearances?

Pinate: Whoa...that’s a pretty deep and dense question. Can humans learn not to abuse power, to face their fears, to stand alone against the mainstream? Well, I guess you have to take that on a case by case basis. Will a poem change any of that? Well, maybe not all by itself, but mixed in with other people’s poems, education, love, other life experiences...well, then I really can’t say if it’s the poem or something else, it’s all of it. So I’ll just keep on writing the poems.

Wright: What is more realistic: Changing society through involvement in political institutions or through artwork and creativity?

Pinate: realistic is it to say that a politician is ever going to change society, or that the government is going to change society. It seems to me that governments were put in place (and the bureaucracy they create) precisely to keep things the same, to maintain the status if anything is gonna change society...well, HELL YES it will be art.

Take a drive through some poetry:
8 dayze and a life-tyme ago
Humberto Rivera
Drum Song
Downtown when ya Brown