This article was written by BenitoLink intern Marisa Sachau
Manuel Rocha Jr. spoke to BenitoLink at El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista on Aug. 24 to discuss his poetry collection, “The Pain of a Warrior,” which received honorable mention at the 2022 Latino Book Awards in August. The book was published in March 2022.
El Teatro Campesino is special to Rocha, as it has become a second home to him and his family.
Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Rocha and his family relocated to Morgan Hill about 50 years ago to follow the campesinos. He has lived in Morgan Hill since he was a year old.
He has worked in numerous roles over his 12 years with El Teatro Campesino, including as a crew member, musician, and with programs in the schools. He’s also house managed and covered facility maintenance. He said he has enjoyed his time with the group, particularly when his oldest daughter would perform.
“It was a way for us to feel comfortable around people,” said Rocha. “Dealing with a lot of discrimination and stereotypes in the area I live in, this was just a place where we could come and be comfortable and be ourselves.”
Rocha describes his collection as “medicine, in that spiritual, indigenous, Native American sense,” and said he felt he could bring awareness and support to not only himself, but the community as well.
He added that poetry is essential, as it is a kind that has not been seen in nearly 500 years and brings a sense of inner healing. He replicates the Xochitl in Cuicatl style, also known as The Flower Songs. He said this style has become popular with numerous Indigenous tribes and lineages on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
“In that style of poetry, you see all these different cultures,” said Rocha. “It’s just something that spoke to me in my research, thought, and prayer.”
Rocha started his research for his poetry in September 2020 and took a little over a year to complete it.
His method involved reading large texts that were translated into Spanish. Rocha not only read the poetry, but looked into the origins of the writings—the geography, timeline and structure. He was self-taught in all of this, which he said made his experience more enriching.
“There is a lot to deal with the colonization and the pain,” said Rocha. “I’m trying to experience slowly, so I only put a little bit in there and be respectful, but honest.”
Rocha calls generational trauma a “sickness” that he and his people have dealt with, particularly following colonialism. He said he believes there needs to be acknowledgement of the pain that they have experienced, as the past cannot be changed.
“It is a way for us to get rid of that pain so that it doesn’t get passed onto the next generation,” he said. “So that’s what I’m doing, in a sense, giving the old ancestors a voice, giving my ancestors a voice to help heal the generational trauma.”
He continued, “We know that words can hurt, we know that words can cause wars. At the same time, words can also heal, words can bring people together, words can help you to move on.”
A poem that sticks out to Rocha upon reflection is “Mictlan.” He wrote it for his children and feels it is relatable for anyone who has kids.
“Distressed Flower” is another one that struck a chord with Rocha Jr., as it is a poem about being abandoned by his mother when he was an infant and acknowledging the pain that has come with it. He said this is a poem that has been commented on by others that is engaging.
Rocha is working on a second poetry collection. “As I learn this style and as I progress and my writing grows, my research grows, it’ll get a little more intricate in a positive way, so that’s what I’m seeing as I go into my second book.”
The second book will be more expansive, he said, adding that he already feels it is an improvement from his first collection. Though his goal is to complete it by March 2023, Rocha said he does not want to force it out.
Asked what he would want his readers to take away from his poetry, Rocha said, “healing.”
He said “The Pain of a Warrior” has been very well received and has gotten great reviews through Facebook messages, and even calls thanking him for the experience that this book gave them.
“I’m a warrior, a protector of the community,” said Rocha.
“The Pain of a Warrior” is available to buy here.
Concerned and Certainly Modest
I, the singer, may go on living life standing up.
Bringing the flower drum covered with quetzal feathers,
Carrying it with the goldenseal.
Concerned and certainly modest.
My singing grasping the people,
Healing the spirit of the eagles and jaguars.
Concerned and certainly modest.
I go and descend next to the drum, living there happy.
I go singing, grasping beauty, growing and grasping division.
I go answering the new bird rattle,
Living and singing.
Offering flowers and offering tamales,
Making people laugh and smile.
—Manuel Rocha Jr
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