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Fronteras: New San Antonio Poet Laureate Nephtalí De León discusses life, inspirations in the ‘Mecca of Chicano Arts’

In 2012, San Antonio became the first major city in Texas to appoint its very own poet laureate.

The city’s poets laureate serve three-year terms and work with local organizations to promote poetry and literary arts.

The post has been held by Carmen Tafolla, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Jenny Browne — who have also served as Texas poets laureate — as well as Octavio Quintanilla, and Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson.

Chicano poet Nephtalí De León was named the city’s newest poet laureate in March.

De León is a writer and artist known for his poetry, children’s stories, essays, paintings, and sculptures.

His works take on a social justice and activist bent and range from a Spanish-language poem about the state of Arizona’s “show me your papers” law to a valentine to tortillas.

De León was born in Laredo and grew up in the Rio Grande Valley as a migrant farmworker.

He spoke about what inspired him to use the written and spoken word as a means of artistic expression.

“It was the Chicano movement that made me aware art could also be a tool,” he said. “That art could be a weapon, it could be a shield. And, certainly, a way to affirm the dignity of being human.”

De León said he felt privileged to be chosen for the title in a culturally rich city like San Antonio.

“I call it the ‘Mecca of Chicano arts’ (and) the ‘oasis of our culture,’” he said. “We’re not searching for our culture, we’re living it, we’re practicing it, we’re sustaining it.”

Listen to the second part of the conversation with De León on May 19th.

Watch a video of De León's 2023 investiture ceremony below:

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1