Paloma Chen: “The Chinese restaurant is a place of resistance” | Culture

The poet Paloma Chen in March of this year at the Valencian bookstore United Minds.
The poet Paloma Chen in March of this year at the Valencian bookstore United Minds.Monica Torres

Paloma Chen grew up between spring rolls, three delights rice and sweet and sour chicken, at the Chinatown restaurant in Utiel, Alicante. Her parents had migrated from the Wenzhou region of China in the 1980s, like many other relatives and compatriots, and she was already born on the shores of the Mediterranean. She was one of those girls who first played, drew and did their homework at the last tables of the family business, and later, as teenagers, began to lend a hand controlling the cash register or serving the tables. In Chinatown, the menu of the day cost 7.50 euros. “I understand Chinese restaurants and bazaars as spaces of resistance,” he says, “they are places where migrant families try to prosper and where false stereotypes are reproduced: Chinese as a synonym for dirt and shabbyness.” He dedicated his final degree project to this topic, entitled Grow up in a chinese.

Chen (Alicante, 23 years old) is a journalist, cultural manager and poet, and won the Live Poetry Award # LdeLírica, organized by Ámbito Cultural de El Corte Inglés and La Piscifactoría. In her texts she speaks precisely of the tribulations of migrant people, of having grown up between two cultures, of being the Chinese girl of the town; She talks a lot about the difficult communication with her parents: neither they speak Spanish, nor does she speak Chinese. “Of course we understand each other for everyday issues, but there are always deeper places where we cannot go,” he explains.

He received the award on March 15 in the assembly hall of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), under an old stained glass window that says “poetry” and another that says “eloquence”. Chen can boast of both: in the ceremony he asked the members of the Academy “flexibility, adaptation to the new times and a lot of feminism and anti-racism”. He has not yet published a collection of poems, but he is already working on one for the Letraversal publishing house.

There is a lot of poetry on the Internet and I suppose that if a poem moves someone it already has value

She has been interested in literature since she was a child, although her genre had been prose, the story. The verses only for a couple of years, well used. “I realized that through poetry I could express myself in a more direct way, I could use it in a more confessional way,” he explains. His readings and influences include confessional poets such as Alejandra Pizarnick or Anne Sexton, but also diaspora poets, such as June Jordan, Audre Lorde or Marilyn Chin, with whose experiences he identifies. He also has a preference for Fernando Pessoa, specifically for his heteronym Álvaro de Campos. She is obsessed with words, language, communication, her subject matter, Spanish that her parents do not fully understand, and she quotes Jacques Derrida: “I have only one language and it is not mine.”

Poetry and Instagram

Very serious poetic and philosophical readings that contrast in a generation that is related to light poetry, youth, little read, of social networks. “I was very belligerent with that kind of poetry, I said that poetry had died”, explains Chen, “now I see it differently. There is a lot of poetry on the Internet and I suppose that if a poem moves someone it already has value ”. The #LdeLirica award is convened by Instagram and tries, precisely, to dignify poetry on the net, not taking into account the blind popularity of the likes but to the judgment of a jury versed in the matter.

Paloma Chen fulfills the project that many migrants must conceive when they leave their countries: a first generation that arrives and sacrifices so that a second generation can master the language, go to university, integrate, win poetry awards and even recite in the Royal Academy. The story of success. “I am not very convinced of that story because, although there are cases, it does not always happen that way either. And although it seems that one integrates, neither does it completely: there is what in the Chinese community we call the bamboo roof”.

We live in an age in which, not without controversy, identity politics, feminism, anti-racism, the claims of minorities have a strong weight in the public debate. Does the time accompany your poetry? “In a way, the times are good, but I also have the feeling that when we step outside of certain bubbles, all of this is an illusion, that much more needs to be achieved.” The members of this multicultural generation have been called “chiñoles”, a concept that, although Chen does not dislike it at all, it has not convinced him either. “It is a term that gives too much room for jokes,” he says, “in addition, it gives the impression that we are people cut in half, 50% Chinese and 50% Spanish, and that is not the case either. It’s more complicated”.

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