An eight-year veteran of Da Poetry Lounge (DPL), the mecca of L.A. slam poetry and spoken word, Yesika Salgado regularly performs her work in front of packed audiences, followers and die-hard fans taking in the artist’s carefully crafted, often bilingual, words, humor, and unfuckwittable self-expression. In addition to being a wordsmith, Salgado is wildly charming and funny as sh*t. With a relatable history involving f*ckboys and all things Drake, this fat, fly, Salvadoreña brings body positivity and brown girl love to the forefront of her work as a poet, speaker, writer and activist. Now a seasoned performer and slam poet, Salgado has honed her craft by way of nonstop creating, practicing, performing and competing.
The first time Salgado competed in a poetry slam was six years ago at Inkslam, a Los Angeles poetry festival produced by DPL and Greenway Theatre. Back then, Salgado was still learning her way around her poetry: “I had no idea what I was doing, but I was invited to slam on a team that was thrown together last minute. I don’t remember my score. It wasn’t great.” Yesika would eventually leap ahead of that learning curve when she represented Hollywood and DPL at the National Poetry Slam—this time, with four more years of experience and growth as a poet tucked beneath her tongue. “My first real slam team was in 2014. I represented Hollywood/DPL at the National Poetry Slam,” she says, “with some of my favorite poets and people in the world.”
Two years later, Salgado would learn that nothing is certain in the slam world. Qualifying for a spot on the 2016 Da Poetry Lounge Slam Team proved to be much more competitive than it had been in past years. “Our Slam Master Shihan decided to take eight poets to finals. As a competitor this is more complicated. You’re no longer trying to beat out at least one poet. You have to beat out 3,” Salgado explains. After competing in six rounds of qualifying slams, Yesika placed sixth, and did not make the original 2016 DPL Slam Team. “I was disappointed and upset with myself,” she confesses, “I felt I hadn’t given finals my all. In semi-finals I took first place and dominated my bout. In finals I didn’t.” This disappointment would be short lived. Two months after losing that final bout, DPL Slam Master Shihan pulled Salgado aside and informed her that the poet who beat her out for the fifth place slot on the slam team had dropped out. The spot was hers if she wanted it: “The team held a vote to bring me in. They unanimously said yes and I am now on my second DPL slam team and ready to put in work.”
This summer, Salgado competed on the 2016 Da Poetry Lounge National Poetry Slam Team alongside all star team Alyesha Wise, Aman Batra, Lem Saint Gonzalves and Kito Fortune guided by coaches Javon Johnson and Shihan Van Clief, a former HBO def poet and Salgado’s mentor. For her, competing at the national level is meaningful for a multitude of reasons. The opportunity to represent Los Angeles and other fat, fly chingonxs like herself is not lost on the poet. “I’m all about creating visibility for brown fat women in poetry and the world in general,” the scribe says emphatically. “The fact that I’m on a team means a lot to young chingonas that follow me.”
Creating visibility for fat women of color in the arts is a core factor in Salgado’s work and activism. While this visibility is incredibly important to Salgado, the journey here has been a long one. There was a time when the L.A.-based artist felt very invisible, hiding herself and her work behind a computer screen before coming into her own as an artist. Before Salgado was performing on stages and competing nationally, she was posting her poetry on an online forum called HipHopPoetry.com. This was the place where she first shared her poetry, and people were responding to her words. During this period of her life, the poet was catfishing online, something that she now discusses openly as an important chapter in her identity development. Her online alter egos and catfish personalities were usually hyper feminine. At the time, Salgado was not yet openly feminine in her looks, and she was not performing her poetry publicly. Until, that is, the founder of the HipHopPoetry forum encouraged Salgado to take her poetry and perform it live at Da Poetry Lounge. Salgado took the founder’s advice, and her world changed. It wasn’t until just four years ago that she put her online alter egos to rest, allowing the poet we know as Yesika to come to life. “The universe checked me,” she says. Now you can catch Salgado performing on stages, in front of hundreds of people, delivering poems about love and sex in crop tops, hoop earrings, and bright lipstick.
To share her art, Salgado utilizes a variety of platforms to make herself and her work not only visible, but accessible across mediums, spaces and places. Like many millennial artists and creators, Instagram has been Salgado’s primary platform for sharing her poetry and interacting with followers. On Instagram, she is able to connect with chingonxs across the nation and on an international level.
This summer, the fat, fly poet engaged fellow chingonxs with an IG Lipstick Selfie challenge, encouraging women and femmes of color to share the selfies that show off their favorite lippies. Historically, black and brown people have been told that bright, bold lipsticks don’t suit our facial features or skin tones. Dark skinned people still struggle to find makeup options that are varied enough to accommodate a wide spectrum of skin tones. An act of resistance against eurocentric beauty standards and white supremacy in the cosmetics industry, Salgado’s Lipstick Selfie challenge created a space where women and femmes of color could share with each other the lipsticks that pop best on melanin rich skin, and celebrate themselves in the process. Taking a page out of Frida Kahlo’s book, Salgado honors the importance of selfies as counter-narratives, vehicles for self-love and empowerment. “Self love is powerful,” she says. “The more faces you see that look like you, you feel empowered.” A selfie is a way for folks with marginalized identities and bodies to claim their space in a world that would rather see them shrink, disappear and apologize for existing and loving outside of white cis-heteronormativity.
A photo posted by Yesika Salgado (@yesikastarr) on
For Salgado, learning to love her body in spite of racism, sexism, and fatphobia has been a practice in loving her full self, including her sexuality as a fat brown Latinx. While sex has always been a major theme in Salgado’s work, her words around sex and desire once mirrored her feelings of apology for her own sexuality and sexual expression: “At the beginning, these poems were apologetic.” It wasn’t long before Salgado would grow into her confidence as a whole, sexual being, rejecting fatphobic apologies and fetishization feigning as attraction. Salgado’s breakthrough poem, “How Not to Make Love to a Fat Girl,” is not so much a guide, but a declaration of her sexual and emotional wants, needs, desires and boundaries, without apology or compromise. It is a statement of purpose for all romantic partners and the message is clear: you will love and honor every inch of fat brown girl body in its entirety. Period. “How Not to Make Love to a Fat Girl” opened doors for the Salvadoreña, making room for humor in her body of work.
After the poem was recorded at Da Poetry Lounge and posted on YouTube, outlets like Everyday Feminism and The Huffington Post shared the poem online, expanding Salgado’s reach. When NPR reached out to Yesika about the poem, however, she found that their interest was not in celebrating an unapologetic fat muxer—“they were looking for a sad fat girl story, not an empowered fat girl.” With questions like “do you want to lose weight?” and “how has your weight affected your health?” littering the interview, Salgado knew that the piece with NPR was not the representation she was fighting so hard to achieve.
Rather than rely on mainstream outlets for representation, Salgado and fellow Chingonx poet Angela Aguirre co-founded their own feminist poetry collective known as chingona Fire. The partners in poetry define Chingona Fire as “the Alchemy that occurs when badass women of color come together, and set sh*t aflame.” One of the only poetry collectives specifically created for women of color in Los Angeles, Chingona Fire hosts regular open mic and performance nights for women and femme artists and creators of color to share their work. Chingona Fire events are usually hosted in community spaces in predominantly Latinx hoods and barrios, making room for visual, musical and spoken word artists to experiment in a place of safety, surrounded by community.
It’s easy to love me on stage, I tell him. Come by when no one is here and I haven’t edited anything in my mouth. Come by after I’ve wiped my lipstick off and my hair is pulled into a knot. When I am bare and have no name anyone knows. Love me in my quiet. Love me outside of the poem. Is that something you can do? Are you even interested in trying? Do you want me or my spotlight?
A writer for The Huffington Post Latino Voices, Salgado recently published a poem on the HuffPost blog in remembrance of Jesse Romero, a 14-year-old Latinx boy who was senselessly and needlessly murdered by LAPD officers in Boyle Heights this summer. The piece, written in Jesse’s memory, digs deep into the collective mourning that black and brown communities have suffered through for generations, with no true end in sight. Salgado’s poem for Jesse was read at his funeral, where he was laid to rest surrounded by loved ones. Although much of Salgado’s work and activism centers mujeres, she is a poet of the people, who honors the lives and memories of young boys and men of color, especially those that have been killed or abused by law enforcement, system wide racism and immigration. In her Father’s Day poem, Salgado spoke to the absent fathers of color, who are not always absent by choice, but who are often criminalized, pushed out, detained and disappeared by various oppressions including police violence, deportation, and the prison industrial complex.
Needless to say, Yesika Salgado is a force. She has catapulted into national recognition on the strength of her words and personality. She is inspiring fat women of color to love their full selves while creating incredible multi-dimensional art which speaks to human experiences that are often hidden or silenced. The writer has created a much needed rupture in the Los Angeles poetry scene, and she is introducing poetry to young Latinx who need her as much as she needed the likes of Sandra Cisneros and Gloria Anzaldua. If you would like to keep up with Yesika’s work and adventures, follow her on IG: @yesikastarr and read her work with The Huffington Post.