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Chicano culture, art, and politics
                 
 
Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado
Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado:
A Pioneering Chicano Poet
Passes On to the Ancestors

By Luis J. Rodriguez
(Photo - Metropolitan State College)

"Being a Chicano poet is like being in a constant state of pregnancy." Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado, one of Aztlan's most beloved poets, once said this in an introduction to a book by fellow Chicano poet-pioneer, Ricardo Sanchez (who passed on in 1995). When I read it, I reeled:
I knew exactly what Lalo was talking about.

Lalo was one who knew the fullness of such pregnancies - he wrote 14 books, including Chicano: 25 Pieces of a Chicano Mind (1969) and The Chicano Movement: Some Not Too Objective Observations (1971). He read his politically charged and gente-oriented verses around the country and on other shores. He is recognized as a father of Chicano poetry. But he's hardly known outside Chicano letters - a true shame of how we can live in distinct but parallel worlds in the United States.

Born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1930, Lalo and his mother ended up in El Paso, Texas when he was around twelve. There he grew up in a tenement apartment (twenty-three families lived there, sharing three bathrooms) and went to Bowie High School, eventually graduating with honors. At age twenty-one he met, and later married his life-long companion Lola Estrada - they celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2003. They had eight children together.

Despite linguistic, economic and racial barriers, Lalo went to the University of Texas, El Paso, and graduated in Spanish Studies. Lalo became active in Chicano politics in the 1960s; this included a 30-day fast protesting the racist treatment of Chicanos and Mexicanos in El Paso. During this time, he also wrote poems and read them everywhere he could.

Lalo eventually marched alongside Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta for farm worker and migrant worker rights. He helped develop, as well as teach in, many Chicano studies programs in universities throughout the Western United States, including the University of Colorado. Lalo ended up in the Denver area, where he led many battles for Chicano rights, including helping to create a radio station and teaching generations of Chicano leaders and writers for 17 years at Metropolitan State College.

Here is Lalo's best known poem, written in 1969:

stupid america, see that chicano
with a big knife
in his steady hand
he doesn't want to knife you
he wants to sit on a bench
and carve christ figures
but you won't let him.

stupid america, hear that chicano
shouting curses on the street
he is a poet
without paper and pencil
and since he cannot write
he will explode.

stupid america, remember that chicanito
flunking math and english
he is the picasso
of your western states
but he will die
with one thousand masterpieces
hanging only from his mind

That was Lalo, constantly pregnant, full of ideas, rhythms, images, feelings, leadership, and dreams. He was also a family man, historian, and teacher. On July 23, 2004, after a bout with cancer, Lalo passed on. He was 73. Que en paz descanse.
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