Behind the Scenes: Angela Acosta Discusses ‘Identity Height Chart’

The transcript of the episode is below


Teresa Douglas 0:10
Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes of Latinx lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas, and today we’re going to be talking with Angela Acosta. Angela is an emerging bilingual Mexican-American poet and scholar. She won the 2015 Rhina P. Espaillat Award from Westchester University and her work has appeared in Panochazine, Pluma, MacroMicroCosm, and Eye to the Telescope. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Iberian Studies at The Ohio State University and resides in Columbus, Ohio. Welcome, Angela.

Angela Acosta 0:52
Hello, hola, I’m really glad to be here.

Teresa Douglas 0:55
I’m glad to have you. And I will tell you we start this podcast not talking about your work, which is very important, but asking about another very important topic around food. And I would love to hear since you are in my metaphorical house, we are sitting at my metaphorical table. And I would of course, love to offer you something to eat that you enjoy. And I would love to know what is your favorite comfort food?

Angela Acosta 1:23
That’s a great question. I don’t think I would ask this of you if I were actually at your house. But I do enjoy a nice warm bowl of udon noodle soup. I’ve been in the cold weather for so many years. It’s a nice treat.

Teresa Douglas 1:36
I love that. We had another guest who also loved ramen soup. And it’s just these noodle dishes. They’re so comforting. I don’t understand why it is. It’s just wonderful. We would definitely eat Udon because I keep that in my pantry. So you’d be sitting there, you’d probably help me cook it, it would be all very cozy. So thank you for sharing that. Food is such a nice way to to get to know people.

Angela Acosta 2:05
For sure.

Teresa Douglas 2:07
I just I loved this poem. Listeners, I know you enjoyed this as much as me. And if you didn’t, it’s because you haven’t listened to it. So please pause and go listen to that right now. Because the rest of this is going to make a lot more sense if you’ve done that. I love the way this poem sort of grows, especially since we’re talking about a height chart. I cannot wait to talk about it. But before we do, I would like to talk about you a bit and find out how long you’ve been writing?

Angela Acosta 2:50
I have been writing poetry, at least actively considering myself a poet, since I was around 14 or 15. But I’ve done a little bit of poetry writing before that. I wrote a lot in high school at that time, and found it a really important way of expressing myself and figuring out certain, you know, language use and identity. And I didn’t write too much during the later years of college and early years of graduate school, and I really only gotten back to writing poetry earnestly in the past year.

Teresa Douglas 3:22
Mm hmm. It’s amazing. It just feels like this is in your bones when I read this. I loved all of the things you packed in here. And I’m getting ahead of myself again. Let’s talk a little bit more about you. It sounds like poetry is one of your first loves. Is it your only writing love? Or do you have other mediums other things that you like to write in?

Angela Acosta 3:57
Yeah, I think poetry is my favorite in the sense that it’s something that I can just kind of pick up and do and don’t feel like I’m fussing over it too much, or that I’m really working with the writing. I’m able to just take an idea that I have and turn it into a poem relatively quickly. Most of the other writing I’m doing now is academic writing. So I’m working on my dissertation. I’m writing academic articles, presenting things to the public. But in terms of creative writing, I’ve also done a little bit of flash fiction and then creative nonfiction related to my research.

Teresa Douglas 4:29
So flash fiction does feel like it’s almost at that crossroads of fiction and poetry, or prose and poetry, I should say because it’s flash, just very lyrical, a lot of image, a lot of things that crossover. My husband finished his PhD just about six months ago and those papers are a whole nother level of writing that’s kind of crazy to me–to see the density that comes in there. So yes, I can see how this is quite different from that. Can we walk through your process of writing Identity Height Chart? Did you come up with the idea first? Was there a central image? Walk me through that process.

Angela Acosta 5:22
Yeah, that’s a really great question because it’s something you can think about with every poem. But for this one in particular, it actually is very different than how I usually write because what I did was, I had found some old poems that I’d sort of started and kind of meandered a little bit from early years of college when I was writing a lot and involved a little bit in a spoken word poetry group on campus. So I had some ideas in the air already from a few years ago. But since that time my sense of self has changed. I’ve matured over the years, and the way that I write has changed as well. So I kind of took those bare bones ideas, and turned them into the stanzas. And the identity height chart, the main metaphor of the piece, kind of came to me because in the house that my parents are now living, there was a height chart that somebody left, and I thought it was quite funny, because the children were a lot taller than I am. I’m five feet with shoes on, I like to say, so that the children were a lot taller than me. And I think that image popped in my mind, in thinking about growth, and how we see ourselves and physically, you know, not growing too tall, but thinking about how I’m growing in other ways.

Teresa Douglas 6:37
Yeah, and that central image is, to me, a fabulous one for thinking about, at the end, being a proud Latina woman. And whatever physical height we may or might not have, just reaching that point, when you feel settled in your sense of self, because it feels like in so many places, as you say, in your poem here, where “she just wants to be herself. And everyone has names for things that she’s not.” And she, you know, does that it says “no longer stating percentages, like a Venn diagram, when they just want to hear her say the word Mexican.” So this idea all the way through that there are these forces that are trying to get us to take up less space, to justify our existence. One of the things I thought about in that first stanza where you say, “facing an examination, not of numbers, but other teachers questions.” And this question of why do we have to justify the space that we take up, and that ambivalence that we see in so many places. If you’re not completely white looking, blond hair, blue eyes, like the stereotype, and you’re not stereotypically dark skinned, or identify as black, then you’re in this place where it seems like everybody wants you to justify the fact that you’re a member of the bipoc community, or justify what [identity] you write down. And I thought that was so well done, to talk about that, and put in this idea of having to scatter yourself almost and again, take up less space. So that was so well done in this.

Angela Acosta 8:36
Thank you. Yeah, I will say that, when you said the idea of the forces that shape us, I think that’s really poignant. And thinking about childhood and how these, you know, certain anecdotes came about in my own thinking of the poem, because a lot of times as a child, you don’t always know how to best identify yourself. And I remember when I was little, I always made sure to, like, memorize all the countries that my ancestors came from, as if anyone would ask me that, but in reality, they just kind of want to size you up and see what’s different about you. And then the tension when you might not say the word that they’re thinking or what they’re expecting.

Teresa Douglas 9:16
And it’s a crazy thing, where you think, okay, how much of an answer are you really looking for here? And the idea that in so many places, the people who are Mexican also have, of course, other things. We have indigenous ancestors, we have ancestors from all over. And this idea that even some of those indigenous peoples, we may not know the names of those folks because of colonialism. And the idea that you could, in some ways could feel less than because you don’t have names for what you are you only have names for what you aren’t. And that is such a powerful thing to talk about, this idea of, of trying to take up the space that is yours that comes to you from your people, from your own living in the world. And, I love that again, at the end, she’s reached the top of the height chart, a proud Latina woman. And that is such a mic drop moment, right there. I almost just put my fist in the air is like, yeah. Because it’s what we want, right? We want to be able to grow into ourselves.

Angela Acosta 10:38
And do it on our own terms.

Teresa Douglas 10:40
Exactly. And not have that moment where someone says, here’s the height that you should reach. And that’s where you need to be. One of the things I wanted to ask you too, is often we don’t get to tell people what impression we want our piece to have, what impression we want them to be left with. And it’s fine that people bring their own history and their own ideas, as they’re reading this and come to their own conclusions. But this is your moment, right now. If you could talk to listeners and tell them how you want them to think about this piece and impression that you want them to leave with? What would that be?

Angela Acosta 11:30
Yeah, I don’t think there was anything in particular as I was writing that I really wanted to, like have as a central message in terms of what people think or process with this piece. But I think what I was looking for was that question of labels and how they really shaped my own upbringing, understanding of my identity, especially during those college years, at a time when you’re in a very diverse environment. Oftentimes, even if you’re at a predominantly white institution, and you get a lot of questions asked about your background, or when you meet new people. And these labels really shape us over time, whether or not we really believe in them. And I think what’s been helpful for me is just to kind of understand myself, like I said, on my own terms, and see where I fit and really feeling like I can take charge of that. So I think that’s the idea of growth, and in growing into one’s identity, which isn’t always growing into a particular label, or cultural identity, but just like feeling like you, you are yourself without all of this outside intervention was what I was going for.

Teresa Douglas 12:33
And it’s so wonderful, because there are so many places that make people feel, in some ways not enough. And this poem really empowers the reader to say you are enough. Whatever you are, and as you say, whatever space you inhabit, whatever names you may put on, that’s for you to put those names on, and not a label that you need to fit in like a piece of clothing that just isn’t quite right. So thank you for that. It was a shot of, good feeling. I know that there’ll be other people who want to read the things that you write, do you have social media handles, or a website or anywhere where someone could read your pieces as they come out?

Angela Acosta 13:27
Yeah, I do use Instagram. I’m at aaperiquito. But I don’t have an author website yet, just because I’m focused on my academic work and just have the academic website which I may have sent you. But my work is out and floating around the internet and other creative publications in a variety of forms. So I’ve published in the journals you mentioned in my bio, and a lot of those are available online.

Teresa Douglas 13:57
Wonderful. And could you spell again, the Instagram handle ?

Angela Acosta 14:06
Yeah, it’s and it’s all lowercase. It’s a a p e r i q u i to

Teresa Douglas 14:15
So listeners if you didn’t catch that, or you share my inability to listen very well, I will have that in the show notes. So you could just go ahead and click over, and follow what Angele’s doing. Well, thank you so much for coming to the podcast, and sharing your work.

Angela Acosta 14:38
Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure to be in this space with you and to share my work


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