On How People – Like Fish – Absorb Their Surroundings Through Skin

An Interview with Christian Hanz Lozada

by Jonah Meyer, Mud Season Review Poetry Editor

“It’s like the dude on the dance floor whose arms are flailing to their own beat. Yeah, we’re looking, but not because they’re cool – it’s because we don’t want to get randomly smacked.”

Christian Hanz Lozada

You’ve described yourself as the son of an immigrant Filipino (your father) and a descendent of the Confederacy (your Southern, White mother), noting that your “heart beats with hope and exclusion.” Explaining your poems appearing here in Mud Season Review, you’ve said these selections “describe the internal negotiations and concessions people make to maintain their identities.” How has this “split,” or dual identity of self (for lack of better descriptor) shaped your writing of poetry? How does this unique identity shape your view of the world and your place in it—both as a human being and as a poet?

Having a mixed identity shapes my writing by making me hold multiple views in tension with each other. As the son of one person who is defiantly “racially colorblind” even though the catalyst for her parents’ divorce was racism (not to mention her having children of color) and another who holds his culture at arm’s length and away from his kids, I try to write about the regular reminders of being a person of color in America, including Whiteness. Within that community, we don’t see ourselves as part of that conversation, but we are leading it. It’s like the dude on the dance floor whose arms are flailing to their own beat. Yeah, we’re looking, but not because they’re cool – it’s because we don’t want to get randomly smacked.

In “Breathing America,” Brown Dad floods the house with English in order to maintain basic family survival, and everything must be counted in order to tread the water (and not drown) while the family—like fish—must breathe through their skin. You end the poem with: “To breathe in these depths, my family exchanged / broken dialects for unaccented regrets.” Tell me about the meaning, or ideas/experiences behind this powerful statement.

I love the idea of how fish absorb their surroundings through skin. People do, too, and cultural immersion is an example of it. To get along, especially outside of enclaves and safe spaces, there is a certain amount of assimilation that is necessary. If you look at the progression of environments from the one my brothers and I grew up in, with two parents who were struggling to get out of poverty and excluding anything that didn’t meet that end, to now where all four of us are college-educated professionals with no cultural ties to the South or the Philippines, you’ll start to see how the environment not only dictated our identities but how we learned to thrive in it. But the cost: none of us speak much, if any, Cebuano. I didn’t know that was the name of our language until I was 18 and visited the Philippines for the first time. The only word I have is manoy, which means elder and is what I was told to call my older brothers. I stopped calling them that as soon as I hit my teens. 

If I had kids, I have a diluted White identity and no Filipinx identity to teach them other than the one I craft from books and chosen family. As a professor at a college with a good-sized Filipinx population, that part of my culture should be a boon to me and my students, but all I can teach is its absence.

I find your poem “Bury It When You Land” especially compelling – both insofar as subject matter as well as your juxtaposition of White Mom and Brown Dad vis-à-vis their differing approaches to discussion of migration. Then of course, those two narratives are further contrasted with the story that you, as son writing about these issues, long to hear. How did the process for composing this piece emerge? Please share with us, if you will, additional insight into the backstory.

I have struggled for a while to try to show a bridge between their migration stories and how they equate to a single unit. Writing a double consciousness doesn’t lend itself to a linear medium. Earlier versions of this were like a debate where only one side spoke at a time. I then thought of simply changing the alignment depending on which side I wanted to center more on the left and the other on the right. But then I noticed that if I put them together and justified them on opposing sides, the lines are stretching out to each other, especially when the line is longer. The next step was trying to make sure the moves mirrored.

As far as the stories the speaker longs to hear is concerned, it’s again about that absence. Migration stories are important, especially since they’re couched in terms that really undermine the value of our origins. “We came here for a better life.” Better than what? But I know my mom is embarrassed of her dad selling off his share of family land and running from the people he stole from. She’s also embarrassed of what he did once they got to California. My dad is less vocal, so I only know he needed work, but I also know the family is land rich. I have no clue how it works, and he won’t tell me, but I know he struggled to get here.

I’m curious about your own personal practice of composing poetry. Is there a particular physical place which tends to serve as inspiration? Any particular time of day or night? How would you characterize, generally, your writing routine? Do you tend to revise much? How closely does the final poem normally resemble your initial draft?

I write before the sun comes up when it’s cold and my partner is still sleeping and the dogs groggily follow me only to punctuate the silence with snoring. 

Throughout the day, I take notes on details I want to explore, and then I start fleshing out those thoughts in the morning. I normally let the first sentence dictate the structure of the poem: how long the lines should be, how it should lay on the page, what devices I should use. Once those rules are settled, I try to play within them. Revision is making sure the poem is active while not breaking far from readability. 

With what creative projects or literary pursuits are you currently engaged? Any exciting publications or happenings on the horizon?

I’m shopping a poetry book – He’s a Color, Until He’s Not to publishers, with a couple interested. The poems move from those racially charged childhood tensions to carrying them into adolescence, to finding peace with a mixed-identity but realizing a tendency to share traumas with new generations.

I’m also working on an epic poem that is a take on 1,000 cranes and describes the ending pandemic (hopefully) while my friend dies of cancer and the grief that follows.

The post On How People – Like Fish – Absorb Their Surroundings Through Skin appeared first on Mud Season Review.

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