Self-proclaimed “fat, fly, brown” poet Yesika Salgado is beloved for her vulnerable, honest, and forthright voice. You can find her writing via her social media channels and in three collections of poetry–Corazón, Tesoro, and Hermosa–exploring family, love, sex, mental health, and her Salvadoran roots.
Sofía Aguilar and Yesika Salgado hopped on a phone call to discuss her poetry, how she found her voice, and her advice to the next generation of Latina poets.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: You once said that everything you’ve ever written is a love poem. What did you mean by that?
YESIKA SALGADO: Every poem ever written by anyone is a love poem. It’s the presence of love, it’s the absence of it, it’s the mourning of it. It’s a poem about our love for our people, love for a cause. Calling people to action or the love that you have for them. I’m a big cheesy love poem, someone really determined to capture the love that exists in many different ways around us. Home is something that I continuously write about, whether it’s the city that raised me or raised my family or my own family, my friends, my community, my body. I choose to write about the things that remind us of who we are and the abundance we have as people.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Did you always feel empowered to write?
YESIKA SALGADO: Yes and no. I’m a high school dropout, so that set me back in many ways. But indirectly, that was a blessing for my own work because I never had to compare my writing to whiteness. It was never institutionalized. I was never part of having to dissect white voices and their writing and their choices and their work. Therefore, whenever I read anything, it was because I wanted to. At a young age, I gravitated toward stories of Black women, Latinas, queer folks. I was reading anything except anything written by cis white men. I don’t think I ever really fought for that permission to tell my stories. It just took me a while to understand what folks would read and who they were willing to read from. I was like, “I’m not a beautiful woman, so nobody cares.” I had to teach myself that a lot of people do care.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: You’ve built a large following on social media using your writing. How do you determine what stays in your journal and what goes online?
YESIKA SALGADO: I tend to share almost everything I write because I like to focus on the process. I love folks seeing poems evolve from a thought or a tweet into a performance or a book. But I also know that there are some things I need to keep to myself and don’t share often. For example, my father passed away and I have a poem about his alcoholism that is really painful to perform. I have to check in with myself before I do it, and I have to make sure that I’m sharing because I’m being moved to share it. Or I’ll mention these stories in passing. I’ll bury them in a poem, but not write a whole poem about it because the whole poem is too much for me. So I check in with myself and make sure that I have integrity with my own mental health and my own needs before I choose to share something with other folks.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What do you love about performing your work?
YESIKA SALGADO: I always tell my manager that when I’m on stage and I’m performing, I feel like I’m flying. This boy I had a crush on came to an event and somebody asked me if I was nervous and I said, “No, I’m the most me on stage.” When I’m on stage, it’s just me and the audience. All the noise, any stress about anything goes away. The focus is in this beautiful conversation that I’m having with the people in the audience. Many times they’re crying, I’m crying. Many times we’re laughing at the same things and I feel so loved and seen and held when I’m on stage, but I’m also reciprocating. I grew up in church and it really feels like a sacred ritual. It feels like a service so I’m of service to my audience and I’m always so touched that they reciprocate that.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How does clothing play a role in your performances?
YESIKA SALGADO: That’s how it started for me, my participation in exploring what fat liberation is. When I get on stage, before I even open my mouth, my body has spoken for me. No matter what room I walk into, my body speaks before I do. So I adorn it. Why not have that say things about me before I even speak? So I’m wearing a crop top, I just did a show where I was wearing a sequined gold dress. My body is worthy of adornment. It’s worthy of my own love and I’m gonna take up all of the space that I can and dress like I showed up to do that.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Your three books of poetry have become cult classics for our community. Did you ever expect that kind of response?
YESIKA SALGADO: Yes and no. I think it’s dishonest if any writer says that they don’t hope for that. But I always second-guessed it, especially as a fat girl, a high school dropout, this person who I thought was just unrefined, that was just writing about life. But for years, I’d been working at building something, I just didn’t know what I was building. It showed itself to me when Corazón was released. That book release party was at capacity to the point where they couldn’t let a single person in. Folks were outside waiting. My own uncle didn’t make it in, he sat outside because he showed up late. When the event ended, my publisher gave away books to people that couldn’t make it in as an apology. It was that moment when I knew I had a community. I just didn’t realize they’d ride for me that hard. It’s been really wild. To go into bookstores and see me in the featured section makes me choke up. I would dream about those things. I grew up in bookstores. I wanted that but I didn’t think I deserved it. I didn’t think I had earned it. I’m so glad that my first book happened the way it happened.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What advice would you give to the next generation of Latina poets?
YESIKA SALGADO: Write what excites you. Write what moves you, what feels true to you. Don’t write what you think people want to read in the moment. Write the things that are important because if you write for whatever the current climate is, that’s always going to change and your voice is going to get lost. Tell the stories that you want to honor, that come from your heart, that you believe in. No matter what happens with those stories, they’re going to feed you and they’re going to make you happy.