Living and Loving in Dos Lenguas
Janet Romero-Leiva is a queer, feminist, Latina visual artist and writer whose work explores immigrant displacement, denied aboriginality, queer and of colour existence, living and loving in dos lenguas, and the continuous intersection of identities that shape who she is and how she moves in this world. Janet immigrated to Canada at the age of seven and has since been trying to find her footing between America of the north and America of the south. She loves smoothies and cartwheeling, and can often be found reading children’s books at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore.
Why did you start writing poetry?
It was by accident; I didn’t really know that is what I was doing, but I started writing because I felt a need to express and somehow release things I was trying to make sense out of—like my queerness, my feminism, my latinidad, and my experience of being an immigrant child.
What is your writing process?
I write a lot when I am trying to sort something out—a thought, a feeling, an experience. Mostly it’s from a feeling of discomfort or confusion. I will usually sit with the feeling for a while before I write about it and will usually write down a line or two so I can revisit it when I feel capable of going back to that discomfort. When I do go back to it, I write about the experience itself, what feelings came up for me and when I have felt this before. Then I edit until I manage to capture the feeling more than the actual experience.
Who are your influences?
Chrystos was the first poet I read that made me think I could write too, so I obviously love her. Also Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Qwo-Li Driskill, and Lee Maracle.
You used to manage the Toronto Women’s Bookstore. What is lacking in the publishing world?
The publishing world is lacking feminists, queers, people of colour, trans people, working class people, folks with (dis)abilities, immigrants, and older people's writing. A big problem is that the majority of people in publishing are not the people on this list, so they don't see a problem with this. It’s not that no one is publishing people of colour, queer people, etc. It’s that the big publishers and bookstores make it very hard for the independents to stay in business. I think another factor is that, because we have not seen ourselves represented in literature, it is hard to imagine that this can change, so part of it is believing that this is possible for us.
What role do you see poetry having in activism?
I equate poetry with activism. We need to hear/know/understand the world from various perspectives, and I think poetry allows us to express and hear things in a way that traditional methods—like speeches and academic writing—do not because it evokes a feeling, and when you leave a talk/conference/march you will forget the words you heard, but the feeling will stay with you.
What advice do you have for young writers, women of colour writers, and queer writers?
Keep on writing, regardless of what people say—good or bad—and continue to write what you need to write. Share your writing. If no one hears what you have to say then it is only you who will benefit from your work, which is great and important as a growing and learning tool, but it is also great for us to hear you, to normalize our reality, and be an influence to others who may not have the words to express the many wonderful and difficult things we live.