June 9, 2021

SF International Flor Y Canto Festival Is Still Happening; Here’s What You Should Know

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It’s been a while since you’ve attended a poetry reading inside a bookstore, and it’s unlikely you’ve ever attended one inside your nearest panaderia. Sadly, there won’t be any poetry with your panera this year, but you’ll again be able to hear poets in public when the San Francisco International Flor Y Canto Festival returns on Thursday, June 9.

When the literary festival first launched in 2008, the original organizers, including poets Alejandro Murgía and Roberto Vargas, shared a vision for bringing literature and arts into local businesses and communal spaces that served as a bloodline throughout 24th Street.

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From bookstores like Alley Cat to nonprofit hosts such as Precita Eyes, local poets and artists have gathered each year for a week of readings among friends, family, and community members. The Flor Y Canto festival highlights the intellectual and creative prowess of the Latinx community.

For more than a decade, the annual event has been running on a “sock drawer” budget. And with Covid-19 restrictions barely easing up, this year’s Flor Y Canto will present even trickier obstacles than before. But organizer and local poet Josiah Luis Alderete says it’s still happening and will be more necessary than ever, especially following 2020’s cancellation.

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“There’s a beautiful new dynamic and energia coming into this year. We’re a beautiful colectivo of gente running this and preserving a legacy that has already been created in la comunidad,” he says. “We only had $200 and puro ganas, but we’re making it happen. It’s pretty amazing what we can accomplish as a collective.”

Alderete, along with other local figures, including Monica Zarzuna of Pochino Press, Hector Cadenas of Voz Sin Tinta, and Ricardo Tobares of the Pan Dulce Poets, are working to ensure public literature returns to the Mission by hosting a series of curated events Thursday through Sunday, June 12. The group will also be honoring Avotcja Jiltonilro with a prestigious Community Award for her service in supporting the Mission’s poets since the 1990s.

Flor Y Canto events will be happening both online and in the real world. Full disclosure: Mimi Tempestt and I will be performing Saturday, June 12, on Zoom and in person at Alley Cat books, the one venue that will be hosting in-person events.

The three-day festival will include everything from youth workshops that highlight teenage voices, such as Nomadic Press’s “Exploring the Multiverse: Latinx Youth Anthology” release party, to cross-cultural solidarity gatherings such as “ILLUMINATE III: Ancestry and Possibility,” which features some of the most recognizable Asian American voices in Lauren Ito and Giovanna Lomanto.

The readings specifically promote the visibility and heritage of Latinx voices by offering free access to arts and literature that revolve around issues of equity, social justice, gender, racial empowerment, and other forms of liberation. This year, a full schedule has been released as a PDF, which can be accessed here.

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In past years, the events flooded the barrio for multiple days. You could catch a young writer like Rebeca Flores reading about her immigrant parents while drinking horchata, then you’d cross the street to a skate shop to hear an established veteran like Tongo Eisen-Martin freestyling about the people’s liberation. And though this year promises to bring some of that same imaginative energy back, adjustments have been made.

“Everyone is transitioning back into a form of normality right now, so we want to be careful,” Alderete says. “It’s a strange moment in our cultura, and we don’t want to rush back into it improperly, so we are a bit more convservative this year in the partners we’ve reached out to.”

Translation: rather than putting more folks at risk in various ways, the organizers have decided to hold only a handful of events IRL at Alley Cat Books, while keeping most of their offerings online. Still, the festival features a strong mix of emerging voices in the scene, as well as a “who’s who” of Bay Area literature, including Roberto Lovato, Raina J. Leon, Daniel B. Summerhill, norm mattox and Leticia Hernandez, among many others.

“This is like our brown version of LitQuake,” Alderete jokes, referencing the more mainstream city-wide literary festival that takes place every Fall.

When asked if he would be reading from his new collection, Baby Axolotls y Old Pochos (Black Freighter Press, 2021), Alderete said he preferred to listen to others and remain in the background as an organizer and observer.

“I’ll read something short at the opening ceremony in Balmy Alley on Thursday night to remember the poets who have been a part of our lineage here,” he says. “But beyond the invocation, I’m just here to enjoy all the tremendous vibrancy we’re blessed with in el Área de la Bahía.”

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To be sure, Alderete embodies the Flor Y Canto Festival’s spirit, which is built upon flowering the next generation of voices while honoring the spirits of previous generations. More than ever, the festival will aim to provide something we haven’t had in over a year: a collective space to heal and grow amongst each other, while celebrating Calle 24’s undying poetic energy.

I, for one, will be there to soak in what Alderete calls “the beauty of our little pueblito.”


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