CENTER VALLEY, Pa. – Acclaimed spoken word artist Carlos Andrés Gómez brought plenty of thought-provoking wisdom to his recent appearance at Penn State Lehigh Valley.
On Wednesday, Sept. 22, an enthusiastic crowd of students turned out for Gómez’s performance, one of several campus events being held in observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place through Oct. 15. The event was hosted by the campus Office of Student Life and the Hispanic Organization and Latino Association (HOLA).
Gómez, a Colombian American poet, speaker, actor and author, made for a compelling presence as he entertained the crowd with his socially conscious and empowering spoken-word poems, which were interspersed with personal anecdotes.
Throughout the performance, Gómez affably bantered with the crowd, cracking jokes one minute, then posing thoughtful questions the next. And, in keeping with current University requirements to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, he performed his entire set while masked.
“One thing about the mask is that it forces me to be more locked in and present,” he said while looking out at the audience.
Gómez’s eloquently phrased poems touched on the perspective he gained from a number of real-life experiences from his past that allow him to examine issues of identity, be it through the lens of race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality. Though unique, his stories share a common thread — a desire for people to be more open-minded and less susceptible to knee-jerk prejudice.
After going around the room and allowing several students to share their own stories of being pigeonholed based on their appearance or mannerisms, Gómez performed “Where Are You From?” In the piece, he reflects on an experience where that question was delivered to him with an obvious racist subtext.
“As a society, we need to ask why we feel we’re entitled to ask those questions,” he said. “We live in a both/and world.”
This was Gómez’s second in-person appearance at PSU-LV. He is the author of several books, including: “Fractures,” winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry; “Hijito,” winner of the Broken River Prize and a No. 1 SPD bestseller; and the memoir “Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood,” released by Penguin Random House. Meanwhile, he has appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and TV One’s “Verses and Flow,” and acted in the Spike Lee film “Inside Man” with Denzel Washington.
Gómez has received a number of awards for his work, among them the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry, Atlanta Review International Poetry Prize, Foreword INDIES Gold Medal, and the International Book Award for Poetry. He also partnered with John Legend on “Senior Orientation,” a program to counteract bullying and champion inclusive masculinity among high school students.
Before ending his performance, Gómez thanked Assistant Director of Student Affairs Pam Fleck for coordinating the event, as well as the campus for hosting meaningful student programming.
“The most transformative events I attended in college were events like this one,” he said.