Loss can seem impossible to overcome. Grief leaves us with questions that are impossible to answer, and a longing that, one fears, will never go away. They say that grief is simply love with nowhere left to go. Solany Lara, the author of Hija De Mi Padre, knows this all too well. When Solany’s father passed away in 2019, she was left with conflicting feelings of love, anguish, and resentment, feelings that she was able to channel into her poetry collection.
Solany Lara released Hija De Mi Padre in the summer of 2023, and in doing so was able to honor her father with a collection of memories and an expression of love from, not only Solany but the rest of her family as well. I was lucky enough to attend the book release in a beautiful art museum in Los Angeles, CA, along with many of her close friends and family members. Her collection encapsulates the varying ways grief manifests itself in our day-to-day lives, as well as the indescribable feelings of pain and love that come with losing a loved one.
Solany is a first-generation college graduate, graduating in 2017 from our very own CSU Stanislaus with her BS in Health Science! She is the daughter of two Mexican immigrants and grew up with five sisters in her childhood home in southern California. Solany is currently studying to earn her MA in Library Sciences from San Jose State University, and hopes to help young students understand the value and beauty of literature.
Growing up, Solany’s family followed many Mexican customs and traditions as a way to maintain their cultural roots. This connection to her culture shines through in her poetry, as she mentions details of her family’s hometown in Mexico, as well as iconic figures in Mexican art (Vicente Fernandez, Juan Gabriel, Los Tigres del Norte). Even the title, Hija De Mi Padre, is a play on the Mexican colloquialism, “hija de tu madre”. While this phrase is mostly used as an insult, Solany inverts the meaning and uses her title honorably as a way to honor her late father.
Solany incorporates both Spanish and English in her poetry, often code-switching or using “Spanglish” to give us a sense of her personality. While praising the inspiring beauty of her culture, Solany is not shy about critiquing the parts of Mexican traditionalism that she finds problematic, mainly the aggressive machismo, the normalization of heavy alcohol consumption, and the repression of emotions in men. She provides a truly refreshing perspective that upholds and honors Mexican culture while reflecting on the problems that often arise from the social and cultural norms of our immigrant parents.
The first section of Hija De Mi Padre is titled “Recordando y llorando”, or “Remembering and crying”. The section begins by introducing us to her father with the poem “¿Como recordare a papa?”, a poem where we get a glimpse of the narrator’s memories of her late father. This poem illuminates the beautiful qualities of her father Chico’s life: the way he sang and danced, the way he provided for his family, and the way he showed his love for his daughters. Within the same section, we find the poem “Nube Roja”, or “Red Cloud”.
He’d turn into Red Cloud
whenever he’d grow impatient with us
while we got ready for an outing.
This poem characterizes Chico as an explosively angry father, earning the nickname “red cloud” to describe his appearance and demeanor when angry. Here we see a contrast to the cheerful memories mentioned before.
When he was extremely rojo,
we wouldn’t have time to warn each other
or even think of joking.
With these lines, the narrator reveals the multiple layers of her father’s rage. The poem reflects an unhealthy expression of anger through aggression and intimidation, a theme that is consistent throughout the entire collection. In several poems, Solany writes about the way Mexican men are discouraged from expressing emotions, with one exception: anger. In “Not So Macho After All”, the narrator outlines all the ways Chico showed love to his wife and his daughters, only to be ridiculed for it by Mexican family members.
We thought this was normal
but when Dad did this in Mexico
todos decian: ¡Ay que mandilon!
That last line translates roughly to: “everyone would say: What a simp!”
Time and time again throughout the collection, Solany points to the ways Mexican cultural norms discourage the expression of affection from men, while encouraging anger and aggression. And yet, the cultural pressure did not stop Chico from showing his wife and daughters love. The poems, “El amor de mi padre a mi madre” and “The Love He Gave Us” outline the unique ways Chico expressed his love for his family. These poems all serve to show the conflicting memories the narrator has of her father, a man who, despite having his flaws, loved his family deeply and openly.
Within the first section, we also get insight on the narrator’s grieving process following her father’s passing. “Grieving Out Loud” details the difficulty in talking about loss, as most are ill-equipped to talk about the subject.
The worst is probably telling people I lost someone
because they don’t know what to do with that information.
They stare at me
like I’m doing wrong by telling them.
In trying to talk about grief, we feel guilty for burdening other people with the discomfort of our loss. In these moments we are urged to talk to someone, but talking to people can often make us feel worse, as we feel guilty for sharing our grief with the world. Solany writes about shouldering the burden of loss in “The Entire World Sitting on my Shoulders”, finishing the poem with her feelings of loneliness and sorrow in the face of losing her father.
My shoulders, neck, and back tire out
under the weight of all my worries,
trapped beneath them for days without anyone knowing
with no way out
Joseph Rios, poet laureate of Fresno, came to CSU Stanislaus to offer a poetry reading on Dia De Los Muertos. In between poems, he talked to us about the role of the “family poet”. Rios explained that Mexican families often wonder what the “point” of poetry is, until it is time for a wedding ceremony, a special birthday, or a funeral. Solany encapsulates the role of the family poet perfectly. It is through her that her mother, sisters, and cousins have been able to express their grief. She takes on the challenge of facing these difficult emotions, compiling memories, honoring loved ones, and putting into words what others can’t.
Solany is a big inspiration to Latinx writers, to aspiring writers, and to students juggling personal matters on top of school and work. She shares some advice and some personal insight in an interview we did together, which can be read on our “Interviews” page here.
You can also purchase her book on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Hija-Mi-Padre-Solany-Lara/dp/B0CG2Y55X4/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=hija+de+mi+padre+solany+Lara&qid=1702670768&sr=8-1
Through all of life’s difficulties, Solany reminds us to never lose touch with the light inside our soul. Thank you for the inspiration, Sol.