For his poems, Jimmy Santiago Baca (BAH-kah), born José Santiago Baca, draws not only from his life’s experiences but also from the Southwest, where he was born. He displays a rich appreciation for language, as well as his cultures. His writings also reveal important insights into the human and spiritual conditions of his people. He has been called the people’s poet. Like many other great writers, Baca loves language, and, like other writers steeped in the cultures of the Southwest, he credits language with power, attributing his “rebirth” to language. The power he refers to is both mystical and real. For him, language has both a literal and figurative power of creation and self-renewal. Much of his work is about transformation, metamorphosis, and self-actualization.
Baca’s mother was Chicana and his father an Apache Indian. Coming from this heritage, Baca understands the problems caused by poverty and poor education as well as other social issues that affect many people in New Mexico. His parents divorced when he was two years old. Much of his writing seeks to recover those elements of himself lost between the years following his parents’ divorce and his rebirth through language. His mother’s second husband killed her, and his father died of alcoholism. Baca lived with grandparents for a while, but at the age of five he was placed in St. Anthony’s Home for Boys in Albuquerque. He also spent many years on the streets, learning to survive. Between the ages of eleven and twenty, Baca traveled to southeastern states before returning back to the Southwest. When he was twenty, he was charged with drug possession and sentenced to five years at the prison in Florence, Arizona. The sentence was later extended to six years, and he spent four of those years in isolation.
Baca’s experience in what he called “this huge cemetery called the prisons of America” became the means for him to turn away from his past life. He claims that he spent a good amount of time in solitary...
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