Sarahi Yajaira is a Latina lesbian, and she wants you to know. In a world where few gay Latinas make it into the public eye, Sarahi’s poetry puts it clearly: she’s not invisible, and she’s got something to say.
Her shoulders square in a button down shirt and loosely knotted tie, and with a big smile on her face, Sarahi took the stage at the Studio at Billings Forge Friday night before a crowd of about four dozen to give a goodbye performance.
Sarahi, who has lived in Connecticut since 2002, is moving to the Dominican Republic soon to work on her writing. She credits her urge for self-expression and narrative in part to her childhood, where even the few introverts in the family would start telling tales and doing impressions at family gatherings.
Sarahi’s first poems brought the audience back to her life growing up in New York City, the daughter of a Puerto Rican mom and a Dominican dad, and the 33rd (and the favorite, out of 46) granddaughter of her abuela. Of the 36 cousins, sisters and brothers in the U.S., all lived within a few mile radius of each other, attended the same schools, and called one another best friends.
The childhood she describes is characterized by both the magical world created by a neighborhood filled with lots of kids and the rough realities of domestic violence, when the younger generation played impossible baseball games in tight apartment hallways, made their family name infamous at the neighborhood elementary school, and managed to find the humor in a machete-wielding relative in their Pentecostal church. When her grandmother died when she was 15, Sarahi explains in a poem, she came to realize the event meant the death of her family togetherness as she knew it, the scattering of a once close-knit clan. Another poem expressed the overwhelming feeling of first love, albeit soured by an intolerant church community.
Sarahi’s poems about childhood capture the impossible wish to return to it, despite its hardships. She steers clear of sentimentality, capturing this yearning in a simple dialogue between herself and a cousin she grew up with, walking around the old neighborhood after having not seen each other for six years. Listening, you feel like you too experienced this “beautiful time in life amidst the chaos” and long for it in the same way as the poet.
Poems grappling with her Latina lesbian identity shed light on the impossible expectations and boundaries of society where Latina woman who are gay are too often invisible. She explained this contradiction in the line, “You have broken the first of the Latina commandments / You should never love your women more than your men.”
Sarahi’s poetry is full of humor, emotional clarity, and vivid scenes anchored in simple imagery – like her grandmother’s hair covered in coconut oil and her first girlfriend’s in a dress at church. Her writing is soon to be published in a collection of Latina Dominican poets, and she aims to have a book published by the end of the year.
Sarahi started her performance by saying that everything is a work in progress, and that nothing is set in stone, a fitting mantra for someone about to take a journey. Hartford will miss Sarahi’s voice, but her experiences in the Dominican Republic will surely leave her with more stories to tell.
If you want to learn more about the Studio at Billings Forge and the events there, curated by Luis Cotto, join the Facebook group. The next event will be Albert Rivera’s quartet on Friday, Jan. 30. The Studio is located in Frog Hollow in Hartford; Broad Street between Capitol and Russ.