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THE SUNDAY PROFILE

A Poet's Passion

Michele Serros opens a window into her world, her culture, her life with stories and poems. Now, a spoken-word CD of her work 'Chicana Falsa' has the industry buzzing.

June 01, 1997|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Michele Serros leans into a classroom podium, reading her story about discrimination in the frosty depths of a supermarket's frozen veggie section.

The poet pauses, scans her audience of Venice High School seniors--attentive, waiting for the storyteller to play out the next scene. Vicariously, they are there with Serros and her activist friend Martina, on aisle 9, digging through the deep freeze for pre-cut carrots and peas that will give their Spanish rice dish some zing.

Serros lets loose:

Seconds after she opened the glass door Martina said: "Look! Look at this!" She pulled out two frosted bags from the bottom compartment.

"Malibu Style Vegetables. And, check this out, Latino Style Vegetables, as if we all eat alike. I've never seen this. Man, even in the lousy freezer they divide and they discriminate!"

"Martina," I asked her, "they're vegetables. How can they be discriminating? Get real."

She went on: "Man, you don't even see it. You're so, so unaware. Look, look at this picture. Latino Style Vegetables, they have the vegetables cut up all small. Like, what's that supposed to mean? Like, little food for little people, little minds, little significance? And this Malibu kind, the broccoli, the carrots, are cut up large, all big and grand, like 'of great worth,' or something. The cauliflower, which is WHITE, is the biggest vegetable in the picture, overpowering all the rest."

"Oh, Martina," I told her, "you're seeing something that just isn't there. You're crazy to get so worked up over vegetables. Now just grab a bag and let's go."

A few paragraphs later, Martina waves the frozen bags over her head, calling for everyone to join her new revolution, to become liberated consumers. She flings the bags to the floor. A Korean woman stomps on Oriental Style Vegetables. A cowboy plays football with Country Style Vegetables. And a handsome dark-haired man rips open Italian Style Vegetables, scattering them everywhere.

From beginning to end, the story, "Attention Shoppers" is a grabber. Many of the students hang around, knowing they're late for their next class. But they want to thank Serros for sharing. They want to discuss the "stereotypes in a bag." They want to write.

Serros scores.

She has connected with the young people she says she wants to reach with her work, which is now available on a CD, "Selected Stories From Chicana Falsa" that is inspiring industry buzz.

The spoken-word recording on Mouth Almighty / Mercury Records plays like a series of radio dramas, richly crafted stories in which Serros invites listeners into her world, her culture, her life as a hyphenated American reared on cultura Mexicana (glitzy quinceaneras) and mainstream pop culture (Judy Blume books).

Vivid with sound effects--a piglet oinking, birds chirping, a knife chopping cilantro, onions and tomatoes--Serros' stories and poetry are about family. Her dad, George, then a janitor at the Oxnard airport (today he is a court reporter), who never believed in owning a phone, eating at restaurants or paying for parking. Her sister Yvonne's bad luck as a contestant on "The Price Is Right." And Serros' own dangerous appetite for the crunchy chicarrones, or pork cracklings, that choked her and made her pass out on the floor only to be revived by her younger cousin Amy, who happens to have a pet pig.

Writes Joie Davidow of Si magazine: "Because [Serros] has the genius to create full-blooded characters in just a few sentences, the poems lend themselves to performances, which are part poetry reading, part stand-up comedy, part theatrical event."

Elena Oumano's review in the Village Voice: " 'Chicana' encompasses more than the vagaries of Latina life in La La; the pressures and yearnings Serros describes are those of anyone anywhere in America."

And says Pedro Trino of Latin Style magazine: "Unlike most of the well-known Chicano writers, Serros is not a writer from academia; she writes from her life experiences, and that gives her work the added poignancy and urgency literary intellectualism will never achieve."

Serros, 30, smiles and shrugs at such adulation, at the tags "rising new poet," "a new voice on the Chicano horizon" and "L.A.'s next big thing."

Her sculpted eyebrows momentarily hide under her seriously straight little-girl bangs. The ends of her shoulder-length dark hair curl into an itsy-bitsy "That Girl" flip.

She welcomes the attention but says all she has ever wanted to do was make someone--anyone--happy with her work. She writes in an office that is really a pantry because she likes to be near food when she creates.

"Intense stomachaches--and when there's nothing on TV--inspire me." And then she eats, she says, glancing--con carino, yes, lovingly--at the red fridge within arm's length of her Macintosh, fax and phone.

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