By Josh Watkins
Photo by Adam Rubinstein
The words of a poet often reveal their personal truths as they explore all aspects of life—including sexuality and race.
Chibbi Orduña’s poetry does just that. It inspires those closest to him, as well as people he’s never met. It inspires him to help others who are in need of an expressive space or voice. From creating his Laredo Border Slam to hosting the weekly Write About Now slam at Avant Garden, Orduña has poetry running in his veins.
Orduña found his own voice in 2005 after hosting an event at the University of Texas at Austin. It was presented by the Queer People of Color and Allies organization as a showcase for queer artists of color. He and Chris Lee, one of the slam poets at the event, hit it off immediately. “He was a cool guy—kind of crazy, but cool. He had a water bottle full of tequila, and I just thought, ‘Perfect, you’re my friend now.’” Orduña’s ideas about poetry were completely changed after hearing Lee perform his poem “My Pussy Is Contagious.” Orduña and Lee’s friendship blossomed, as Lee symbolized “this queer man of color who has a voice in the community.” So, Orduña started writing.
For most writers, inspiration is found in personal experience. “I write a lot of love poems, and my sexuality is my love, so it’s always there. I don’t try to mask it,” Orduña says. Something as strong as sexual orientation can influence him even when he’s not even conscience of it. “Being a man, being a gay man, being a Mexican gay man, working in retail, having a theatrical background, having the struggles that I had with addiction—they’re always there [as different aspects] of who I am,” Orduña says.
Coming out as gay, however, proved to be much more challenging than coming out as a poet. Growing up in Laredo, a border town heavily influenced by Mexican culture, also impacted his coming-out experience.
At first, Orduña’s parents attributed his differences to being “artistic [rather] than an average baseball- and football-playing type of guy.” But when Orduña’s mom found notes that he’d been exchanging with his boyfriend, she went into a panic. He was only 13 or 14 at the time, and being sent to a therapist for a few months was not easy. Then he decided to play along and say, “It was just a phase, you are so right!” A few years later it would happen again, but this time his parents were much more proactive about it. Orduña remembers them saying, “We love you because you’re our son, and that’s not going to change. But we don’t agree with this.” Orduña reluctantly explained to them that “there’s nothing I can really do about it.”
His mom, who was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the time, took to researching. Orduña says that she’s always been a “digger,” so she eventually came to the same conclusion that most people do: “It’s not a disease and it’s not something wrong. [You] don’t go to hell, you love who you love because that’s who you are.” His mom had to help his dad get to the same understanding, as he was very much raised in a Mexican machismo setting where a man is a man and there’s no way around it. Orduña says that one day it just shifted, and “everything was fine.”
Today, Orduña has been with his partner for two years and says it’s been great to travel to Mexico and meet his extended family. “You know, I’ve never been bashful—if I want to hold my boyfriend’s hand, I’m going to. I’ve always kind of unapologetically been me.”
These experiences have inspired Orduña to present an honest voice in his poetry. It’s common in slam poetry for an audience member to come up and say, “I needed to hear that.” One of Orduña’s biggest goals is to let other people know that “in these things that we go through, we’re not the only ones.” Considering himself a storyteller, Orduña’s goal is to tell stories that need to be heard more often.
What Orduña is most proud of is founding Laredo Border Slam in 2010. He remembers it being “The Chibbi Show” for the first few weeks. After recruiting two or three poets and a few judges, he decided they were ready to have a “mini-slam.” When it first started to catch on, they would pull audiences of 12 to 20 people. “I went back for their finals a few months ago—300 people in the audience.” Orduña says it is gratifying to see how far Laredo Border Slam has come, and seeing all the poets who found that they do have a voice. He says that it’s changed lives, giving people “the opportunity to have their own space and their own voice.”
Having recently joined a slam team, Orduña says it’s a lot different than performing solo. The biggest difference is “the family aspect.” Team members might give each other insights and constructive criticism, and even if just two poets are performing a piece, all five of them might have worked on it.
Orduña explains that although he’s never been one to have lots of friends, his slam team has a strong sense of being a “bro-ship”—a bromance involving five guys. “We’ve really come together like brothers.”
The biggest aspect of being on a team is the accountability that each member feels. “We practice three times a week, and you need to be prepared.” Orduña says that it’s forcing them all to do things they wouldn’t normally do—things they aren’t necessarily comfortable with. “The accountability and encouragement is making [them] better writers and performers.”
Orduña says that being on a team is an experience you can’t get by simply coming to a weekly slam and performing solo. He advises aspiring poets to “just write. A lot of times we want every piece to be epic, and it doesn’t need to be. No matter how small or bad it is, as long as you write, you’re doing something.”
Orduña can be found hosting or performing every Wednesday night at Write About Now’s weekly slam at Avant Garden.