Oscar Mireles

Oscar Mireles, the City of Madison’s first Latino poet laureate, will be doing a series of poetry and writing events and school activities to help celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which starts this Friday and runs through Oct. 15.

“Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to remember our history. As you know, Latinos have been around for 500 years … we’re not something new,” Mireles tells Madison365. “This is sort of a reminder both to ourselves and to the larger community that we’ve been making contributions to this country for a long time.”

Mireles has been writing poetry for the past 35 years and his poetry has been published in over 50 different publications. He is the editor of three volumes featuring works by Wisconsin-based Latino writers titled “I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin” that includes works from over 30 authors that demonstrate the breadth and depth of Wisconsin’s Latinx population.

Yesterday, he kicked off his Hispanic Heritage Month events by reading at the Madison Senior Center as part of their “Meet the Author” series.

“They are a great group of people at the Senior Center. They have been doing a couple things differently than they’ve normally done,” Mireles says.

On top of “I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin,” Mireles is also the author of a book titled: “Why Did You Name Me Javier, Dad?” a story about finding the perfect name for your child. The book was illustrated by his daughter Lorena Barbosa-Mireles and translated into Spanish by his son Javier Barbosa-Mireles and Clara Barbosa. Many of the Hispanic Heritage Month events will be centered around the book.

“As you know from having a daughter, picking a name for your kid is always a nice, easy, one-conversation simple decision,” Mireles says, sarcastically. “It’s never that! There is so much involved in that. So, my six-year-old youngest son once asked me ‘Why did you name me Javier?’ and the second thing he asked me was ‘Can I change my name when I get older?’ But in the end, he tells me, ‘You know, Dad, I want to change my name to Oscar so I can be like you.’”

Mireles will be talking with young people about ‘Why Did You Name Me Javier?’ at a series of readings he will be doing in partnership with the Wisconsin Book Festival and the Milwaukee Public Library Foundation on Thursday, Sept. 28, at elementary schools that have large Latino student populations in the Madison area. “I will be at Lincoln Elementary, Nuestro Mundo School and Wingra Elementary,” Mireles says. “We will also doing something at the Goodman South Madison Branch Library on the following day Friday, Sept. 29, 6:30 p.m.” The South Madison Branch Library program is designed to bring diverse voices for local youth to meet authors.

Mireles is excited to see Wingra Elementary School students, many of whom had regularly participated in the Madison Metro Bus Line’s Poetry project which featured their poetry turned into visual artwork with the assistance of the Edgewood College Graphic Arts Class. The winners of the Madison Metro Bus Lines Poetry Project saw their work on city buses throughout Madison.

Poet Laureate Oscar Mireles (far right) with this summer’s BusLine Poetry winners

“These Hispanic Heritage Month events will be an opportunity to hear one Latino story, but it’s a universal story. There are so many things about my experiences that other people can relate to and they can draw from their own experiences and make that connection,” Mireles says. “So, it’s a personal connection for many and for people who are not Latino, it’s a great opportunity to hear from other cultures. I think it’s good to have more conversations and more interactions and more coming together. It’s hard to hate somebody that you’ve gotten to know.”

Mireles will also be featured in an upcoming episode of Wisconsin Public Television’s “Wisconsin Life” with the show covering his work as an adult educator, community activist and poet and follows him over the course of a week, conducting workshops with school-aged children, presenting at the University of Wisconsin Writers Institute and preparing students for their GED Diploma at Omega School of which Mireles is principal of.

Oscar Mireles recites poetry at Centro Hispano, one of the many events he participates in as Madison’s poet laureate.

All of these events together make Hispanic Heritage Month very busy for Madison’s first Latino poet laureate, a position Mireles has held for almost two years. Since 1977, five poets in Madison have held the position.

“I’m really enjoying my time as poet laureate. It’s been fun and a good experience. I’ve learned a lot about our community that I didn’t know before. There’s a lot of people in Madison who are really supportive of poetry and writing and there are a lot of things that are going on in this city,” Mireles says. “It’s been a great thing for me. A lot of people have gotten to know me, too, and I’ve been a part of many great events.

“These Hispanic Heritage Month events coming up are going to be a lot of fun,” he adds. “I’m going to try and make people laugh and I’m going to try and make people think a little bit, but overall, it will be a good time.”