When Angela Aguirre and Yesika Salgado walk into a venue, they demand attention – and not just because of Aguirre’s sparkling gold hoops or her partner’s radiant panza on full display. The heat the women behind Chingona Fire, a collective of femme poets of color, bring is felt across any room. Fitting to their motto, they are “the alchemy that occurs when badass women of color come together and set shit aflame.”
While long-time friends, poetas Aguirre, half-mexicana, and Salgado, salvadoreña, decided to combine their mutual talents and passions toward uplifting mujeres to create Chingona Fire in February. Since then, the two have been unstoppable – hosting packed monthly events, dominating stages, making major news headlines and always connecting with die-hard followers on club dance floors.
Wherever they’re at, the goal is the same: supporting homegirls.
“We want to be like the plug,” Aguirre, 28, tells us. “When you think, I need a dope woman of color for my corporate event, my open mic, whatever it might be, you know who to ask because you know who has the connect: Chingona Fire.”
Last night was a dream come true. Thank you to our Brujas @vulturekiss @maydadelvalle @missyfuego @niraarin and Karla Cordero. We'd also like to thank our vendors and artists and our @lptec young Chingonas in training for helping us run the night. All of our magic comes from the community who loves and supports us. With your help we will continue creating spaces for Chingonas. We love you all. #chingonafire
The Los Angeles-based Latina duo know firsthand how crucial a network like the one they’re creating is for Black and brown women in the poetry scene.
When Aguirre started out, she was dismissed as a “party girl,” with people not taking her art seriously because of her short skirts on the stage and club nights on the weekend.
Similarly, when Salgado, 32, broke into the scene eight years ago, she felt disconnected and alone.
“No one was really celebrating or amplifying the voices of women of color when I was trying to come up,” she said. “It’s painful. I’d leave events crying, thinking, I don’t know what I’m doing or how I’m going to figure it out, but I love poems and want to do this. It sucked.”
A moment that stands out for Salgado was when a man pulled her over after a show to tell her that he stopped listening the instant he saw the salvadoreña walk on the stage but was immediately forced to pay attention to her poetry, and respect it, when she began speaking.
While the fella’s comment was intended as a compliment, backhanded as it may be, what stuck out to the novel poet was that her presence – her womanhood, Latinidad and fatness – was deemed unworthy of attention.
“I know by me being a fat Latina I’ve had to fight a lot to get people to listen,” she said. “Over the last two-to-three years, I became less apologetic, my mentality shifted to, 'you’re going to listen to me,' and since then my popularity has grown.”
Through Chingona Fire, Salgado is hoping to help women of color get to a place of performing, and existing, on a stage without apologies. And Aguirre, a friend who helped Salgado through her own journey, is the perfect partner to do that with.
“I’m the ultimate hype man. I just love so hard, and I love Yesika so much. Her success is my success,” the Chicana said, remembering the times Salgado would close herself up during group hangouts at Denny’s, with no one but Aguirre knowing the brilliance and hilarity within the timid writer.
Together, the two, who Aguirre’s late father once called “soul mates,” now work to bring that fire out of up-and-coming girl poets of color. At their monthly events, they provide stages to perform on and an audience of about 80-to-100 excited chicas to listen.
It’s a safe space, one where Latinas can speak in English, Spanish and Spanglish without fear of losing the crowd’s attention, where eyes don’t roll when poets discuss romance and heartbreak, where mistakes are welcomed, truths respected and speakers empowered; it’s where nights end up becoming powerful journeys for everyone in attendance.
Homegirlism, as Aguirre calls it, is essential to the pair because the underrepresentation of women of color thriving in poetry make many feel that they are in competition with one another.
“Patriarchy will have you believe that, and internalize that, so we are trying to change that narrative to one that celebrates with other women instead of competes with them,” she said. “We need to stop feeling pain and jealously from someone’s success and instead see it as them breaking a barrier that’s helping you get closer and closer to that door.”
In the future, the friends would like for Chingona Fire to hold writing workshops for aspiring poets. With Aguirre’s background in education and Salgado’s in performance, they want to combine their strengths to fortify others.
Until then, the women behind Chingona Fire will continue to focus on putting more homegirls on and reminding them to stay unapologetic in their multiplicities.