Contemporary Journals

Frontera: Analyzing the Role of Diverse Cultural and Linguistic Identities & Neighborhoods

Report by Tate-Madison Bell

Frontera is a bilingual literary magazine with works in both Spanish and English. The majority of submissions are only printed in one language, however the magazine does accept some translations from authors so that their work can be published with English and Spanish side by side. They publish fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and visual art. Frontera is based in Madrid, Spain and Portland, Oregon.

Michael J. Shymanki is one of the editors in chief for Frontera. He was born in San Francisco where he attended University of San Francisco to study creative writing. He now lives in Madrid, Spain. I emailed him to order the magazines and he sent a nice thank-you-for-buying-note with them. The other editor in chief is Nora Beuke Salle, whom I could not find any information on unfortunately.

When researching Frontera beyond just their website, I found a Kickstarter page for them. They had 44 donors, giving almost $2,200 in total. This is one of the ways they gained financial support for the magazine. They paid for the second issue out of pocket and are planning on getting grants to help with the funding of the third issue. They charge 12 dollars per issue, or 20 dollars for both, not including shipping. Since they are a new literary magazine, they do not yet have the option to subscribe. Although they have an online store on their website, it is not working yet, so customers need to contact Michael via email, then order the issue(s) to be sent to them. The issues can also be purchased in Powell’s bookstore in Portland and in Desperate Literature in Madrid.

Frontera’s website offers the following commentary on their roots: “Madrid, like any city, is an assembly of cultures and ideas. The longer we have lived here, the more we have come to understand that the metropolitan atmosphere of the city emphasizes overlapping diversity in identities, sometimes resulting in benefit or conflict. This journal was born of this sentiment, that the identities that collaborate or fight within the individual form this unique perspective in various spaces and languages.” The first issue of Frontera is mainly about the linguistic identity part, whereas the second issue focuses a lot on neighborhoods and how they impact people, which is fitting because it is actually titled Barrios//Neighborhoods.

The writing in Frontera, particularly in the first issue, centers around this theme of one’s diverse cultural and linguistic identity causing them to see the world in a different lense, and sometimes two conflicting lenses. For example, the second poem in Frontera’s first issue, Límites//Boundaries, is called “Conflicto”. It is a bilingual poem written and translated by Ana Fores Tamayo. It talks about the confusing relationship the author has with her two languages. She talks about how her second language seems more romantic to her, that she is drawn to it, however at the same time she feels as if the words are not her own. Even though she loves English, there is this point in which she decides actually, this isn’t my language. She writes, “My language is the mother where I was born.”

The next poem in the first issue is also a bilingual poem by Tamayo. It is titled “Hija de Tu Sangre.” Tamayo is originally from Cuba and Spanish is her first language. She and her family were refugees and were relocated to the states through the Cuban Resettlement Program when she was a young girl. She starting learning English in American schools. In a blog post she wrote, “I guess that’s when I really conquered English…. when I first said my Pledge of Allegiance.... when I learned the magic of books.” In this poem she writes about the strange relationship she has with her homeland. She doesn't really want to remember it, but mainly just because she does not want to miss it. We see this through her writing,

“But I do not want to remember.

Because it hurts me.

Because I trace tears I do not know.

Because I do not want to mourn that land

I never knew.”

She also talks a little bit about the power of one’s mother language in this poem by writing:

“And when I hear my father reciting those faraway poems

In a language of flowers

And white tapestries,

Yes, I do remember,

And I cry with joy.

But still I cry.”

This is significant because it shows that most of the time she is able to repress memories of her far away homeland. However, when her father reads in her mother tongue, it pushes past the wall she had tried so hard to put up, and the memories come back to her. This illustrates the conflict between someone’s two cultural and linguistic identities because after all this time away, she is still not sure how comfortable she is thinking about her homeland, and what this distant place means to her and how she views the world.

In an email response to some questions I had about Frontera, Michael said that the magazine’s purpose is changing. He talked about how the first volume was more about being bilingual, then explained the purpose of additional volumes. “Our second volume was more of a love song to our neighborhood of Lavapiés, a very diverse area with many immigrants (Senegalese, South/Central American, etc.), but moving forward our theme will be somewhat more "American," dealing with what it means to speak English-Spanish in the U.S. and dealing with more latinx narratives in this political climate. At times it feels like this project is its own being, stumbling into existence and maturing into something else.”

The theme of Frontera’s second issue is a lot more concrete, which makes it easier to follow along with the visual art represented in it because you can actually take a photo of places in a neighborhood, where as it is a lot more difficult to represent the diversity of linguistic identities in a photo. There are many pictures of neighborhoods in this volume, including two of Lavapíes which Michael took. Lavapiés literally translates to “wash feet.” On page 76 there is “Lavapiés 10”, which shows two men sitting next to each other atop a fence. Above them are balconies of what looks like an apartment complex or a hotel. On the next page is a man standing in a plaza with his hand covering the bottom half of his face. Behind him are two groups of people, one of which are sitting on a circle on the ground.

The writing and visual art in this volume is about several neighborhoods around the world. There is a poem titled “Akron, OH,” hand-drawn maps of both Los Angeles and Havana, Cuba, and a poem called “Mapa flamenco de Madrid,” which talks about four different neighborhoods in Madrid. One common sub-theme I noticed in a lot of the writing is that the people writing about their neighborhoods are quietly observing everything going on around them and noting what everyone is doing, even if it is seemingly insignificant. The focus is on the everyday people, so it seems as if it is trying to make a point that the people are what really make a place what it is, not just the geographic location.

When I asked Michael about what they look for in submissions, he said “Quality and adherence to theme. It sounds dumb and brutal to say, but we'd rather have good work that toes the theme than a bad piece that nails the theme. It's a hard balance. In constructing our final list, I look for an equal ratio of male to female authors, English to Spanish pieces, and male to female balance in visual art, along with a variety of mediums. There's also, as aforementioned, POC writers, LGBTQ writers, feminist pieces, etc. That being said, it feels like we're balancing many things and just doing our best with what is submitted.” I think this makes a lot of sense because while a lot of the work adheres to the theme, some of it seems intriguing, but not really related to the themes of cultural and linguistic identities or neighborhoods. For example, there is a poem in the first issue called “Canción de cuna para la niña Rosa”, which translates to “A Lullaby for the Girl Rosa”. It is about a grandmother playing with a doll in a garden, and it seems more about being young-at-heart rather than a cultural or linguistic identity.

However, I think that because the magazine is part English and part Spanish, it already adheres to the theme in a material and literal sense in that there are two languages in the magazines, and you can see them as conflicting with each other, or as complimenting each other. Because of this I think Frontera deserves some leeway instead of expecting the message of every piece of work in it to be deliberately about the theme. It is kind of like what we talk about in class, how there is more to the work than the words. Rather, the material aspects of a literary magazine, such as the type of material the magazine is made of, the cover design, the formatting, etc. all play a role in the theme of a literary magazine.


Frontera volumes one and two.