Homero Aridjis is renowned for his poetry throughout Latin America, his work having received the praise of such titanic contemporaries as Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, and Luis Buñuel, But Aridjis is also known for being one of Latin America’s most distinguished and conscientious environmental activists. In 1985, he founded the Group of 100, gathering together artists and academics to promote environmental justice in Latin America and leading to such accomplishments as legal protection for migratory monarch butterfly communities, gray whale sanctuaries for gray whales, and a reduction in Mexico City’s air pollution. Aridjis served as Mexico’s ambassador to Netherlands, Switzerland, and UNESCO, and was president of countless worldwide organizations promoting sustainable living, cultural diversity, and human rights.
His newest book, The Child Poet (Archipelago books, 153 pages, translated by his daughter Chloe Aridjis), is a brief exploration of where it all began, including a retelling of the tragic event he calls his “second birth” that turned him into the amazingly accomplished man he is today.
Born in the village of Contepec in Michoacán, Mexico, in 1940, he grew up a happy, quiet boy, but plagued by an immense shyness. Yet that interiority allowed him to study the people who surrounded him. He recounts stories of his mother buying houses to dig up the basements to look for gold; of his uncle who, despite holding a senseless grudge against Aridjis’s parents, sat at the dinner table with them every Sunday, and his aunt who answered personals in the newspaper but never let the men see her though they had all fallen madly in love with her through her correspondences. Aridjis writes these vignettes with a simple profundity evoking childhood itself and the odd impressions from that time that stick with us.
Aridjis also writes with what could be called the spirit of his homeland. His words are as visceral as the earth his father’s orchards grew on, and he approaches the story of his young life with a sometimes bawdy humor, never shying away from life’s sometimes appalling realities—the slow decay of elderly relatives or the sexual perversions of a classmate.
With this same ripe honesty, Aridjis arrives at the type of moment he believes must happen in everyone’s life—“events almost able to erase a past, and if not erase it, then at least to shut it off from yourself, erecting a wall that separates the days of your childhood from the days of your adolescence, as if those days had been lived by two different people.” For him it’s an accident with the shotgun that sends him to the hospital, on the verge of death and realizing afterward that time is precious and there is so much more life to be lived. He writes, “thinking of God and my fate, I said yes to my accident, as if it were an adverse gift from God.”
The Child Poet moves quietly and mysteriously through a life we know to be destined for marvelous things. Its persistent melancholy and the lovely strangeness of a child’s view of the world is enchanting, and at the end of reading it, we can’t help but say yes as well as to the accident that set Homero Aridjis on his path.