Claudia Delfina Cardona: Storytelling and Revolution

By Ariana Ortiz

Cardona on a recent trip to NYC.

Cardona on a recent trip to NYC.

The poetry of 23-year-old Claudia Delfina Cardona seems to be perpetually centered on the everyday incidences of late adolescence, drawing on her own coming-of-age experiences in San Antonio, Texas. But within the intimate observations and emotions she allows readers a glimpse into, her writing reveals an even more deeply rooted truth.

“Cesar, son of forgiving parents / Created from the dirt of fingernails / And born in the darkest ditch in San Antonio / Dressed in a bleach stained black shirt / Cesar sits on his abuelita’s front porch.”

This is how Cardona introduces the subject of a past winter’s romance in her poem, “I realized I no longer felt anything for you after November 2013.” In Cardona’s writings, even the seemingly universal theme of teenage heartbreak, a budding relationship cut away too soon, becomes uniquely Mexican-American.

She does not refer to him as an idiot or a coward, but rather “a pendejo who spits out his words / Before he can swallow them.” Her work can be classified as Chicana poetry, but not for the sole reason that she herself identifies as a Chicana, a political identity which strives for the empowerment of Mexican-Americans. Her usage of Spanglish is intentional, yet as natural as her fond allusions to her hometown. Nothing about it is forced: She acknowledges and embraces the fact that being Mexican-American has had an undeniable influence on who she is.

It is her realization as a Mexica-American that Latinos of color are severely underrepresented in art that led to her establishment of CHIFLADAzine. (Full disclosure: I submitted a short personal essay to the magazine in 2014; it was then published in its first volume.) Chiflada is slang for bratty; this is a purposeful name, as Cardona says that marginalized groups are characterized as such when they demand more resources or representation. 

Cardona, along with her close friend, Laura Valdez, established CHIFLADAzine in 2014 as an online creative space for Latino writers and artists, welcoming the submission of pieces in both Spanish and English. Cardona explained that while she had been thinking of creating an online platform since early 2013, it was Valdez who came up with its name during a brainstorming session between the two later that year.

Cardona confirmed the meaning behind CHIFLADAzine’s name, which she said has seemed provocative to many Latinos who were raised with a negative association attached to the word. I can attest to its attention-grabbing power: My mother's eyebrows noticeably rose when I excitedly told her the name of the magazine that published my piece.

In a 2014 interview with San Antonio Current reporter Nick Joyner about CHIFLADAzine, as Cardona explained the need for diversity in art, she named Rookie Mag—a popular youth culture publication founded by New Yorker Tavi Gevinson—as an example of why she felt CHIFLADAzine was necessary, and referred to the other publication as “unbearably whitewashed.”

Delfina’s statement drew ire almost immediately, as evidenced by a promptly posted comment on the article which stated that Rookie Mag is not whitewashed, as “there are many voices of color within the Rookie community as a whole… if you bother to read it and keep up with it.” Cardona responded to the comment, stating that when Rookie began, it was whitewashed with “an entry level” understanding of feminism.

“So yes,” Cardona wrote. “Rookie is more inclusive than it used to be but for CHIFLADA, we wanted to focus on a project that emphasized our Latino voices and perspectives.” 

Cardona said she considers herself lucky to have grown up in a home of artists: her mother, Olga Garza Cardona, is a visual artist; her father, Jacinto Jesus Cardona, is a poet and high school English teacher. Cardona said that she grew up within the wings of art galleries her mother would take her to, becoming exposed to artists such as Vincent Valdez and Alex Rubio.

“One summer my parents held art and writing classes at my house during the summer, so my friends from school would come over and write poetry or make sculptures from clay,” Cardona said. “That summer is one of my fondest childhood memories. I think watching them teaching the youth through creativity really inspired me to also want to teach poetry.”

Cardona has become a fixture in San Antonio’s local art scene over the past several years, from her teenaged days of sneaking into punk shows to attending local art fairs and festivals, tabling and selling CHIFLADAzine merchandise.

"I had a great childhood, I was immersed in the art and poetry scene in San Antonio, which is mainly run by Chicanos and Chicanas. I took it for granted when I was growing up, but looking back, I'm so thankful that I was raised in SA." Cardona said.

She has also amassed an online following on social media through her writing and her visual art, a number that has grown to thousands since she first began her Tumblr blog in high school.

She is a figure among the online alternative creative communities that have recently begun to be noticed by mainstream publications such as i-D Magazine and Refinery29. But there is an unspoken question hanging over the success of niche publications such as CHIFLADAzine, and larger publications' fascination with independent media: In an environment where—according to Statista—magazine retail sales have dropped from 103 million in 2014 to 85 million in the second quarter of 2016, how can there be so much enthusiasm and interest for these small publications?

While there is almost certainly no clear-cut answer, CHIFLADAzine is one example of an independent publication that defies the gloomy statistics surrounding magazine publishing, and print media itself.

Despite CHIFLADAzine’s purpose of being a platform for Latino artists, Cardona admits she is not as open about her own written work. “I think I have been very open about my visual art, but have been more private about my poetry and short stories. I've published a few pieces but for the most part, I am very selective about who I show my work to,” she said.

Cisneros' Instagram post mentioning CHIFLADAzine.

Cisneros' Instagram post mentioning CHIFLADAzine.

Acclaimed Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros has also been introduced to CHIFLADAzine, after Cardona gifted her a copy of volume one in March of 2016. Cisneros posted about the gift on her Instagram account, along with several other new books she obtained. 

The story of their first meeting is one that shows Cardona's strong belief in her own work: “Last March, the St. Mary’s University Department of English invited me and a couple of other students to a lunch and reading from A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros. I decided to give her a copy of CHIFLADAzine because I thought she would enjoy it, and she did.” Cardona said about their initial encounter. According to her, during that first meeting, the two discussed Cardona’s work, as well as Cisneros’ memories of Cardona’s father as a young poet.

Since the initial meeting, Cardona has remained in contact with Cisneros, attending events at her invitation and even designing the official poster advertising an upcoming event celebrating the latter’s life and work at Texas State University.  

She won't talk about the extent of her interactions with Cisneros, perhaps to avoid sounding like a name dropper. But Cardona has posted a few photos on Instagram in which she is posed with Cisneros, the caption of one this past October which casually reads: "Chicana M.F.A. crew with Sandra!"

Cisneros, third from left, and Cardona, second from right.

Cisneros, third from left, and Cardona, second from right.

“I wasn't exposed to her work until college when I read Woman Hollering Creek,” she admitted. “But reading Cisneros and Junot Diaz were super formative in my decision to go into creative writing. I definitely see Cisneros as a mentor, I love her work and want to evoke the same responses in readers that she does with her work.” 

Cardona is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in creative writing at Texas State University in San Marcos, having graduated this past May with a bachelor’s degree at St. Mary’s University. Prior to this, she attended Incarnate Word High School, where her father currently teaches. She spoke of how she sometimes feels she struggles more to be taken seriously as a woman of color in her primarily white classes, and of how some of her experiences in undergrad made her doubt her future path.

"It wasn't until I became more confident in my poetry writing skills in college that I decided to pursue creative writing full time." Cardona said.

While Cardona still enjoys creating visual art, she says she has not created any recent pieces. Like her written work, she incorporates Mexican-American symbolism and pop culture icons into her work. It is her art that is the cover for CHIFLADAzine’s first and second printed volumes. The first consists of a hand-drawn illustration of late Tejana legend Selena Quintanilla in an Andy Warhol-esque, while the second is her take on Roy Lichtenstein's iconic style.

Cardona's artwork on the covers of volumes one and two.

Cardona's artwork on the covers of volumes one and two.

“My parents play a huge role in the way I create,” Cardona said. “My dad's poetry has been a huge influence on my writing and my mom has inspired the ways I create visual art and always gives me good feedback. I'm very lucky to have two parents that both share a common interest in the arts.”

While feverish debates about diversity and the ever-shrinking profitability of print publications rage on in the public eye, Cardona will continue running CHIFLADAzine, writing, illustrating, and pursuing her M.F.A. in creative writing, not far from her beloved hometown of San Antonio.