Now in Color

Jacqueline Balderrama

Now in Color explores the multigenerational immigrant experience of Mexican-Americans who have escaped violence, faced pressures to assimilate, and now seek to reconnect to a fragmented past. These poems illuminate the fluidity of language and of perception through both small hypocrisies and real atrocities. One of Balderrama’s strategies is to use the development of motion pictures and Technicolor as a lens through which to examine personal and cultural histories and stereotypes. She also considers bilingual expectations through an innovative series of Spanish definition poems. Balderrama documents pieces of her family’s oral tradition and draws connections to ongoing injustices experienced by current migrant families, offering a living picture of a present inevitably tied to and colored by its past. Through the poetics of witness, ekphrasis, portraiture, and family mythos, Now in Color deepens our understanding of hybrid identities and calls attention to those impacted by tensions along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Valentine to the Disappeared

Dearest, the hum of a hundred years
finds you in the divided flesh of an orange
tracing you back to northern Chihuahua.

Once-wealthy ancestors are now
a caricature of large heads and long legs. They say,
Even on horses, their feet dragged on the ground.

After the Revolution, you belonged
to fruit-pickers, grocers, motel owners.
Now there’s a judge, a professor, less Chihuahua.

Some of us have forgotten how to speak with those dead,
which means, a boy made to feel ashamed in his learning
the language will not learn. He cannot teach his daughters.

Now the feeling returns in me for not knowing the words.
I am told half of you means bucket (balde),
and the other means branch (rama): water for grafted trees.

I call you little name because you turn invisible
in new mouths, have been spoken by so many
you can’t be heard anymore.

Little name, as myself, I’ve always been ready
to send you away like a nutshell boat
weighted down by a pebble into dry streambeds.

It is like that with anything built
to be given.


Listen to “Valentine to the Disappeared,” read by Jacqueline Balderrama:

Listen to “Ulithi,” read by Jacqueline Balderrama:

Cover image: Now in Color
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Eric Hoffer Book Award, honorable mention

First Horizon Book Award, finalist


“For Jacqueline Balderrama, identity is an ‘accounted nothingness.’ It is an unrecovered reel of the two sides of Rita Hayworth: one, a long-name Hispanic, the other, a silver-screen ether. It is a Mobius double-sided ribbon of family remembrances, borderland maps, suffering treks across the blistering earth, and a text to ‘collect what is scattered.’ Enter Picasso’s circus scenes, Kahlo’s ripped chest dangling, Varo’s multi-dimensional floating woman, Monet’s crumbling fertile bridge, da Vinci’s moon ocean. This is the real-to-unreal figure, the lost movie, the outsider’s invitation to escape together into her Technicolor vortex of fractured meditations and, most of all, her art of becoming. Now in Color is wild and radical in form, iridescent in blood and genre.” —Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States
“In Now in Color, things are rarely as they seem: a legislative apology, say, or the 1914 film The Life of General Villa, which spliced together re-enacted and actual footage of the Mexican Revolution, or starlet Rita Hayworth preserving only part of her given name, Margarita Carmen Cansino. Balderrama’s imagination lingers between what we think we know and a lush vision of what we may have lost. That savvy, stratified attention also drives two series—Spanish words defined via rich personal image, and twenty Picasso paintings that prompt another man’s ardent self-reflections. Always, this poet sees the ‘names which are not names,’ showing us what else language can contain—and release.” —Sally Ball, author of Hold Sway
“‘One fellow asks, What are you? / He means why are you brown.’ These poems are a heartfelt, artful wrestling with self, representation, place, allegiance, food, and so much more as the smallest of details grow into art, love, sacrifice, and family. These are not poems about winners or losers, but about the longer, overarching sense of living in general. The poems work to understand living itself as a gift, reaching for its celebrations and triumphs, even, and especially, where they don’t always at first seem evident. Though often quiet—a side of things we don’t easily pay attention to—these poems are pure 21st century grappling with ethnic identity as it moves into everyday life.” —Alberto Ríos, Arizona’s Inaugural Poet Laureate
“From the anguish of children held in border camps to movies whose Latino stars blur their identities, Jacqueline Balderrama’s Now in Color explores the ever-shifting landscapes of migration, identity, and perception. Working with language and family history, these poems trace the author’s heritage through stories of survival and the relentless pressure to assimilate.” —Erica Goss, Sticks & Stones
“The book’s title poem ... draws a portrait of the immigrant experience, where ’Agents dress us in the terms of their casting calls /— anonymous beneath the sombrero, or fiery Latina, or gardener, / or alien, or drug lord.’ Balderrama’s speaker takes on the collective voice of all Latin American immigrants and exhibits how others—particularly border control agents—see, or rather, don’t see, them. This is a universal discourse on racism, on painful stereotypes that extend beyond the Southern border and infiltrate the lives in these families even long after they make new beginnings.“ —Amanda Auchter, RHINO Reviews
“The tension created between life and art, stories made for movie screens and the chilling dose of actuality, is the strength of this collection. Balderrama recontextualizes these works of historical fiction, presenting them alongside their factual counterparts, to illustrate the humanity that is erased in translation.“ —Neha Peri, Sundress Reads

Author photograph by Jesus Huerta Jr.

Jacqueline Balderrama

Jacqueline Balderrama is the author of Now in Color (Perugia Press, 2020) and the chapbook Nectar and Small (Finishing Line Press, 2019). She serves as a poetry editor for Iron City Magazine and has been involved in the Letras Latinas literary initiative, the ASU Prison Education Program, and the Wasatch Writers in the Schools. She holds a PhD in English—Creative Writing from the University of Utah. Currently, she’s a Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence at Arizona State University. Visit her at

  • Watch the recording of the book launch celebration for Now in Color held on Día de los Muertos, 11/2/2020, featuring readings by Jacqueline Balderrama and special guest poets Juan Felipe Herrera (U.S. Poet Laureate emeritus), Sally Ball (author of Hold Sway), and Alberto Ríos (Arizona’s inaugural poet laureate).
  • Watch the recording of the Hispanic Heritage Month reading & conversation held on 10/8/2020 for Westfield State University featuring Suzi F. Garcia, Francisco Aragón, and Jacqueline Balderrama.
  • Check out an interview Amanda Barusch did with Jacqueline Balderrama about her writing process, her next writing project, her Perugia Press book, and more. Of Now in Color, Barusch writes, “Jackie’s voice is so inviting! She engages social justice issues (race, language, family, immigration) with deep awareness and empathy and yet the book twirls with joy at every turn.”
  • Listen in to this interview Caroline Ballard did with Jacqueline Balderrama for NPR Utah: “Utah Poet Explores Family History and Latina Identity in New Collection.” Balderrama says, “Poetry has the power to really zoom in on certain moments and fill a memory, but also acknowledge the fragmentation that’s there.”
  • Read this interview with Jacqueline Balderrama up at Mass Poetry in their “Getting to Know You” series for Massachusetts poets & presses. An excerpt: “In this collection, I turned to works by Picasso, footage of the Mexican Revolution, interviews with my grandfather, and photographs of Hollywood actresses like Melanie Griffith when she was living with a lion as a teenager or Rita Hayworth’s glamour shots.”
  • Watch Perugia poets Jacqueline Balderrama, Ida Stewart, and Lynne Thompson read in the “Phosphorescence Poetry Reading Series” for the Emily Dickinson Museum.
  • Read Jacqueline Balderrama’s “The Story of My Book” feature on Perugia’s blog.
  • Read Jacqueline Balderrama’s “Poet’s Platform” feature on Perugia’s blog, about a project she leads as the Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence at Arizona State University: Thousand Languages.

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