Writing to Change the World

By Drew Myron

Alejandro Jimenez spent his childhood working in the Hood River Valley’s orchards with his family and is now an accomplished professional performance poet. Photo by Caleb Alvarado

Alejandro Jimenez knows the power of words.

As a youngster at Wy’east Middle School in Hood River, he felt the thrill of expression when he wrote his 1st poem. At 36, he now travels the nation encouraging others to find their fuel. He writes with prison inmates, students, “tech bros” and business leaders.

Alejandro is earning awards, accolades and attention. In 2023, he was featured in the PBS series “American Masters: In the Making,” a short documentary highlighting emerging cultural icons. Time magazine named him 1 of 80 Mexican artists shaping contemporary Mexican culture.

Alejandro is the 2021 Mexican National Poetry Slam champion and a 2-time National Poetry Slam semifinalist in the United States. He has appeared numerous times as a speaker and performer on TEDx. His writing centers on cultural identity, memory and the immigrant experience, drawing from the period of his life when he was an undocumented immigrant.

“I wrote my 1st poem to a girl I liked. Now, I’m traveling everywhere because of it,” Alejandro says with a laugh. “Getting people to write about who they are and where they come from—it’s so beautiful. We’re all waiting for that space to write, and the power of it—that validation—is really cool. The connection you get through writing, through radical listening, is beautiful.”

This acclaim is a long way from the fields of Hood River where Alejandro grew up. Until he was 8 years old, Alejandro lived with his grandmother in Colima, Mexico, a small state in western Mexico.

In 1995, he immigrated to the United States to be with his parents, who had been working in the orchards of the Hood River Valley.

“The 1st images I have of my mom are of me running away from her because I didn’t know her,” Alejandro recalls in a TEDx interview. “You want to put your family in the best position possible to be successful—to have the opportunities you may not have had in Mexico, or wherever you’re coming from—but that always comes at a cost.”

Alejandro graduated from Hood River Valley High School in 2005. In 2009, he graduated from Willamette University as the 1st in his family to earn a college degree.

He is the author of 2 poetry collections and works as a professional writer and speaker. His book, “Moreno. Prieto. Brown.” explores growing up as an undocumented immigrant, has sold 3,000 copies and is used as a teaching tool in many school districts.

“There Will Be Days, Brown Boy,” published in 2023, has been hailed by best-selling author Hanif Abdurraqib as “a collection of enveloping tenderness.”

Alejandro says growing up in the Hood River Valley shaped his life. His family lived and worked in the orchards, and he carries both fond and difficult memories.

“I grew up undocumented, and I always had a fear of deportation,” Alejandro says.

Though he now holds a green card, “the damage is done,” he says. “It affects how we view our humanity and how we show up in places, so I don’t have the full safety and protection of being a citizen. There’s always that fear. But I try to live my life not based on fear.”

Alejando says the Hood River Valley is a beautiful place to grow up.

“I moved from Colima, a small town at the base of a volcano, to Hood River and Mount Hood,” he says. “In that way, I felt like I was at home. I was fortunate to have the outdoors, literally out my front door and back door. I remember catching grasshoppers with my cousins. We’d spend days running around.

“When we were little, we didn’t go to day care, we just went with our parents to the orchard. It was great, but it was hard. I was young and working, picking the low-hanging fruit. Getting up at 4 a.m. to change irrigation pipe is hard, but it also gave me perspective for hard work later. Compared to working in the orchards, I think, nothing is hard.”

Alejandro travels the nation conducting workshops, headlining conferences and working with Survival—like genocide—also means death. young writers and business professionals. Photo courtesy of Alejandro Jimenez

In 2018, Alejandro was chosen as the featured author for Hood River County Reads, an annual project sponsored by the Hood River County Public Library. He presented workshops and readings throughout town, including a reading of his poems, in Spanish, to students.

“Alejandro has used his voice to speak for those who cannot,” says Nan Noteboom, who lives in Odell and recently retired from Hood River Valley High School, where she taught English for almost 30 years. “We have undocumented families and children in our community. They are our students, neighbors and friends. At HRV, they are the soccer captain, the cross-country star, the homecoming king, the ASB president. But because of their status, our government— and some of us—do not treat them as humans. I find this disturbing. All children deserve love.

“When he spoke at the Hood River Reads presentation, the migrant students— especially the boys—were profoundly inspired. I taught his 1st book of poetry in class, and they were engaged and validated. Alejandro did this for them. He said what they could not.”

Alejandro found his voice at a young age.

“I write because I want to feel connected to my story and others,” he says. “I write because it helps me to process and name feelings, experiences and injustices that I see or have experienced. I write to not forget and not be forgotten. I write to connect with myself and others. I write because I feel alone and maybe through this I can connect with someone, or someone will connect with me. I believe writing, narratives and stories can change the world.”

To learn more, visit Alejandro Poetry website.