Decolonizing the Imagination: A Review of Christiana Castillo ‘s Crushed Marigold

In her debut chapbook Crushed Marigold, Christiana Castillo defiantly and boldly introduces herself in her first poem “MORENA // MARROM”

To Americans
– brown girls –
are brown girls
not the distinction between
– borders –
not the language
the country
the city
the state

Does my brown
know my brown
know my brown?

These stanzas are opening salvos, a series of seeds planted in the soil of what this chapbook bears. Exploring themes of diaspora, identity, migration, and intergenerational history, these poems are a resistance to the ways in which U.S. imperialism and colonialism is obsessed with bordering and racialization. A Latina/Chicano poet, born in Brazil, raised and currently based in Detroit, Castillo immediately sets out to blur the hard borders that systems tries to place people within—“I have been known as meu amor, and mi amor”—and, using the imagery of farofa, arroz y frijoles, Virgen de Guadalupe candles, marigolds, evil eyes, and garlic, grounds us in a rich world of colors, smells, tastes, and textures that carries throughout, scenes beautifully illustrated by the artist Karla Rosas.

Do you know that my blood is still warm?
That I’m trying to hold onto it all?
Does my brown
know my brown
know my brown?

Does my brown
know my brown
know my brown?


John Berger once asked, “what is the labor of poetry?” He speculated that the work of poetry is to “bring together what life has separated or violence has torn apart… reassembling what has been scattered.” In that sense, poetry is able to bring us nearer when the logic of borders wants to scatter us, and in Castillo’s hands, the reader never feels too far from a sense of home. Community and care ripple through this work, celebrating her ancestry, brown girls, Selena, marigolds, the moon, Detroit, and her grandmother. Castillo often channels her abuela’s voice in her poems, addressing herself in a caring tone, echoing the way in which we are often caught by surprise when we hear the voice of someone we love in our head. “Mija” is repeated throughout, a term of endearment that helps us to relate with her, taking its strongest effect in “Mija Hit My Ears Almost As Much As My Name”  and “Con Amor Por Southwest Detroit” 

This is also poetry as interiority, a way to dance with that eternal puzzle of meaningful connection. If poetry is a way to reach across that which separates us, one suspects that power must come from its vulnerability. Castillo is powerful here, showing us that resiliency thrives everywhere if we know how to look for it. In flowers growing in the cracks, in the hands of her abuela braiding her hair, Selena on the television, Virgin Guadalupe candles and rosary beads—and the many lineages that she carries in her body. There is perhaps, then, one border that Castillo knows is necessary—the one she has to define for herself, and what she chooses to allow others access to.

As a poet, Castillo is also clearly a lover of the long form, with standout “Con Amor Por Southwest Detroit” utilizing the refrain “volver, volver,” to deliver a series of stanzas celebrating the people and places of her Detroit neighborhoods. One recalls the famous Detroit activist and educator Grace Lee Boggs: “we survive by taking care of one another.” These are deeply feminist poems—in the sense of kinship woven from her body, to the city of Detroit, to the earth itself, valuing care and nurturance. 

We are the women prophecies are written for
that oracles warn you about.
With voices that don’t quiver,
voices which can’t be controlled.

I delighted in reading this work, often finding myself reminiscing on the taste of an orange, or the beauty of graveyards in Mexico, adorned with marigolds, flowers for the dead that look like the sun, and when crushed, emit a citrus scent. Ancestors are always with us, indeed. 

One of the greatest gifts of poetry is its ability to decolonize imagination, placing dreams within the realm of social knowledge, a poetics of resistance to the violence of borders. Ancestry reveals itself as the survival of  memory and place—to carry those forward requires them to be cared for. Or, as Castillo would likely put it, that memory and place must “hold each other like sisters.”

I am not waiting for a white god to save me,
I am not waiting for a new shrine,
I survived.

Crushed Marigold, by Christiana Castillo, Illustrated by Karla Rosas, is available at Flower Press.


Joal Stein

Joal Stein is an independent curator, writer and researcher focused on investigating spatial and social power through contemporary culture, working across art, poetry, architecture, policy, and social engagement. He has received fellowships from RACC, Autodesk Foundation, Rauschenberg Foundation, Banff Centre, NAVEL, and has been a Cultural Agent for the U.S Department of Arts and Culture. His writing has appeared in deem journal, Public Books, The Trouble, Los Angeles Press, Stay Wild, and is a lead editor for The Changing Times. Recently, he has produced and consulted on national artist-activism collaborations with For Freedoms and In Plain Sight. He can be found at

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