November 21, 2001

Udiarte the Godfather of Tijuana's Counterculture

By Pablo De Sainz

The poetry of Roberto Castillo Udiarte has a clear - and often difficult-objective: To reflect the spoken language of Tijuana.

"I want to tell the city's residents, `This is how you and I speak, it is poetry," he says. "I don't care if my writing can't be translated into any other language."

At 50, Castillo Udiarte is considered to be the godfather of Tijuana's counterculture. He considers himself just a bato who likes rock music and caguama Tecate.

"The Stones, the Beatles, the Doors, rock has always been a major influence in my writing," Castillo says. "When I was a teenager I would listen to their music and say, `They're singing what's happening to me, I can relate.'"

Even though he was born in Tecate, a small border city in Baja California, Castillo Udiarte's poetry resembles Tijuana, the metropolitan city he has lived in for more than 20 years.

"My writing is a response to what's happening here," he says. "Sometimes it can be Tijuanarchy."

But he says that many people only consider Tijuana as the border region. He has a different perspective.

"When I speak about a `border region,' I would say it stretches all the way from Los Angeles down to Ensenada," Castillo says. "if you look closely, there's a common culture throughout this area, it's like a corridor for immigrants."

Castillo Udiarte is a prolific poet. He has published more than six books of poetry and prose and has contributed to more than a dozen of literary magazines and newspapers. But readers shouldn't be afraid of his poems. Castillo's poetry is very accessible, very down to earth. It lacks any obscure metaphors or imagery.

Instead, his poetry can be understood by anybody living in a large city. One of his most recent poetry collections is called "La pasion de Angelica segun el Johnny Tecate" (El milenio que viene, 1996), a book where he uses everyday experiences. In this book one can find characters ranging from a maquiladora worker to the taco seller in the corner.

His book of prose titled "Gancho al Corazon: La saga del Maromero Paez" (Editorial Yoremito, 1997) is a ficition-alized biography of Mexicali's controversial boxer, Jorge Maromero Paez.

In addition to writing poetry, Castillo Udiarte is also a university professor, teaching literature and writing courses at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, and the Universidad Iberoamericana Noroeste, both in Tijuana.

"Teaching helps my writing," he says. "It keeps me up-to-date on how young people use language. The phrases, the slang. It all goes into my poetry."

He's also cultural coordinator for the Universidad Iberoamericana Noroeste, where he publishes a series of student poetry books titled "Lobos de mar," and a magazine.

"There's a lot of young talent in Tijuana," Castillo says. "they're the next generation of artists."

Some of Castillo Udiarte's poetry collections include "Pequeño bestiario y otras miniature," "Blues cola de lagarto," and "Nuestras vidas son otras."

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