Arizona’s newly appointed first poet laureate talks life on the border

Alberto Rios, Arizona’s newly appointed first poet laureate. (Photo/Tom Story/Arizona State University)

Alberto Rios, Arizona’s newly appointed first poet laureate. (Photo/Tom Story/Arizona State University)

Renowned poet and professor Alberto Rios has recently been selected by Governor Jan Brewer and Arizona’s Commission on the Arts as the state’s first poet laureate.

“It’s been a wild ride so far,” says Rios about his life, ever since he got a call from the Governor’s office last week informing him of his new appointment. “It was a special feeling…I grew up in Arizona — on the border — so to be a kid from Nogales, in a state that has so many issues regarding language, and so many things — it’s a pretty good story.”

Rios, has published a total of 10 poetry books, three story books and a memoir called “Capirotada.” His memoir about his youth along the Mexico-Arizona border won the Latino Literacy Hall of Fame Award, and he has also received many other recognitions for his work, including the Walt Whitman Award in Poetry. As English professor at his alma mater, Arizona State University, he reached the highest faculty rank when he was named Regent in 1989, and his work is often taught in college curricula.

“Being a professor, I have a lot to say about who we are, and why are we here,” says Rios, 61. “If it’s so bad, why don’t we all leave, but there’s lots of reasons why we don’t.”

Arizona became the 43rd state to establish a poet laureate, last year, in honor of its centennial year of statehood. The purpose of this position, according to Governor Brewer, is to “commemorate Arizona literary artists whose work and service best represent Arizona’s values, independence and unique Western history and culture.”

Probably few know Arizona’s history and culture better than bicultural Rios – son of a Mexican father and an English mother. Recounting his parents’ love story, he says his father ran away from his home in Chiapas, at age 14 to join the U.S. Army. Eventually, he got a GED and became a staff sergeant and ended up in England, during World War II, where he met his future bride. When he got discharged, he was given no choice but to return to the U.S., and Rios’ mom followed him. They ended up in Nogales.

“Growing up, I had cultures in my house that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” says Rios explaining how they gave him two ways of looking at things and helped him become a writer. “I grew up with an open border.”

And speaking about the “real” border, he remembers the Arizona-Mexico border being more of an imaginary line than it is today.

“You didn’t need papers — the guards were reading newspapers — it wasn’t a big deal to cross the border,” says Rios, also explaining that he had kids in his class who paid tuition and crossed the border every day to go to school in the U.S. “Every holiday, whether Mexican or American, there was a parade.”

Rios says he also remembers, as if it were yesterday, when everything changed.

“It was November 22, 1963 — when President John F. Kennedy was shot,” says Rios, who was in the 5th grade. “One of the first things the country did was close the borders.”

He says phone calls started coming in from parents in Mexico saying they couldn’t pick up their kids.

“I’ll never forget this,” says Rios. “One of the kids who got a phone call started to cry. Then other kids started crying…They had kids on one side of the border and parents on the other side of the border crying. It wasn’t until 4 or 5 in the morning they let the kids go through…For me, I think that’s when the border became something else.”

He says slowly the idyllic, bicultural world he knew became something else. The drug trade started, and people could no longer travel back and forth as easily.

“The border is an uneasy place — it’s more tense, it’s more mean,” says Rios, whose wife is a retired librarian and whose son is an immigration rights attorney.

As poet laureate, he wants to do his part to bring beauty back to the border.

“I absolutely want to talk about these issues – work I’ve been doing my entire life. I’ve always traveled all over the state visiting schools and libraries telling the stories of people’s lives and what this all means,” says Rios. “I try to bring the human side to it all.”

Arizona’s new poet laureate is also working on a public art project and is in the midst of publishing a new poetry book.

“It’s about the southwest,” says Rios. “You have to start somewhere.”

Originally published on

Don Miguel Ruiz answers questions about love


Don Miguel Ruiz used to be a surgeon in his native Mexico, until he realized what he was really called to do was heal the human mind and spirit. The ancient Toltec wisdom of his ancestors contained all of the tools needed, so he trained with his mother to become a Shaman. He moved to the United States to share his wisdom, which he has been doing through books and seminars for almost two decades. Ruiz is author of multiple international bestsellers, including “The Four Agreements and “The Mastery of Love.” Today, Valentine’s Day, NBC Latino asks the guru about love.

NBC Latino: What is love?

Ruiz: There are many different definitions to love, because every person has a different definition. I believe it is an equilibrium between gratitude and generosity. When you receive, you feel a lot of gratitude and that converts into generosity. Life gives us everything that we need. When we have gratitude, we start to share it. Each person that receives from you starts to grow. True love is completely unconditional. When we start to put conditions, it is no longer love.

NBC Latino: Two people in a relationship can’t be equally in love with each other. One always seems to love the other more. Is it better to love, or to be loved more? Why?

Ruiz: This is something you cannot force. It is what it is. It’s just like being hungry and being thirsty.

NBC Latino: What are your thoughts on marriage?

Ruiz: You have to find someone that believes the same as you if you want to be monogamous and live that way. What is important is to make an agreement with yourself. Determine what you want in your life. Then let that person come and make that agreement with you. It’s not about right or wrong. Take responsibility for your decision.

The idea of matrimony is changing. Fifty years ago everyone had to be married. Divorce is becoming more and more popular. People are more aware that the promises are not really forever. To live with someone you don’t want to live with is really a nightmare. I think it is much better now. Before women had to stay married even if they were being abused. Things are changing for the better in many ways. What keeps couples together is respect. You need to trust, and trust yourself, too.

NBC Latino: Can infatuation ever be the path to true love?

Ruiz: Infatuation is something beautiful, but be aware if you are infatuated. Enjoy it, because it feels good. If you have that awareness, it never becomes a need. If you don’t have that awareness, you don’t have complete control, and you become the needy one. And the other person becomes like your drug provider. In “The Mastery of Love,” I talk about infatuation becoming like a drug addiction. One is the addict and the other is a provider. The addicted one is going to blame the other. We distort what love is, because we make love conditional.

NBC Latino: Can someone love you who judges you, criticizes you, won’t forgive you, and wants nothing to do with you?

Ruiz: It is most probable that that person feels hurt. In life, no one is your owner. You live in your own world. Others live in their own world. Trying to control another’s life is selfish. If someone treats you like this, they don’t want you to be you. They want you to be like they want you to be. People act selfishly, because they feel important personally, but they can’t even control themselves.

NBC Latino: What does it mean when someone appears to love you and then after a while they tell you that they don’t love you as they should. “It’s me, not you?”

Ruiz: The truth is that we are always living in the present. The past and the future don’t exist. The only thing that we can be sure of is the present. Everything is changing. Love is not static. It is also changing every moment. Imagine if nothing changed? Even our body changes. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be loved or won’t be loved. If there is a couple that loves each other, and one leaves, the one that stays feels a greater need, and might feel that they don’t deserve love. You can be in love with someone, and then the love is killed. Sometimes it’s the fear of being alone makes you accept things that make us blind, and you don’t see what’s really happening.

NBC Latino: Have love/relationships fundamentally changed because of increased life expectancy, technology, etc.? Can a couple fall out of love after time?

Ruiz: Love transforms. Any dream will get to the end. Anything that is created will end. What is immortal is life. In your life, you can have a lot of dreams. After a certain time, the dream is over and it dissolves. The only one that will always be with you is your physical body, until you eventually leave your physical body. Everything else will go. Everyone else will leave – your parents, your boyfriend, everybody.

NBC Latino: Are you supposed to have and wait for your soul mate in life, or settle to reproduce before it’s too late? 

Ruiz: There is no soul mate. It’s just a belief. Anyone can be your soul mate. If you like the way a person talks, behaves, dreams, and the attraction is there, stay with that person as long as you can. But always live in the present time. Always enjoy it the best you can. You don’t know if you will be alive tomorrow. You only have today. If you learn how to live like it’s your last day, you will always enjoy your dreams intensely.

You don’t need to look for love. Just be whomever you are, but be wise enough to accept the person who believes what you believe, so you can enjoy life together. You can be happy with whoever, if that person respects your beliefs and who you are. You can be with anyone, but only you know who you like and who you don’t like.

NBC Latino: When do you know that it is time to leave a relationship?

Ruiz: You need to be responsible for your choices. If you don’t like a person, don’t say yes. If you want to change a person, that means you have picked the wrong person. You need to love the person the way they are, because no person can be changed, and no person can change you. If it’s not working, get out. Say “I have to go.” Have the courage. That person might get mad, but it’s nothing personal.

Originally published on