José Olivarez


José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants. His debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal, was a finalist for the PEN/ Jean Stein Award and a winner of the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. It was named a top book of 2018 by The Adroit Journal, NPR, and the New York Public Library. Along with Felicia Chavez and Willie Perdomo, he co-edited the poetry anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. He is the co-host of the poetry podcast, The Poetry Gods. In 2018, he was awarded the first annual Author and Artist in Justice Award from the Phillips Brooks House Association and named a Debut Poet of 2018 by Poets & Writers. In 2019, he was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Source

(citizen) (illegal)

Mexican woman (illegal) and Mexican man (illegal) 

Have a Mexican (illegal)-American (citizen).

is the baby more Mexican or American?

place the baby in the arms of the mother (illegal).

if the mother holds the baby (citizen)

too long, does the baby become illegal?


the baby is a boy (citizen). he goes to school (citizen).

his classmates are American (citizen). He is outcast (illegal).

his “hellos” are in the wrong language (illegal).

he takes the hyphen separating loneliness (Mexican)

from friendship (American) and jabs it at the culprit (illegal).

himself (illegal). his own traitorous tongue (illegal).

his name (illegal). his mom (illegal). his dad (illegal).


take a Mexican woman (illegal) and a Mexican man (illegal).

if they have a baby and the baby looks white enough to pass (citizen).

if the baby grows up singing Selena songs to his reflection (illegal).

if the baby hides from el cucuy and la migra (illegal).

if the baby (illegal) (citizen) grows up to speak broken Spanish (illegal)

and perfect English (citizen). if the boy’s nickname is Güerito (citizen).

if the boy attends college (citizen). if the boy only dates women (illegal)

of color (illegal). If the boy (illegal)

uses phrases like “women of color” (citizen).

if the boy (illegal) (citizen) writes (illegal) poems (illegal).


if the boy (citizen) (illegal) grows up (illegal) and can only write (illegal)

this story in English (citizen), does that make him more

American (citizen) or Mexican (illegal)?





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:







Intersectionality & Culture

Literary Devices:


the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of words appearing in succession

Rhetorical Question

a question asked for effect, not necessarily to be answered