VCU’s slam poetry organization changed its name this semester to respect the original group’s roots in Latino culture. What was once called “Slam Nahuatl” is now called “Good Clear Sound,” which, according to group president Saidu Tejan-Thomas, is what “nahuatl” essentially means in Aztec culture.
“We thought, why not Good Clear Sound?” Tejan-Thomas said. “We’d been thinking about it for a long time and it’s what Nahuatl means, but it’s in a language that we can all be more connected to, that’s more inclusive, that we can be more dedicated to and that we can call our own.”
The original name, “Slam Nahuatl,” came from the organization’s founders, Daniel Jose Custodio and Vlad Rodriguez, both of Latino descent. It began as a community group that held shows and open mics, and competed in the National Poetry Competition while raising money for local charities. After the group disintegrated, one member and VCU student Rob Gibsun started the student organization Slam Nahuatl at VCU in 2011. Gibsun, now the coach of the group, says the name change took place in two parts.
“Unofficially, in the summertime (summer 2014), we designated that name for our performances outside of VCU,” Gibsun said. “The second part essentially confirmed that that was a move that we needed to make … A person from the community who was of Latino descent near the Central Mexican Valley reached out and said that as far as the demographic of the organization goes, it did feel like misrepresentation of the culture.”
The group, which hosts open mic nights, poetry slams and a weekly secure environment for sharing ideas and feelings, said in their press release that they strove to avoid appropriation of the Latino culture. When it was brought to their attention that use of the name might be inappropriate because of a lack of representation of Latino members, they immediately set forth to change it.
“This person wrote down the history and their discoveries of their own lineage and of things that were held sacred versus things that were open,” Gibsun said. “And essentially this person was saying that Nahuatl is something that is very dear and very precious still. It’s not some ancient thing that died in the past with the Aztecs, you know, it’s not that.”
Joshua Braunstein, a member for almost four years and former vice president of the group, added that the individual who reached out expressed concern that the group had mispronounced the term “nahuatl.” The group will also be changing the logo as the original depicted the Aztec god Xochipilli, which was also considered cultural appropriation with respect to the lack of Latino representation in the group.
However, Braunstein, Tejan-Thomas and Gibsun all see this opportunity as beneficial for the group in becoming its own entity while still being tied to its origins.
“It gives us an opportunity to take the organization in a new direction with the same values intact,” Braunstein said, “because Nahuatl translated means ‘good clear sound.’”
Braunstein also said it was a chance for Good Clear Sound to “practice what they preach,” in terms of helping people understand the harms that can stem from cultural appropriation, even when it’s unintended.
Gibsun agreed, and said the most difficult part of the name change process has been getting their Youtube and Facebook names changed, as both websites have specific guidelines for organizations wanting to change their name. The group’s Instagram and Twitter have already been updated, but their Youtube channel and Facebook page still list the group as “Slam Nahuatl at VCU.”
Aside from the name and the logo, members of the group said the location of Good Clear Sound’s open mic nights and events have changed as well. They will now be held at the Shafer Street Playhouse, instead of the Underground at the Student Commons where their events were held last semester.
The group will hold an interest meeting on Jan. 28 at 6 p.m. in Virginia Rooms C and D in the Student Commons, and their next open mic night will be Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tejan-Thomas says the biggest initiative for the group this semester will be to expand and reach out to more students.
“We want to expand, we want to get more people involved,” Tejan-Thomas said. “Even if you don’t write, even if you just like what we do, we want people to feel like they have a safe space to come to and friends that appreciate the same things they do.”