September 23, 2013 | Borough of Manhattan Community College
Born and raised in Toledo, Spain, Hilario Barrero emigrated to the U.S. 35 years ago and has taught in BMCC’s Modern Languages Department since 2001. But a day doesn’t go by that he doesn’t think—or dream—about the fabled city of his birth.
This past May, Barrero, an acclaimed poet, writer and translator, returned to Toledo to accept one of its highest honors: He was asked to serve as the pregonero or town crier of the Feast of Corpus Christi, a yearly procession observed since the thirteenth century and one of Toledo’s most important holidays.
In good company
It’s an invitation that doesn’t come to many, nor is it tendered lightly. “In Spain there is a long tradition of asking a well-known luminary to be the pregonero and deliver the proclamation of the local festivity,” says Barrero. For example, actor Antonio Banderas and tenor Placido Domingo were accorded the honor this year in Ma¡laga and Madrid, respectively.
“In my case,” Barrero says, “I was there as a toledano as well as a U.S. citizen and a professor at BMCC.”
He didn’t jump at the invitation—at least not initially. “When Toledo’s Municipal Councilor of Culture called to invite me to be the herald, my first reaction was to ask if I could have some time to think about it, given the heavy responsibility that goes with such an honor,” Barrero says.
“I called my family in Toledo to ask their advice, and one of my sisters told me the decision was mine, but reminded me of how happy the honor would have made our late mother.” His sister’s perspective helped him decide. On the day of the festivities, Barrero’s relatives occupied an entire row of the Teatro de Rojas, which was filled to capacity.
Barrero organized his proclamation in three parts. “The first was a search of my personal past and memories from my childhood, and the second was an homage to all the mothers and people who have left us and were so important to the procession.” The third part drew on Barrero’s deep connection with his adopted country.
“I did a lot of research and discovered that Americans have been interested in the Corpus Christi as far back as the 1800s,” he says. “Among them was Katharine Lee Bates, the author of ‘America the Beautiful’, who published a powerful article in The New York Times about the social, political and, of course, religious aspects of the festivity.” The article was one of several texts that he quoted.
New York Daily
After arriving in New York in 1978, Barrero earned a Ph.D. in 20th-century literature and taught at Princeton for seven years. Over the past three decades, he has published numerous poetry collections and translations of English-language poems into Spanish. In 1999, he began a series of diaries that record his impressions of daily life in Brooklyn. The sixth volume in the series, Nueva York a diario, was published this year to critical acclaim, both in the U.S. and in Spain.
All in all, it was a busy and productive summer for Barrero. “I had the opportunity to return to my native city for the first time in many years,” he says. “The visit brought back poignant memories of my mother, who had attended the Corpus Christi procession every year since she was a young girl.”