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Woodburn students were in for a treat last Tuesday, when a world-renowned poet visited local schools for an hour-long presentation.by: LINDSAY KEEFER - Joaquin Zihuatanejo, a Poetry Slam international winner, spoke at Woodburn High School (right), among other schools, Dec. 17.

Joaquin Zihuatanejo, the 2009 World Cup Poetry Slam winner, is from Texas but he was brought to Woodburn thanks to the efforts of local Hispanic leaders who worked through the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute.

“He talks about youth empowerment and his message resonates with all these kids here,” said Anthony Veliz of IZO Public Relations & Marketing in Woodburn. Veliz, a Woodburn High School graduate and an Oregon State Board of Education member, was instrumental in bringing the poet to town. “It’s important to bring in speakers like this to expose kids to ideas and what they can aspire to be.”

by: LINDSAY KEEFER - After his performance, Joaquin Zihuatanejo met with students, taking pictures and giving advice, like to this Academy of International Studies student on how to deal with writer's block.Zihuatanejo visited Valor and French Prairie middle schools, Academy of International Studies and MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility all in one day, talking about his life as a Mexican-American and performing some of his dramatic poems, from the heartbreaking ode to an ignorant stranger called “Speaking in Tongues” to the comical tale of his childhood entitled “December.” After his performance, he met with students, who took photos with him and even asked him for advice, like how to overcome writer’s block.

“My goal is to let these young people know that to achieve success you have to go through education,” he said. “And if you have support — if you can find that one person, even if it’s just yourself, to believe in you — then you have enough to get through and succeed.”

Zihuatanejo wasn’t the only one hoping to inspire that message in students. Other Hispanic leaders accompanied him to the schools, including Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson, Multnomah County Judge Angel Lopez and Alberto Moreno, board chair of the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

“We recognize Hispanic leaders at an educational event,” Veliz said. “It’s important for students to see Hispanics in leadership positions.”

“We were approached if we could put together an audience for a national speaker,” added Haroldson, who said he is Oregon’s first Hispanic district attorney. “This would not have happened without Anthony.”

Zihuatanejo, whose visit was made possible through the partnership between USHLI and CoolSpeak, was excited to speak to Woodburn students.

“I was impressed with them,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful thing to be here. Everyone has been so welcoming and engaged.”

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