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An Interview with BGPS Winner Aaliyah Fafanto!

Updated: Mar 20

 Tell us a little about you! How old are you and where are you from? What’s a fun fact about your hometown?

My name is Aaliyah Fafanto, I've been on this planet for 25 years and I am from Las Vegas, Nevada. I would say a fact about where I'm from is that Las Vegas is known for being the Mississippi of the West because of its long history of oppression and segregation. Most folx see Las Vegas in this city life lens where you can be free but really, as a history buff, we have a dark history that shouldn't be overlooked. 


Your winning poem “Black and What? Black Enough” talks about your experiences of not being perceived as black enough by the community. How have these experiences shaped your life? Did you feel connected to Black culture as a kid?

Growing up and even now reflecting on my childhood, it is nostalgic hearing other Black folx talk about their childhoods because we've all lived the same experience! From the Black mom sayings to the shows, to the blanket patterns, etc. I've never felt NOT Black. However, I am aware I am very racially ambiguous and my features don't scream my ancestry is Black. However, being Black is cultural, it's ancestral, and it's truly within you. So I never strived too hard to prove my Blackness despite people's questions and criticisms because I know who I am and what I am.


I’ve seen you perform on multiple occasions, and you’ve performed pieces about your complicated relationships with your parents. Where do you get the courage to discuss something so raw and personal?

I perform poetry about my relationship with my parents because honestly, I am not able to tell it to their face. It is like my secret escape. I know my dad can't see me perform locally and I know my mom wouldn't come, so I get to talk shit! It's secretly, though, in a way because again, despite how I feel about them, I never want to hurt their feelings as they've done to mine. My poems about them act as therapy for me. Things I wish they would/could hear but words I wouldn't ever speak in their presence.


If I’m not mistaken, you are also a teacher? What has that experience been like for you? Especially in Southern Nevada where the lack of education support is a huge, ongoing problem.

Being an educator has shaped me into the person I am now. I've learned more from my students than I believe I taught them. Things like empathy, understanding, and just challenging me, someone who lives very Black or white, to acknowledge the gray area! It also has shaped my artistry and transformed it into advocacy. Children have a voice that should be heard but systems of racism, ageism, and other -isms are in place to where they are not heard. I am very blessed with my teaching experience and now know how to advocate for our future (children) outside of the classroom.


You’ve been VERY outspoken about the local art community here in Vegas. What are some ways you believe the art community can improve and continue to grow?

Haha, my inbox was blowing UP after my latest remarks. But again, I think it's because I'm bold! I say what folx think! I ask that if we are referred to as a "community" that we act like one. That forces people to reflect on THEMSELVES and their role. Are they showing up for other artists' events? Are they holding space for all artists? Are they looking out for people who show up for them or are they just doing things for their own ego? Art is a mirror, period. It reflects onto you what you put out. So, if any of my comments rubbed folx the wrong way, look at yourself. 

What is your best technique for memorizing poems?

 I wish I had an answer to this because I have yet to do this lol I only have one poem memorized from my poetry album "Leo Moon" titled "Weekday Blues" because it was on a beat and all of my poems rhyme. I've learned while producing and curating that album that the line between rap and poetry is ULTRA THIN. So, the music helped me rap it rather than recite it. I choose not to memorize my poems though, intentionally, because I don't like to memorize my trauma. I'd like to let it leave my lips, body, mind, and soul. Memorizing is good for performative purposes, but I don't seek to entertain; I seek to heal.


 Your poetry album Leo Moon was released last year, which I loved by the way. Tell readers about Leo Moon and why you think it belongs on their playlist.

 First, thank you so much for listening, streaming, and always being able to show up and show love! I must give credit where it's due and you exemplify what community looks like. I hope it is reciprocated on my end with such a dope blog! Leo Moon was my anger anthology. I was told during one performance that I didn't have any "happy" poems and I sat on that for a while. Then I realized, well shit, trauma isn't happy! I have been through a lot and I choose to showcase that. Can I do a love poem? Yes. However, that hasn't been a constant experience to me like pain and anger have. Leo Moon is me getting all of my shit out so that I can be free from the things that anger me. It is playlist, download, and stream-worthy because if you can relate to anything I've been through, you'd know that the journey is a journey, and healing is a constant effort.

What has your experience been like working with us and the Black Girl Poetry Scrapbook?

Easy. And I can't thank you enough. From you reaching out about submission, to actually submitting it, getting chosen to be published, and then voting, it's been a breeze! I love love LOVE that this is curated for Black girls/gender-expansive folx and by Black women! It is so community-centered and leans on local art, which there is a ton of! Excellent work, truly, and I look forward to future ones!

The poetry community never sleeps! Tell us what you’ve got going on right now or coming up!

Right now, I am shifting gears and am in my film bag after successfully launching my poetry video "Who's Protecting Black Girls?." From that, I am curating, producing, and filming a documentary that honors Black women's journeys through life to act as guidance to younger Black children titled "Black Butterflies." I look forward to sharing that with my community this upcoming April! 

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