to (not) belong

they’ve asked me :
are you vietnamese?
are you arab?
indian?           siberian?          russian?
mexican? costa rican?

they’ve told me:
yeah, you look really latina                there

i don’t understand what they mean

Advertisements

the demons

in a room full of gabachos,
he says: good afternoon everyone,
my name is silvio marquez. he says his name
like water gliding on wet rocks,
with an accent as loud and beautiful as a river.

he begins his presentation, and the river
is quiet now; his estadounidense-born accent
refers to laws that he recites without a pause,
reminding gringos who haven’t done their homework
that the answer to their questions are in section 17.08-F.

at the end of his presentation,
i wonder if i could get his business card and i
think about how to get it:
should i only mention that his presentation was informative?
should i only mention that i am now considering this field of work?
should i only mention that as a latina, seeing latinxs with power
helps me envision having it, too?

in the midst of my planning un gringo me dice,
he’s so scary.
i look around the room.
silvio is so scary, he’s listing all these laws
and provisions and i have no clue…

i stop listening.

whether we are on the streets
or we work for the government
people of color are still demonized, criminalized–
we are still scary.

morning conversations

every morning, at the small square table
covered with a cream tablecloth that almost
grazes the floor, there is a disagreement.
sometimes it is about thrift stores, memories,
the taste of cinnamon, gun control–
but today, it is about tortillas.

did you know that some people put peanut butter in their tortillas?
my sister says, as she stares at the white woman on tv
eating a chicken wrap.

oh, yeah. i nod. i have a coworker who does that.
some people don’t even heat them up.

she frowns, and shakes her head.
ew. peanut butter and raw tortillas? weeeeird.

my brother leans back on his chair and replies,
maybe you’re the weird one.

what? i’ve been eating tortillas my whole life.

actually, my brother says, crossing his arms,
maybe that’s how they eat their tortillas, and
you were the one eating it wrong this whole time.
even my mom.

my sister rolls her eyes.
but it was my tortilla before it was theirs.

one

we can only respect our cultures
when they respect our women.
the rugged path they paved with womens’ bones
is lit by orbs that hold dreams they forced us to forget–
dreams in which limits only came from our fears
and not systemic cages and structural, inevitable dead ends
where men stand in the dark like vampires who use glamour
to feign trust and to illustrate humanity’s tenderness.
forced to walk barefoot on this path, the stones sting
like cigarette burns and pierce like
coerced body art at a tattoo parlor; right before
her tattoo session she screams that
she refuses to go down this aisle with that pale man
she’s run away from in her dreams
because in her dreams she awoke to a man’s
fate tattooed on her collarbone. she chants that
she is no one’s keeper, she is no one’s anything
but her own.

the u-district

goodwill, used bookstores, american apparel,
independent shops covered in arabian fabrics,
the scent of mellow, brooding coffee shops tangled
with vietnamese pho and ice-cream crepes
invite disheveled young adults to try-on
different identities. the young blonde with a
purple lip-stain wears white dirty bunny ears and smudges
silver eyeshadow in the church parking lot,
a broken toothed man sits cross legged on the sidewalk and
tells everyone who’ll lean in and listen:
let me give you a reading with these stones i brought
from egypt, free reading, tip what you please,
you may not remember karma but karma will
remember you. baby-faced teens wearing blue
velvet dresses and chunky combat boots smoke
cigarettes alone, staring absentmindedly
at the intersection before them. habitual gray clouds
carry inks that seep into the skins of residents
who live the lives of outcasts, a lifestyle they swear
they didn’t choose. like goods in a consignment shop,
they are stand-alone treasures, hoping someone
would find their distinctiveness.

my mestiza consciousness

i woke up this morning and there were so many thoughts slipping and hovering throughout the motions of my morning routine and i am inclined to untangle everything on paper. what you are about to read is an unedited stream of consciousness, an in-cohesive essay, a rambling. this is an extremely long read.

you have been warned.

now, let me start by describing the wallpaper on my computer (it relates, i promise). my wallpaper is a painting of a beautiful young latina who wears a red dress and sits on a mexican and united states flag. her gaze is fixed on something beyond the flags she lounges on, and an enormous aztec calendar rests behind her. i do not remember the painting’s title nor the artist’s name.

this painting evoked many thoughts, one of them concerning the dual identities that xican@s navigate today. the identities that i am referring to are that of the host country and that of the country of origin. for example, as a xicana, my dual identities are mexican and estadounidense. many xican@ scholars have described the plethora of identities that makeup the mexican culture and influence mexican identity, specifically indigenous identities. these scholars, and other xican@s, have affirmed their devotion to their indigenous identity that has been hidden and ignored by many before them. this identity is a current reality for many and an obscured ancestral memory for others; this trinity of identities, then, is what many xican@s are accepting and honoring as their own. this is a wonderful and much-needed aspect of the movement that has continued to expand and has lots of work to do throughout the states and latin america.

i want to briefly state that i understand the complications of trying to separate identities to make sense of them; all cultures intertwine and are influenced by each other, but i am hesitate to describe mexican identity as indigenous. the mexican culture does practice and preserve many aspects of its indigenous roots, and there are so many cultural variances and overlappings that exist within mexico that i cannot fully distinguish indigenous culture from mexican. however, i am describing indigenous identity as one that practices and bathes in its native languages, beliefs, cultures, and customs. of course, the extent to which one practices these aspects are relative, but i contend that there is a difference between indigenous and dominant culture in mexico, a dominant culture that has tried to hide and eradicate the existence of its indigenous roots and peoples throughout its history.

with that being said, there are many xican@s who feel a sense of responsibility to accept and pride themselves on their indigenous identity although they are disconnected from it. this sense of devotion to a once hidden and shamed element of their historical identity, of their ancestry, has sparked questions of identity for me. more specifically, who qualifies as ancestry? when will we also acknowledge the multitude of historical cultures and identities that have shaped our peoples today? i am thinking of the how ancestral blackness is not celebrated, nor asian, and other identities that xican@s may not practice today but have surely influenced our culture, like the indigenous identity. although it can be contended that the emphasis on indigenous identity is an overall attempt to empower native, mexican culture that was oppressed and diminished by colonialism, such thinking depicts indigenous culture as pure, untinged by other influences. it still does not insist on valuing and exploring other historical influences that may have enriched or added to mexican culture. my thoughts have also stemmed from the recent, cruel and horrific attitude of dominican leaders to ethnically cleanse the state. whose culture is worthy of acknowledgement and value in our own?

many may wonder: what is the point of knowing one’s ancestry, despite the need to soothe that curious craving to uncover one’s past? by understanding our pasts, we can better discern our identities that help us maneuver current societal conditions and institutions. in other words, the past defogs the answers to questions of why we look the way we do, why we speak the way we do, why we believe in the things we do, the foundation of which our families and communities have grown and lived in, and how all of this helps shape who we are today.

and, despite the abundance of racial diversity in latin america and the seemingly overwhelming denial of racism that xican@s say come with it, i am wary of the argument that latin america is ignorant of its racism. many xican@s have argued the latter, but i believe such thinking is another version of internalized colonialism. i am confident that latin american scholars have explored race relations in their country. i am confident that there are latin american scholars who have studied how racism manifests in latin america. now, whether xican@s have access to their findings, theories, and studies is another story: in general, the west is portrayed as the sole incubator of liberal thought when that is not the case. or, at least, i do not believe it to be so. whether or not these scholars have evoked social movements to move towards racial equality is yet another story, but even then i am sure there has been some type of work done. there has to have been.

these are incomplete thoughts, and i welcome more thoughts, complete or incomplete. i know i have much research to do: i plan to read more xican@ literature and investigate the work of others, especially those in latin america, who have delved deeper into this abyss.

*****notes*****:
**throughout this piece, i refer to xican@s as those of latin american descent who grew up in the united states, in general xican@s refer to those of mexican descent but i think this experience can be applied to those of other ethnicities.
**i refrain from saying “american” to describe united states residency because central america, south america, and latin america are all americas. estadounidense refers to being from the united states without designating the u.s. as a focal point in the americas.
**mexico has experienced mass migrations and influences from the aforementioned peoples i mentioned. i am sure there are many others that i did not mention as well.

exotic incantations

my accent carries familiarity and intrusion,
tinged with the folklore of aztec ruins
the conquista failed to bury with the relics
your imperialist nature insists you authenticate.
your mask of curiosity and fascination
hides the suppressed desire
to conquer realities blazing with possibility
and to discover the cultural gems we have preserved
by means of fidelity: the devotion to our pasts, our futures,
and our people. the uncovering of the jewels
we fought so hard to defend ignites
your self-led excursion to a realm we call home.
the frantic itch to find the remains of our past
embedded in our modernity troubles you–
to leave without newfound jewels from your
excavation suggests that our culture is lost and
unknown to us, when in fact, it is only
lost and unknown to you.