not misnamed

I use to wonder
if I should have been named
something that reminds me of the nopales I eat every morning,
sautéed with tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and chile.
A name with the smoky scent of tortillas I flip
on the comal. A name that illustrates the Mexican sun
breathing life into the Sonoran desert and
small, purple cactus flowers.

My name is Julie
Julie because my parents heard it on television
once and thought it was prettier
than cactus flowers. You see, my skin,
as deep as L.A. sands,
and my hair, as dark as burned corn husks,
confuse people.

I introduce myself,
and strangers say “Nice to meet you, Julia.”
I tell them that it’s only Julie
and they apologize. They say
they thought they heard me say Julia.

I think they heard Julia because
they think I don’t look like a Julie.

spanish girls

in midwestern diners, they order horchata, frijoles, y arroz
and squeeze their watermelon hips on red, plastic stools
while waiters savor their flavorful accents
dripping of rumored mojitos, tequila, y piña colada.

onlookers whisper, they’re spanish girls
and listen to the humming of tenochtitlan in their voices.
where are you ladies from? waiters ask, and
they don’t say spain.

old palm tree leaves, tangy cocktails, juanas y marias
la rojigualda

brand their faces, despite the taste of
other earths on their tongues, spurting with everything
but the lives of spanish girls.

a little surprise

on stop signs, underneath the word “STOP”, there are black and white bumper stickers that say “GENTRIFICATION”. the stickers appeared shortly after the small, plaster-colored RVs, the young pale men with long, scruffy beards, and the white women with ray-ban sunglasses and birkenstocks arrived. they often ride colorful cruiser bikes and loosely lock them outside of small shops that sell paintings, antiques, books, and other latin american goods. our guests don’t seem to notice the stares of middle-aged hispanic men sitting on brightly graffitied benches—instead, they talk amongst themselves and take pictures of murals that depict la virgen de guadalupe and skeletons dancing with sombreros on their skulls, some wearing pink folklorico dresses.

there are more mariachi groups playing on saturdays in our community’s outdoor rotunda, which at one point was empty for months, the inside of it used by the homeless as a spacious bed. the discolored white, almost yellow rotunda seems more beautiful and lively now. the upbeat mariachi songs and the augment in attendees wearing large canon cameras around their necks seemed to have illuminated the once ignored rotunda. sometimes, outside the rotunda, there are now street vendors selling apparently self-beaded rosaries and self-weaved, vibrant satchels that feature a little house, fish, tribal designs, or mayan hieroglyphics, among other goods they deem handmade.

there was also a flyer that encouraged people who wanted to live in downtown L.A., the supposed heart of Los Angeles, to look for residency in our community—we are close by, have a rich latin culture, and have inexpensive living costs compared to downtown’s. when we heard the obnoxiously loud machinery of construction taking place, we had assumed low-cost apartments were being built, which usually happens, instead of the chic lofts that now tower over our homes.

i don’t think many of us can afford live in the lovely lofts others would lust after. i’m afraid the cost of living will go up and that our community will no longer be ours, but will instead belong to our visitors. the memories of our streets, our shops, our neighbors, and our childhoods would only be persevered in photographs, the possibility of coming back to relive them, gone.

magic of the borderlands

our skin is blessed by the sun; our eyes are dark, like roasted almonds; our lips are thick and pink, like grapefruit; our hair looks as dark as baked cacao beans. we look like this sometimes.

other times, the sun irritates our faces; our eyes mirror blue rain drops; our lips are small like new-born peaches; our hair a deep yellow, like a broom’s straw. we look like this sometimes, too.

some of us are descendants of la malinche, oshun, george washington, and gasper yanga. their stories pulse in our hearts, their past pumps the blood that fuels our existence. they are the creators of the magic that drips in our sweat and exhales in our breaths. they are the conductors of our immobility and our mobility, our exclusion and our inclusion. our founders have trapped us. they have also freed us.

we are those who left our beautiful mother. we have different mothers. some of her names are guatemala, cuba, méxico, and el salvador. we are also those who were born in the u.s. but whose parents never let us forget their mother. we also have different grandmothers: honduras, colombia, dominican republic, nicaragua—just to name a few. when we left, our mother understood. when we were born, our grandmother understood. we promised that we would carry all of our memories of them in our hearts, in our hands, in our stomachs. as a going away gift, our mother, our grandmother, gave us magic. a magic to help us remember them and their beauty. a magic to help us remember ourselves.

we are stuck between cultures, between nations, between people. sometimes, our mother or grandmother does not remembers us. sometimes, those who live with her tell her that we are not hers. they don’t remember our names, even though we share the same cousin. they don’t understand our accent although we speak the same language. they don’t understand our jokes or thoughts. we are only the children of the u.s. now. we bare only their magic now.

we can also move between cultures, between nations, between people. sometimes, when our mother or grandmother does remember us, we throw big parties. she makes us home-cooked meals and we all sing songs about our ancestors. we dance to her heartbeat—sometimes she demands a fast-paced, rapid rhythm, other times she requests a slow rhythm to calm us down. at the end, she blesses us, murmuring our names. reinstalling her magic.

we like having two mothers. we don’t like having two mothers. it can be hard to handle three mothers (some of us have more than two. imagine having more than three? our mothers get jealous. which of them do we love the most? which mother loves us the most?).

some of our mothers and grandmothers have abandoned us. the u.s. doesn’t want us. neither does our other mothers and grandmothers. they don’t remember the magic they created inside us. they don’t recognize us. we don’t look like her children. they say we’ve changed too much. we don’t eat like them, we don’t speak like them. we’ve included new things at their parties. some of us have stopped believing in her magic, and this upsets our mothers and grandmothers. they disown us. they no longer love us.

we are left in-between them, in-between mothers and grandmothers. we wait for one to open their arms to us, to hug us. the wait has been long. many of us who are here in-between created a different magic. one recognized only by us, by we who have been rejected by all of our mothers.

the alchemy of our magic is still working. it is still breathing, still singing, still dancing. one day, we hope that our magic and the magic of our ancestors can become one.