the penguin man

his flip-flops squeak as he waddles down the hall. before he reaches the end of the hall, where our floor’s shared bathrooms are, he peers at the staircase and watches me trudge up the steps.
“hiya!” he exclaims. he pauses at the top of the steps. i smile politely.
“how are you?” he asks. i haven’t seen him since i moved into the apartment building, which was five months ago. i respond with a generic, “i’m good. how are you doing?” he ignores my question. instead he replies, “you work, right?”
i nod.
“what is it that you do, exactly? the landlord told me you were a counselor.”
i am shocked by his abruptness. i vaguely tell him that i’m not a counselor–i’m actually an americorps volunteer.
i ask him, “how about you, what is it that you do?” i am still a little stunned by his forwardness.
“have a good night!” he answers, and waddles over to the restrooms.
*
i need to be the one doing the questioning.

sleepless

when i first came here, the people seemed to have been drugged by the clouds in the sky. their eyes were heavy with weariness and their faces were pale and wrinkly, almost like rice paper.

i watched them from a distance and assured myself that my solar powered, cheerful attitude was a fixed trait of mine. it would endure the absence of sunshine, the crisp air of rain, and the yearning of family and friends who were miles away.

five months ago, my eyes would have drank the ‘harsh’ sunlight the same way that shorelines drink ocean water. five months have passed, and my eyes have begun to cringe at seattle’s filtered sunlight. 

i now too, look like rice paper. my sandy skin has hardened to a white clay that i’m not sure i can mold anymore. five months ago, i shaped sandcastles that resembled the palace i called ‘julie’. it could be anything i wanted it to be: a sea turtle, a mayan pyramid, a quetzal, an angel wing, a siberian tiger.

five months later, the sandcastle is only a pile of wet sand.

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.

salon musings

the hairdresser combs through my hair with long fingers,
diagnosing hair as dry as uncooked, squid ink pasta.
so, what would you like me to do today?
*
at my suggestion, the doctor blocks my reflection in the mirror
and tugs at her hair, smooth like arctic waters–
your hair is different than mine.
she mutters in a language i don’t understand, and says:
my hair is good for bobs, straight. your hair too curly. not good.
**
curly, wavy hair mimics water ripples and
brings breath to a still ocean
that the world covets with prayer because
stillness is peace, calm, manageable–

but fuck that bullshit.
peace is also life, life is breath–
with curly, wavy ripples crowning our heads
we are the ocean’s messengers
bringing the world breath.

guilt

you have appeared to me in many forms.
today you hide in winter-themed covered packages
and exhale murkiness when i untie holiday ribbon–
you follow me like flies on horse shit. old friend,
your shadow often backpacks alongside mine
whispering my wrongs, reminding me of what
i could not do, what i cannot do–and you bask
in my frustrations, insisting that i can still be
redeemed, i can still fix things, i can still be loved.
like a spell that catholics murmur in the hour of their death,
i ask you to leave me be–
now and forever.

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.

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.

our muddled selves

conducting her nightly ritual, she searched the full length mirror in her bedroom for tranquility. as expected, she saw the disarrayed bed behind her and her absence in the reflection. she had suspected for sometime now that she was perhaps one of those ghosts who didn’t know that they were one, which would explain why her reflection never appeared in the mirror. she would understand her her lack of memory, and the specific memories that haunted her in this afterlife would bewilder her: a last look of herself on her wedding day to an unknown partner, a moment in elementary school when she pooped in her dress during a test, and her little brother’s smile.

she walked up to the mirror, and with the wind of frustration she punched it. shards of glass jumbled on the floor and slit her hands and feet, thrilling them with the high of stings. feeling content with evidence of consciousness, because she believed that ghosts couldn’t feel, her figure began to emerge from a lost realm. but when she looked down at the rose-colored shards and didn’t see her face, only the white ceiling above her, she crushed the pieces and bloodied her feet even more.

unknowingly, her body began to fade away again, surrendering to a reality she fought her best to control.

radical beauty

her lips dry like peach slices
as sunlight deepens the complexity
of her skin. she strides in
crowded meat markets and in between
street vendors while laughing with
a belly as sound as the atlantic and
the earth awakens from its
media-drugged slumber because
its gravity can’t hold her down.
she caresses the imprints of
change on her body that no one knew
how to love, and her calloused hands
devoted themselves to loving her;
after fucking popular beauty
she was still happy not being one.