Poetry On Odyssey: When You're Latinx And Suck At Spanish
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Politics and Activism

Poetry On Odyssey: When You're Latinx And Suck At Spanish

A poem on being torn between my Mexican and American identities.

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Poetry On Odyssey: When You're Latinx And Suck At Spanish
Nana Kwaku Addo Adjedu

My mother’s hands are the coffee grounds my father used to French Press

at 3 in the morning

and like clockwork

i would tiptoe down the burgundy velvet stairs and

across the bamboo floors and into his office

before the ivory, Almond Joy creamer could spill into its ebony depths

and turn everything the same color of my own skin


Tan, but not tan enough

Light, but not light enough

I am the sound of my white father speaking Spanish

The lull of his American accent as

Queso becomes Qaiso

and every rolled r ends up with spit flying on my face

But at least it’s something


Sometimes, I worry that my father’s skin will bleach the Mexican out of me

Pull all of the memories of my abuelos and I celebrating Christmas Eve with

our ivory plates heaping with homemade bacalao

as Spanish love songs swirl through the air

That I will stop being Esabella and start only being Isabella

Because for so long, that was supposed to be a good thing.


By the time I was 18

My parents had not taught me a word of Spanish

My closet was the stereotype:

All Forever 21, all Urban Outfitters, all

rich white girl from America

My dad said I looked like I could be from anywhere

Said it was a good thing

Like my veins became sewer systems the moment

My Mexican blood rose to the surface

And colored my cheeks


At my last family gathering, I sat on the couch like a specimen

My abuelos and primos and tios and tias from Mexico

All glancing at me

Talking about me

They say hi but I cannot say anything back

I am the Mexican American woman without a tongue

Robbed of free speech

I am the outsider in my own family


When I go to the country club with my paternal grandparents

I am the only person of color who isn’t a worker

Everyone else is the color of the overpriced ivory cardstock

I see every time I buy an envelope at CVS to ship

My abuelos pictures of me in college as a way of saying


I’m doing it.

I am succeeding at college.

I have a future.

Every smiling picture with friends is

A confirmation, a reminder that I’m doing it right

That the money they put into my college fund wasn’t a mistake

That I’m going to go somewhere in life

That I am going to run head first into the American Dream

but I don’t know how to tell them that our economy is no longer

bubble-wrapped in stars and stripes

It doesn’t matter if you work hard

It’s just luck at this point

It’s just luck


So is it any wonder my father trained me to be a white girl

That my mother never taught me Spanish

That I was raised being taught to

Be foreign enough to be interesting

But not too foreign

No, that makes people uncomfortable like

I’m sorry the Mexican War was just us taking your land and fucking you over.

like

Oh, honey, I didn’t mean you when I called those immigrants criminals. You’re different. It’s a good thing.

like

Latin culture is so sexist anyways. Why would you want to be a part of that?

like

How many times can you insult my identity and think

Calling me different will make me not one of them

Because I am one of them

I will always be one of us


“How come nobody says that papers do not determine humanity? *

How come nobody talks about how hard it is to cross that border

How it takes weeks

How getting citizenship takes years

How I don’t know any immigrant who doesn’t work ten hours a day

Doing the jobs white America thinks they’re too good for

How come nobody tells the stories about people like

My abuelos who came to the US in the 60s with $100 dollars in their pocket

Putting my mother to bed in a worn out suitcase

Hoping for a better life


How come my mother forgets the cost of that “better life”

Forgets that all the nights she spent alone

My abuelos were working 20 hour shifts in the tunnels beneath the ground

How come she doesn’t think about what it’s like

To have to choose between having money on the table

Or raising your kids right


My Abuela is a businesswoman

All logic and cold gaze

I remember when my dog’s uterus was bursting with pus

My mom asked my Abuela to cover the cost of surgery

And when my mom told her it was $1000

She said that my dog wasn’t worth that much

But that she’d pay for euthanasia

She didn’t start earning $200,000 a year because she’s lucky

But because she worked every single day for the past 56 years

And it worked out

This was never her ideal path

The ideal way

so when my abuela taught my mother to value her beauty

To find her worth in men

It was not because she didn’t want my mother to be strong

It was because she didn’t want her to have to be

Strong. Fearless. Invulnerable.

just to survive


My mother’s spine is stitched out of butterfly wings

Her heartbeat the sound of summer rain

Her confidence a foreclosed vacation home

Asking my mother to be strong is like asking her

To break up with her boyfriend every time he cheats on her:

She says she’ll do it

But she always ends up with a gift bag of wine outside his place

Apologizing for having caught him


This is the pain of the Latin woman

We are too strong or too weak

We are either at the top of the food chain or the bottom.

There is no middle line for the Latin woman

Not when America demands us to be breadwinners

But our traditions demand us to be mothers

There is no winning in having to raise some white woman’s child

While your own is at home.

There is no winning in having to work in hazardous conditions for

less than minimum wage because you can’t get a goddamn passport.

There is no winning in any of this

But you do it for your children

Your families


As mine did for me

And while I am grateful

I wish my family could stop white washing my skin

To try and shield me:


I am not ashamed that my blood descends

From a small ranch cradled in the emerald mountains

I am not ashamed that my Abuela’s education ended at sixth grade

I am not ashamed that I am Mexican American.

I am only ashamed that no one ever taught me how to be.


* Much thanks to Ruben(:


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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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