Four Poems on Latinidad by Anthony Orozco

“Encantado”

An ode to Boricuas, who showed up en masse to the first Puerto Rican festival in Reading, Pa, in over a decade. The city’s first Latino mayor was freshly elected, the aftermath of Maria is behind them, and they continue to grapple with the perception of being not “real Americans.”

“mano a mano”

A call for unity, advocacy, and pride among Latinos. It honors the massive contributions and hidden hardships of our people. The poem momentarily erases our cultural, national, and class barriers to connect us as one.

“Conquest”

Written and performed with the oral tradition in mind, it is a vulnerable and visceral defense of mixed-race, mixed-culture people. When people try to control what Latinidad means or looks like, though they do not know the multi-cultural and sordid past of Latin America, this poem is used to refute claims of “not being Latino” enough.

“Land of the Cinder Block”

Also written and performed with the oral tradition in mind, this piece is an ode to my father’s homeland of Chihuahua, Mexico. It examines the state’s dual nature of being equally beautiful and perilous, of being sacred and frightening.

Encantado

Chrome covered jeeps
crotch rocket motorcycles
and a thousand Boricua on foot
make the city echo
with a WEPA!
with Hector LaVoe and Bad Bunny
beautiful black people of all colors
in bandanas, banderas,
dark skin wrapped
in white linen
carried here like Jesus
en los brazos de Maria
a people risen off of a cross
100 miles long by 35 miles wide,
Manati a Ponce
Rincon a Fajardo
,
they are a land mass
they are the tangled wilderness
of El Yunque
the orderly chaos
of Nueba Yor
displaced to this place
their flags cut through the air
the way volcanic rock
swiftly cuts through waves
the way waves
slowly cut through stone
give and take
home and away
daughters of the ocean
husbands of the wind
warriors, dancers, musicians and poets
nine million cousins
bastard sons of Uncle Sam
patriots and foreigners
red, white and blue.

mano a mano

You and I, our hands
are very much the same.
their shape, color and scars
may be different,
but we carry the same things
in our hands

When your fingers interlace
with those of another dancer,
when you wield
the much feared chancla,
when you slam down the winning domino,
your hands will be my hands.

When you ring the bell on the
ice cream cart you push up Penn Street.
When your make the chimi that
fills the air of Franklin Street,
your hands will be my hands.

When people want you to stop waving
foreign flags with pride
but they’ve told you so many times
to go back to your country
even though you were born here,
your hands will be my hands.

When you build your home,
build your business,
build this country
from the ground up,
your hands will be my hands.

When you are too brown,
your accent too thick,
when you don’t have your papers,
when you are shackled and caged,
your hands will be my hands.

When you resettle here
and bring island within you,
not just your salsa and sancocho,
but the feeling you will have to
survive the storm on your own,
your hands will be my hands.

When the thousands of your dead
go uncounted,
because in some people’s eyes
you never counted
except for the hours you picked their mushrooms
cleaned their homes,
cooked their food
and raised their children,
your hands will be my hands. 

When you fall,
I will reach down to pull you up,
dust you off and shake your hand
with dignity and respect,
then, I will place my hand on your back
to push you forward.

And when you cast your first vote as a citizen,
when you touch your ancestors through window of tradition,
when you fight
    for what you believe in,
when you fight
    for yourself,
when you fight
    for someone weaker than you,
            what an honor it is
                for your hands
                    to also be mine.

Conquest

(or When I Am Told I Am Not ‘Mexican’ Enough)

If I am being honest,
I thought by this time
I would be callous.
Thought I had seen the end
of this tight-rope balance
high on the hyphen
between words I accept
but ultimately challenge. 

In only a few years
I forgot that despicable talent,
hiding either being either too tinted or too pallid,
to plead for validation
from birds of prey who say they mean no malice
though they peck
at my self-respect
to see what they can scavenge.
But, see, sometimes
I have to shake a vulture’s hand
to feel their talons. 

And all those buzzards need to know about my parents
is that she taught me to dance to the rain
and he taught me to fear no man
and they both drew constellations in the sky,
celestial pictographs revealing to me
    that I have always been
    what I truly am
    for an eternity before
    I ever even was
    of bones skin eyes and sinew.
    And I continue,
    no matter how uncomfortable that may make you
    as you nitpick our differences
    rather than recognize their significance.

I and legion of others
    through mere existence
    bridge incredible distances
    between cultures and time,
    between what is taboo
    and what will become the norm.

Excuse my breaking of decorum,
but can you devilish pheasants
feel the approaching storm?
In unique form,
I refuse to be examined
through your closed mind’s
locked little keyhole,
to be seen as anything less than equal
to my own people:

I am the son of a serpent-eating eagle
and you have turned as plain as paper cranes,
flapping away your complexity,
unfolding into a blank sheet that bears no inscription.

Though this is scripted,
I have never acted
but if you want to call “Action!”
I can react physical and mental
replay back to eons ago
when chieftains would so
sacrifice you peons and go
“Apocalypto,”

back to when Mexica and Taino
could smell European sailors’ stench
before they cast their cast iron anchors
into tropical trench,
drenched
in sweat and fever,
scabs and shivers,
floating on Portuguese money
and Spanish timber,
looking for spices,
heeding to vices
and being manic for silver,
sicker than slaves owned
by their own family members.

But I figure,
why bicker
when you consider
the only way I can remember
my roots is to choose
the proper liquor to damage my liver.

You thieving belittler, you failed conquistador,
    trying to steal parts of my identity
    like Christians ripping the jade out of the mouths of Mayans.
    Insidious insides cannot hide behind feigned kindness.
    So go ahead, compare our brownness,
    though you may look like a Toltec
    you couldn’t tell me the first thing about them.
    So easy for you to forget
    that we are both the descendants of native women
    raped by the thousands
    of brutes in pursuit of youth
    sprouting from the ground like a fountain.

Tribalism like your own has conquered countless
and there is only so much intelligence to go around but
ignorance has been proven to be boundless.
Especially in those who have questioned my race lately
even after explicitly stated,
mistaken or out of date maybe
because I’ve had mestizo blood
pumping my percussion since the late ‘80s
when in the place that she raised me,
it was still crazy to see a white lady
with two interracial babies
so maybe you can save me the
“Yeah-but-what-color-is-your-mom?” test.

My ethnicity isn’t a contest
to please a backward mindset
that has neither the insight nor historical context
to even understand what I mean when I say
Que soy de la Raza Cósmica,
cargado con una fuerza atómica
.”
Take note of the phenomena
which you can be a part of
if you open your heart up.

We are both mutts
yet, you discount me by counting my spots.
But your color cannot conceal your transparency.
Day of the Dead craniums are picked clean of their rot.
So, I guess you vultures ultimately do come in handy.
But I do not pluck the petals painted on the skulls of my family
asking if my brothers love me or love me not, because candidly,
I will love you regardless whether or not you can’t stand or understand me.

Land of the Cinder Block

Last time I checked,
the Department of State said
I should have hesitations about
the nation where I vacation,
the land south of the Rio Grande. 

They suggest I cancel reservations
I tell them no mames.
It’s been two years since grandma has seen my face.
I don’t care if there aren’t any beaches there
and certainly no all-inclusive resorts
dry and dangerous land is useless for tourists.

It’s the land where they call you carnal
when you need them as much as they need you
the land that cannot be contained
by a border, by insults, by a wall or a fence.
they call you carnal when nothing can come between you.

The irony of a hot pepper
is its spice is its natural defense
and also the reason we eat it.
Sometimes what repels us is the
same thing that calls us to repeat them.

It’s the land where we pair pleasure with a little pain
A squeeze of lime over everything
including open wounds and the chile on our fruit
and it’s hot in the land of the cinder block,
there’s no AC, no seatbelts and the fender’s popped,
and there’s rebar in these streets hard
and reefer is popular but watch your words
because foreigners are turned into stock
that’s why I got my pesos in my wallet
and my dollars in my socks.

Land where narcos’ belts and boots glisten,
land of astutely listening to abuela pray in a maroon kitchen,
land of La Revolución but the institution’s got 43 students missing.
land of working two jobs six days a week,
of grilled onions, tortillas and meat
elote y aguacate y botes de Tecate
primos con piel el color de chocolate,
indios
Rarámuri en su traje típico
where rain is welcomed and mountains are mystical,
where in grasshoppers broadcast
the most unearthly desert sunsets.
Land of machine gun policemen
standing in a truck bed.

Peril juts out of Chihuahua
like the blades of an agave.
But there is something hard-earned
and intoxicating hidden in its core.
Something that burns like tequila.
Something that soothes
like aloe in its leaves,
a blessing and kiss on the forehead before you leave.

But please,
just remember to mind the thorns
they are not there for decoration
they are there to protect itself
from the things born
in the nation where I vacation.  

Anthony Orozco

Anthony Orozco is a Mexican-American journalist, poet and performer who hails from Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently resides in Reading, Pennsylvania. In his poetry, Anthony connects with his indigenous ancestor, bi-cultural identity and greater Latino community.

Featured image: Photograph of Anthony Orozco by Mateo Toro.

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