I am 15 years old and when my home is too full of rage for me to fit, I squeeze out of the cracked walls so I can meet up with my Black boyfriend in a park across my neighborhood.
This one time in the spring rain he told me he loved me and it felt like magic was real.
I step into a well maintained 1997 conversation van
Watch the conqueror dance across my Brown father’s lips
He turns the key in the ignition and looks at me with the kind of fear I don’t understand
His voice drips inside of my skull like honey or venom
“The world is harder when you’re with them”
I sit in silence because I know that wasn’t a question
and we are late for my dentist appointment anyway
So, I cling to the arm of every Brown lover.
When I’m alone I escape
Google: what is racism
Google: how to not be racist
Google: can Mexicans be racist?
I am 8 years old sitting upright in my bed
I pray to a White looking God that he will fix me.
I bargain with him for blue eyes that sit flush against my face
Hair that looks like the girls on TV
Just cut this big, ugly nose off of me, I don’t even need one
I will do anything
I just want to be normal.
At school, my friend Kaylee tells me that I can’t come to her birthday party because her mom says mutts
aren’t allowed in her house.
A week later there is a new girl in school who speaks Spanish
The teacher sits her next to me. I say hello and apologize with my smile for not knowing the right way to say her name
I understand we are not the same.
I am 22 years old and somewhat college educated.
I refuse to apply for any scholarship labeled “Latino” because they aren’t for me.
¡And on my life!
I’m not gong to be just another White girl who claims to be 1/16th Cherokee.
My social justice warrior friends and I all discuss our privileges and oppressions
We map them out in increasingly complex narratives
Lay them on the table like constellations
I learn about White guilt, White fragility
When my Brown father asks what I’m studying, he tries not to scoff.
He owns toilet paper with Barack Obama’s face on it.
He’s a Virgo.
In the summer, I transcend.
My skin never burns like my friends’
Instead, it glistens like predators’ eyes.
“Wow, you actually look Mexican! I hardly recognize this picture of you”
I am sitting at the kiosk in the mall where I work.
The wealthy White woman comes up to me and coos over my long dark hair
She grabs a handful for herself
Marvels, asks where I am really from.
So long as I annunciate clearly, correctly
Answer politely when they ask me
“What are you?”
So long as I remove all of that unsightly black hair that White women never have sprouting from their *******.
No one will ever see the teeth shaped scars on my tongue
I tell myself I am “protector”
I am 27 years old and living in the Whitest city in the universe.
My coworkers invite me to join the POC affinity group
POC means Person of Color
My POC-ness fits me like an expensive gift two sizes too large
Suddenly, I am alone on an island built of the correct pronunciation of Chorizo
But I’m vegan now so I buy the expensive soy kind from Trader Joe’s
On a dating app,
A Black man from somewhere else breaks the ice
“FINALLY! It’s so lovely to meet you. Really, it is just such a lovely thing to know you. Wow. Hello. I can never find POC around here!”
I explain to him I am an imposter.
He is a very sweet man, touches my cheek
“We are people of the sun, and we are beautiful”
I only remember this moment when I am too high.
Is this feeling guilt, or fragility?
After an exhausting holiday season,
I sit in front of my expensive laptop reading an email,
But in my mind I am in the heart of downtown LA in 1989
He must have run from the top of the tower of LA fitness on his last day of
Working for The Man in an impressive office
Making good money
Having something to show for himself
A flurry of gray suits and flying papers
Anything for a chance to meet The Greatest
When Muhammad Ali met my Brown father
And saw the photograph freshly removed from it’s frame
Of a young Black man sitting upon a jewel encrusted throne
Eyes fixed to the future somewhere
When he tells the story, he says that Ali smiled
Exhaled a chuckle
“Well, I’ll be dammed. Is that me?”
My Brown father keeps this treasure away somewhere safe
So he can look upon it
While he sits at home in his White neighborhood
With White carpet
That he will always walk on with his shoes.
I like to think he feels powerful, my Brown father,
When he sees a king that reminds him of himself.
Someone who learned how to channel all of his rage
And never lose his affinity for butterflies
The email reads:
I don’t remember if I have sent this to you. Regardless, you should save this interview. I know that Ali was the "Greatest", even though I didn't like everything he did or said. Much like John Lennon. Told it like it is, both of them! These two are iconic. I am extremely happy to have had these two in my life. I hope you enjoy
Attached, he includes a video of a television interview recorded in the year 1971.
“Why is everything White?”
“Do we go to heaven, too?”
I’m walking through my grandmother’s neighborhood deep in East LA.
A concrete safari
Where safety looks like pointy steel bars across every window.
This is the street my Brown father was caught playing with cherry bombs
And then beaten.
The rose bushes in the back yard have lived here for decades.
If they could eat, they would have been fed handmade tortillas up until the day they started to sell the pre-made ones in the store.
Grandpa, why do we call her Grandma Melon?
Because when I ask to kiss her, she says ‘Oh, honey do!’
It’s quite the crowd pleaser, everyone laughs because we came here to get along
But I like her real name so in my mind I call her Magdalena.
In this neighborhood, Tia Rita, Tia Lola, and Grandma like to go to bingo together
And get their hair done
And watch old westerns where the White man always saves the girl in the end.
Later we will go to Omana’s in Pomona where my cousin Jason swears that one day he found a human knuckle in his carnitas.
Half of us believe him, but we order another round anyways because we know it’s the best taqueria this side of the 10.
Just up the road is a building where young Brown men go to enlist
So they might escape neighborhoods with so many cracked walls.
My Brown father was sent to Texas
Looked White men straight in their red, swollen faces
“You ain’t White, you ain’t right boy”
But that was a long time ago.
After lunch, he reminds me why he left this place
“The traffic is *******, the noise”
Besides, nothing quells violence inside of us quite like the trees and rivers back home.
But, Dad, I am White, right?
When I see my White mother my heart swells with love.
Who taught her to laugh like that?
With all of her teeth and joy
She wishes she knew how to give me a quinceanera
or what to do with my unruly hair.
Neither of us know, really, so every Christmas she buys me something to burn my hair into submission.
I stopped using them a few years ago, now
But they have a forever home in the back of my linen closet
Just in case
When my Brown father tells me he sees a goodness in her
I taste each homemade birthday cake
In my Brown father’s mind he is “protector”
After all, what more could he have given me than an easier life?
It’s Sunday morning in the year 2002.
Dad made us eggs and hot dogs and perfect toast
Our house is always filled with music
When no-one is around to see
He will sit in his chair
Listen to John Lennon
He will tell me that no man is perfect
But that all you need is love
It always makes me laugh
I see my father in everyone.