Hungry men seem to like the way my name flows, so they ask from where it grows. They like the way my hair locks together and hangs past my shoulders, crusted with metal and stones. They always ask me, “Where are you from?” “I’m from here.” “No, I mean where is your family from?”
If I told them that my ancestors used to pick tobacco for cents a day under the blistering rays of the Caribbean sun or that they would stomp grapes barefooted in Autumn and would laugh at their purpled legs, do you think then they’d know where I was from?
Where I’m from, my grandmother would make spicy beans and rice and would get so drunk that she’d leave them on the stove ‘til they fried. She would chase me with a chancla until I hid in the bathroom, then she sloshed to the buzzing sound of novellas ’til dawn.
Where I’m from, young girls sported Couch and Louis Vuitton purses, wealth seeping through their skin like their shiny straight hair. I looked on with envy, sewing together jean shorts to make a handbag, flattening my curls with heat, yearning for approval. “Is this what beauty looks like?”
Where I’m from, my sister and I didn’t know what gods our ancestors would pray to or what holidays they would celebrate, so we behaved to satisfy Santa, Bill O’Reilly and white Jesus. My father urged us to forget our native tongues ‘cause there was no benefit to being trilingual or knowing who Ra or Yemaya where we grew up.
Where I’m from, the master bedroom stayed locked on Saturdays and cigarette smoke oozed from beneath the door long past noon. That sludge always vanished before Sunday service, though, when my father’s smile was the morning star over coffee and donuts.
At family gatherings, my blue-eyed cousins would taunt me for my frizzy curls, big lips and my roman nose. Apparently, a tan-skinned child from a white mother wasn’t “exotic” in the nineties. I remember the night “Nigger lover” blasted through our answering machine. I never called that man uncle again.
Where I’m from, culture battles were waged on the holidays. Fish and panettone versus chile rellenos. The booming of merengue versus talking with the hands. Jug wine and fist fights versus Corona and dancing. The sound of breaking glass and breaking English, even tie.
Holding my father’s hand, I treaded carefully across the bridge between those beautiful islands. The wood would bend with faith beneath our feet for years until that architect crumbled under the weight of illness. Now, while I stay treading water, I say, “My family is from a world you haven’t the stomach for.”
March 7 2016