No Hablo Español
-Alice Janell, 2017
You only spoke to me in English
Insisting I annunciate clearly
Like white marble freshly mopped
And now that I’m older
You bitch and you moan
Porque no hablas mas español, mijita?
Porque you taught me to ignore my blood
To refuse the accent and refuse the motherland
And the rhythms that are genetically
And inherently mine to possess
You try to deny me
By calling me names
Like gringa and white puppy.
You tell me again and again
That I am not Latina
Because I like to eat broccoli
More than habichuelas
Conveniently forgetting that I love
to eat quenepas, perníl, pasteles y alcapurrias
con malta india frescesita
But because I can cook a meal
That does not center around arroz y papas,
I am not Latina
White puppy, you say
As if it’s my fault I a grew up in America
When it was you who left the island.
White puppy, you call me
As if it’s my fault I speak more English than Spanish
When it was you who insisted that I speak “Americana”
White puppy. White Puppy. White Puppy.
You think you’re so fucking clever
But you’re not and that shit hurts
Every time you say it.
Fuck. You gave me a white girl name
Because “Alicia” was too foreign
But I am the one denying my heritage, right?
Pero te olvidas that it was you who denied me my blood
Because you feared I would not fit in
Because we lived in Kentoqui
And not in Cayey.
And if I dared
To listen to the sounds of the coqui
Calling me home
To taste the salt in the air
Of the ocean around my island
To feel the ancestors
Stirring my blood
Calling me home
Calling me back
Blood calling to blood —
Y yo se que I know more about the Taino
Than you even pretend to know
And what do you know?
Que fueron Indios?
Y que mas?
I am the one who knows the names of los cemis
Who prays to Atabey
And lights candles to Coatrisquie
I am the one who honors the ancestors
But I’m not speaking Spanish
So I am still failing
So let’s try this again,
pero en español this time.
You are still calling me that,
Even as I dare to be Latina.
If I tried to practice my Spanish
You laughed in my face
“Jaja, que gringa!”
You sound like such a white a girl!
Well isn’t that what you wanted?
So glad my confusion
So glad I can entertain you
But oh, how that amusement
Quickly turns to shame
When we’re back on the island
And you want to show off to family
Que tu niña fue a colegio
Y fui la primera en la familia
And oh how they fawn over me and my degree
And their words wash over me like waves
But faster and faster I’m pulled out to sea
Caught in a riptide
of rapid fire Spanish
too many questions
too many words
too many familiar sounds
That make no sense
Because you did not teach me.
They don’t stop talking
until they see
the deer in headlights look
“No hables español?”
They ask and I am not a deer
but a sheep
and I shake my head
Because for all that I went to school
And for all that I am the first to go to college
I cannot speak with my people.
“Lo intendio mas que lo hablo,”
Because I was allowed to listen to my language
But not allowed to speak it
And I hear their silent tsk tsk tsk
And suddenly my degree means shit
Because if I cannot speak Spanish
I am just another white girl with a degree
And that’s nothing to write home about.
I shrink back and disappear
And the conversation turns
To my primos who are doing well for themselves
And they do speak Spanish
So we can talk about them with pride
Instead of pity
And I fall into my thoughts,
Wondering how to be Latina
Struggling to reclaim
An identity you denied me at birth.
And is it any wonder that I married a gringo?
Because though you made me too white for my people
I was not white enough for his
And it was he who recognized the fire
Who saw the Latina
Where you only saw a white girl.
Now I am grown and trying to claw my way back
Back to the island
Back to my people
No, not the ones who don’t accept me, no
I mean the ones long gone
The ones that whisper in my dreams
And tell me that yes, I am their daughter
And yes, my blood is their blood
And yes, I am Latina
And fuck what I look like
And fuck what I sound like
Because at the end of the day,
Whether I speak Spanish or not,
YO SOY LATINA
And you cannot take that from me.
-(c) Alice Janell, 2017