I am brown,
product of a couple who spent their honeymoon swimming across a river to reach this promise land,
only to find themselves drowning in a language so different from their own.
I am American,
one who lived five years on American soil before learning her first word of English
only to then forget how to dream in her mother tongue.
I come from a home where English was always left outside the door, next to my winter boots.
where I watched Cristina instead of Oprah
where my father pretends not to know English because he’s been made to feel
ashamed of his “accent”
where the skillet had a permanent place on the stove for the tortillas
where my childhood friends got pregnant by age fifteen and found kinship in the
streets instead of their own homes
where Christmas Eve was a bigger deal than Christmas day
where my mother had to stop taking English classes because they became too
expensive after my father lost his job
My admission counselor drew me in under the illusion that she had survived Davidson
as an inner-city brown body seeking acceptance into higher academia.
Her best piece of advice was not to come to Davidson expecting to find home.
I, too, would be disappointed, she said.
She was right.
I have not found home.
I live my days at Davidson in constant translation,
switching tongues like outfits.
hearing my name pronounced different ways,
one pronounced like my grandmother
the other like the first grade teacher who never thought to ask if she was saying it
I thought my headaches were because of the schoolwork,
I realize now they’re related to the stress of my melanin,
of the constant need to be the bridge that teaches you about people like me.
I swim in a pool of self-directed anger
for finding myself afraid of being seen only with my brown friends
because then you’ll have an excuse to label me “self-segregated”
for finding myself afraid to call out the guy in blue shorts I saw the other day,
the one walking around in a sombrero and carrying a piñata.
who cares if it was only for big/little week?
does he realize my culture is more than Cinco-de-Drinko events?
does he know that looking away when I made eye contact doesn’t erase
my memory of his cultural appropriation?
does he even care?
I am here feeling like your linguistic threat.
I am here working as an AT, teaching my mother tongue to people looking to build their resumes
while my mother learns English simply to be treated like a human being
I am here perfecting the mother tongue I was ashamed of speaking in the fourth grade.
I am here buying books off Amazon to teach myself the history of my people,
to properly correct you when you call me Mexican before American
I am here not to make white ears comfortable,
but to navigate my body in this white sea we call Davidson
My parents do not speak of that honeymoon thirty three years ago.
My mother tells me I will never truly understand the value of an American passport,
because I’ve never gone without.
My father never taught me to swim,
perhaps because he never wanted me to know
what it felt like to cross the Rio Grande in search of a dream.