I Learned All My Spanish in School

By E.K. Keith

I never tried to pass for White
but I have been passed
because it's good to be White in America
and Mother knows best
to give a not-quite-white baby
White names that don't explain
such dark eyes and such tight curls
My name never stopped mean girls hissing
gringa cola prieta and guera and taco
brown on the inside
and not-quite-white on the outside

You would not believe how White people talk
about Other people when they think you're White
How it's more polite to say Spanish
instead of Mexican
and the subtle shift in tone
when your Mexican is discovered
your tortillas uncovered
I never tried to pass for White
but I have been passed
because White people who like me
want to give me the benefit of the doubt
and let me tell you, sister
There's nothing like White Privilege
and my mother knew it
So when people would ask
"Are you Italian or Greek?"
she would laugh and say
"Good guess!"
It is so disappointing
such dark eyes and such tight curls
fail to fit in
not White, not Mexican

I have been passed
I identify as White Trash
My mother is Mexican
but her family doesn't mind
porque no hay indios in la familia
And since I learned all my Spanish in school
it was years before I understood
It's good to be White in America

Mythic Arcade

When I was a kid in Texas
California was nothing but a dream
Not much more than a metaphor
A fantasy of golden glitz and the big screen

I bet you know a lot about Texas
I bet I know what you’ve seen
Alamo heroes, political zeroes
Ten-gallon hats and oil patch schemes

You can find surfers in Texas
Riding in the oil tanker’s wake
You can find California cowboys
They’re speeding up and down the interstate

You can’t see Texas from the inside
You can’t see the mythic arcade
Just people, running for the money
Inside California it’s the same

If you need roots, go to Texas.
If you don’t belong where you are
You might find the right place is California
Who you want to be is who you are


Brown sparrows
sift trash from a dump
find treasure
in mounds of rotting food
plastic wrappers aluminum
cans rusting toasters
shitty diapers hairdryers
headless dolls sideways
refrigerators without doors

One brown sparrow
beats its wings in the dirt
and tangles tighter
in a six-pack plastic noose

© E.K. Keith. All rights reserved. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E.K. Keith shouts her poems on the street corner, and she’s just as likely to take the mic at a bar, coffee shop, or radio station. She has made San Francisco her home, although growing up in urban Texas still influences her worldview. Like most Americans, there is nothing pure about E.K.’s blood. As a result of love that mooningly ignored good sense and social boundaries across several generations, E.K. has never fit neatly into any racial, cultural, or ethnic categories. Her work appears online and in print on all three coasts and places in between, and among them are Sweet Wolverine, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, and Nerve Cowboy. E.K. organizes Poems Under the Dome, San Francisco's annual open mic celebration of Poetry Month inside City Hall. She is a public high school teacher librarian which regularly presents opportunities for her to make the world a better place.

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