Mamita

A mí mamita le decían la reina
My great-grandmother would smile with all her teeth
Let out a laugh that everyone still remembers
Dicen que cocinaba como no te imaginás
And she’d wear dresses with flowers and sunbeams on them
Wearing them with a flare like only a dark-skinned woman could
Yes

A mí mamita le decían la negra
Nació en República Dominicana
Descended from Afro-Caribbean blood
She knew a sea that sparkled like diamantes
Wore corales as earrings
And sang like the tides inside a seashell

A mí mamita le decían la bruja
Dicen que su madre era santera

But we don’t talk about that among Christians
Se casó con un hombre Colombiano
And she became the root of a family tree that’s been growing upside down ever since
She married a lighter skinned man
And they had a daughter that married a lighter skinned man
And they had a daughter that married a lighter skinned man
And they had me

A mi mama le dicen la mona
After dozens of times she’s dyed her hair blonde
To look like una gringuita I suppose
When I was a kid I used to laugh at her
When the ends of her hair nearest her scalp
Would grow back in, black like they were meant to
Roots are a stubborn thing, cierto Ma?
A mi papa le dicen el gringo
Dicen que parece exactamente como un americano
I guess when the spirits brewed him in their cauldron
They had all the ingredients for a white man except an American’s tongue
They must have laughed knowing that green eyes, fair hair, and white skin
Still wouldn’t be enough to get real whites to understand him

Y de mí, no saben que decir
Colombiano, Americano, en inglés o en español?

If I could meet mi mamita just once I would ask what she has to say
Why do I look like this?
Like a stranger, like a mistake
This lie that I wear
This pallid mask that greets the world
This colonizer costume, this white stain
Did she intend for me to look this way?
Was this lineage she cast on me a curse shrouded as a blessing?
A spell to protect her great grandson so that white wolves wouldn’t devour him
This skin-tight barrier might separate me from the prejudice of others
But also from the love of myself
Surely this imitation vessel is not enough to hold all the magic that she once held

I see her in a dream
She’s surrounded by ancient spirits
In the sky or beneath the earth
Or in the depths of the ocean
She brews sunlight and thunderstorms in a giant kitchen pot
Fruits and flowers flourish from her dark flesh like the fertile earth
A coral crown adorns her head
And seashells of a thousand colors pattern her dress
She laughs the way only she knew how

She reminds me that blood, like magic, does not run black or white
And that ours is the same regardless
En tu sangre está mi historia y mi herencia
Mis encantos y mis hechizos

Mi brujería
Mi sonrisa

And a chain that becomes looser with every passing day