From the vault: a poem from July 1994

This was one of the first pieces I wrote in an attempt to actively reconcile my ethnic identity, body image, and beauty perception.  I had just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico- my first as an adult without my immediate family- when I wrote the following in my journal.  Looking back, that summer was the most significant one of my college years, one fraught with external and internal tension- I led a group of students from my college to Puerto Rico where we worked with three different government and social service agencies including an orphanage that broke open my heart, I lost two people I loved and who were significant in my development to a horrific accident, I worked through a complicated love that I was both embroiled in and terrified of, I held the hand and soul of one of my students in a summer program as she took a pregnancy test and of another student as she revealed a lifetime of abuse.  It was a summer that reminded me of the power, possibility, and necessity of love, even if confusion, tragedy, and heartbreak might result.  It was also the summer that reminded me of the power of capturing one’s voice and the necessity of listening to everyone’s stories, even my own.     




“You have such full lips,” he said. 

Broken English dripping off his tongue,

thick Hispanic accent evident.


My black curls, risos oscuros,

tumbling down over my eyes

hid my reaction;

stranger to the forwardness

of this–

my native land. 


I forced out Spanish,

chopped up syllables

like dinner for an infant.

Eyes fixed on el pueblo

instead of this Latin Lover. 


School girls in plaid skirts

and boys with shirt sleeves rolled up

to reveal imaginary muscles. 

It all seemed gray…

my American eyes dark

like my Puerto Rican brothers’.


Sweat formed on my forehead,

as I,

native tan glistening,

struggled to find my place. 


Salsa poured out

the open doorway of the nearest bar

where viejos drank cervezas

and played dominoes.


He smiled, wide and bright,

and asked where I was staying. 

An American prize with

Puerto Rican looks,

he must have been thinking. 

La Gringa Borinquena. 


“You have such big eyes.”

My risos pushed away;

his smooth smile


and his small dark eyes

staring me down. 


Discomfort forcing me into shyness,

I whispered “nos vemos,”

leaving the Latin Lover

searching for la gringa

that despite geography

I refused to become.

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