Photo by Jill E. Williams

It’s National Poetry Month.  And here’s a little know tid-bit:  I almost didn’t end up a prose writer.  I went to grad school because I was specifically interested in being a better teacher (I used personal writing a fair amount in the history and leadership classes I taught), and I entered my MFA program with a focus on poetry.  My advisor that first semester really pushed me to explore prose writing.  In the end, I ended up with a double focus on non-fiction and poetry.  Usually, during National Poetry Month, I share some of my favorite poems by brilliant writers like Kim Addonizio, Derek Walcott, Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, etc.  But in addition to sharing a poem from a new poet to me, I decided to dig some of my old poetry out of the vault since so much of it deals with body image, self-awareness, and self-acceptance issues (my final MFA manuscript was a book called Giving Up Beauty- it was a collection of non-fiction essays and linked poetry that chronicled my coming of age with specific attention played to ethnic identity and beauty perception issues).  It’s not brilliant stuff, but it’s heartfelt and real.  And I believe that my efforts to capture these thoughts as a young journaler and then as a grad student really helped me process my experience and arrive at a place of self-acceptance.  Today’s piece is called Gringa.


“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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One response to “Gringa”

  1. Ashley

    This poem really spoke to me. Being married to a man of Mexican decent and having a child who is mixed race, I sometimes find myself in a weird place. By birth, I am 100% Caucasian. Everything about me is WHITE. However, when I’m around his family, I partially identify as Mexican, because I’ve been so immersed in the culture. I’ve always wanted to write a blog post about it, but I’m worried that it might come off as trying to identify with something that I’m not. (Do other people feel this way?)

    Anyway, just wanted to say that I loved this poem. 🙂

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