January 25, 2019
I recently attended an open mic night held at a recovery center. I like this place. It is warm, inviting, and safe. When I drove there I told myself I would not make a decision on sharing a poem until I felt out the vibe. When I arrived, I felt safe. There was coffee, there were cookies, warm touches on the shoulder, and smiles. I scanned the room multiple times, even during conversation with a friend. It was a great vibe. It was also mostly white. I said nothing about this.
The unconditional positive regard merry go round began: one would read.
All would clap.
One would read.
All would clap.
There were lulls in timing. Polite smiles and stares. Everything was very polite. As I chatted with a friend I starting thumbing through my journals, looking for pieces I’d feel comfortable reading next time. As I made the pages spin, words like “abuela” and “immigrant” popped out at me. I quickly shuffled passed those pages, knowing I would not read them here.
Now, 12 hours later rather than pride and hope for finding a writing community I am left with a feeling of dread. I was bold and brave enough to read in front of total strangers, but the selections I chose were broad at best. I had white washed myself. What’s worse is that the only way I can communicate this today is on paper, because I have also white washed my relationships.
Yes we are all parts of the human experience. We have all experienced trauma. I have the so-called advantage of appearing totally white, living in a mostly white community, having married a glaringly white man, and living in white suburbia. In an ironic turn of events, as I began exploring and proclaiming my “Latin-ness”, I was gifted a white suburban which, in the winter time, makes me look no different than the people at open mic night.
The challenge is pulling up to an open mic night looking the way I do in the winter, around people of color. My appearance would indicate that I do not belong there, in those environments I have to use my voice to justify my seat at their table. Sometimes I want to just be. Both white and latina, and to have those identities understood.
Now in the summer, when that tan is poppin’–we’re good. Oh, the summer. Like a chameleon I morph and I watch myself do it. It’s comes naturally. I believe that my words won’t be accepted at this open mic, I know that the moment I put words like “illegal”and “wall” together their collective cringe will eat at away at my courage. If I stay in my winter box, when my skin is paler, when my letter head greeting voice takes hold, then I can only read poems about relational trauma. Worse, if I do speak my truth it will be fetishized. I will become the “hispanic girl at open mic who was so brave and honest and real.”
I’m not looking for admirers, I’m looking for community.
But if, in 30 degree weather, I intentionally stand in the light so that you can more easily see the curves of my body, the darkness of my hair, the shade of my freckles – stories about mi papa and mi abuela will naturally pour out. And I don’t know if they’re ready.
No. That’s not true.
I don’t know if I’m ready.
I’m frozen, right here, in the middle. And I don’t know if that’s my genetics or my protective gut or my fear or my anger or my confusion. But I’m frozen in my winter box, waiting for summer so that my skin can speak for me. It doesn’t crack like my voice.
It is bold.
It is brave.
It is unapologetic.
Today, for the very first time, I am longing for my summer skin.