Poet Christian Robinson, 18, is a senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School; he competed in Louder Than a Bomb 2011 representing his high school.
Dealing with identifying himself with both his African-American background and his Mexican background, Ode to the Spanish Language explores how the two cultures affect Christian’s everyday life.
Though everyone knows the points are not the point – the point is the poetry – congratulations to Oak Park and River Forest High School, who was chosen as one the four Teams advancing to the Final round of the 2011 competition which celebrated over 600 young writers.
Ode To The Spanish Language by Christian Robinson
At a taco joint,
on the corner of Harlem and Roosevelt,
Dex asks me to order food for the group
Jokes that I’m related to the waitress.
I chew on hesitation,
just before bouncing your conjugates off
my tongue like jumping beans.
Mom says seven years of Spanish
should be enough to make me sound
like I’m full Latino,
so why not embrace the double “L”
as I ask for two flour tortillas.
I’m careful not to swallow
your stale rice vowels.
Because the wrong accents rupture
blood vessels in our Heritage’s timeline.
Rolled R’s are too hot peppers
clogging my throat with each dry syllable.
The waitress shoots
a border patrol glance,
and my friends fall to the floor in laughter.
Despite my mother’s memories
of tamale-making Christmases,
I still consider myself
a cold glass of African American;
I’m too parched of Mexican tradition
to pour pride.
I’m brought back to Grandma Lupe’s house
when dad’s lap was the only welcome mat
because he and I
were coated with chocolate mole.
We would reminisce of his brother’s
BBQ rib tips as we ate chorizo tacos,
and looked forward to returning
to the skin tones of his family,
where your accents didn’t drum major
the march of conversation.
I’m on the border
of two identities, but if I choose black,
I can blend with the wide-nosed
dark-eyed people I resemble,
without your crooked eye-brows
questioning if your accent makes me valid.
Holiday dinners with mom’s side of the family
won’t come with complimentary sides
of Is he really one of us?.
Like when my father walked through
the door for the first time
clinging to my mother’s hand,
her palm licking the sweat from his wrist;
the taste of first impressions.
Yes, soul food erases
the aroma of my Hispanic background.
But I still catch myself gripping
my mother’s hand like a child separated
from deported parents.
Cuz I feel like I’m committing suicide
every time I decline to order Mexican food
at some taco joint.
As for you, Spanish Language:
I haven’t managed to collect the intimacy
it takes to offer you my insecurities on a fork.
But when I do, we can eat them together.