yo entiendo

By Christopher Valenzuela

aye mijo
porque tu no hablas español
how do i describe to you
spanish reminds me that i’m not
reminds me of my father who
always loved my sister but merely
tolerated me as the other one
reminds me of my stepmother arguing
with my father because
he had the audacity
to buy us beds when
he bought her a house
and food
and made sure that her daughters
went to the right schools
and the two of us sat there
in the backseat of a minivan
listening to them yell
in spanish
we understood what they were saying
pero ya no hablamos español
so we couldn’t explain the very pain we felt
and hoped our tears could say enough

spanish reminds me of the men
in my neighborhood who said i was a little
too jotito for my own good
when i played with barbie dolls
and wore dresses to twirl in the mirror
except when company was over
and i had to wear shorts
below the knee

spanish reminds me of the moment
people saw me differently
when they realized that my father
was from mexico suddenly 
it wasn’t that we
were americans who happened to be
mexican. we were Mexicans
who stole the name American.
and even though i know how to speak
english i don’t know
how do i describe the pain
of erasing a whole half of who i am
for the sake of their comfort

that’s why i always say
yo no hablo español pero
yo entiendo mucho
because spanish has given
me understanding in all
the ways that i do not belong

but now i’m almost 30
and i hate that i can’t speak spanish
it only makes me think of my father
half the time. sometimes less.
now it reminds me
of sitting in mal’s bar with Melody
and dtla
and finding love within myself
and laughing while taking shots screaming
reminds me of staying up
way too fucking late and
unpacking my heart on Jessi’s bed
the gentle way her hands held my inner child
at her altar and showed me how to pray
to Santa Muerte and La Virgen
reminds me of Eva
reading poetry about douglas
and the avenidas that i find
myself walking down because they
built them for me and paved them
all with gold
reminds me of Ale making me laugh
until i feel like i might burst
at the seams and explode
all over her room like
the posters that line the walls

it used to feel like a punishment
and now it feels like a blessing

spanish reminds me that
i don’t know myself
there is a whole piece
that i never held in
my own two hands
because i thought
if i just threw it away
i could be wanted
but blood is not pencil
and scars don’t erase into nothing
wounds close up but
there is always a reminder
spanish has given me so much understanding
and i have never tried
to give it back

About the author:

Christopher Valenzuela is a queer, nonbinary, Latiné, poet and artist from Tucson, AZ. They are currently pursuing their Master of Education at the University of Arizona. Their work focuses on their personal journey and struggle with heritage, gender, sexually, and addiction. They have previously been published in SandScript Literary and Art Magazine, Persona, and Pine Reads Review.

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