By Emmanuel Ortiz
In Venezuela I watched
As the people of the nation
Stood at the plate
In defense of their president,
Who won a democratic referendum
By a majority of the majority
(Unlike our own president that same year).
In defense of Chávez,
Millions of hands upon a single bat
Swing for the fences,
Un jonrón over the wall of the White House lawn.
As in Cuba,
I am a Yanki.
I understand that.
I’m lucky if I’m a pocho,
Instead of straight-up gringo
Because in these lands
The color of my passport
Is deeper than the color of my skin
Now as I pass through Miami International Airport,
International code MIA,
I feel every letter of it
Owning that I am
Made In America
But also feeling like a part of me is
Missing In Action.
Somewhere on this journey home
If there is such a place
An invisible line is crossed
It may be at the point where sky meets earth
Where earth meets sea
Where skin meets sky
Somewhere in this sacred trinity,
I don’t know where,
I cross a border
I hand in my tuxedoed passport
Of first world citizen
In exchange for my second skin
Of second-class citizenship
The kind I wear
Like a favorite sweater
An old pair of tennis shoes
That don’t wear out
No matter the miles I put on ‘em.
It ain’t my Sunday best
Just the only thing clean in the closet.
De-boarding the plane
That here on U.S. soil,
I will be me again.
I get to go back to being my complex, complete self
And the white boy I’m traveling with,
Who gave himself his own hip-hop name
Taken from a distant red planet
And a local Japanese restaurant,
He will still be
The same color
The man in the customs agent uniform
Resembles my Uncle Carlos
Enough to warrant a double take,
With that ‘O.G-vato-turned-family-man’ look,
Complete with shaved head, goatee, tats and work boots.
Carlos the customs vato
Tells all international travelers to divide into two lines:
While nothing seems more foreign to me
Than a white guy with a Martian/Japanese name,
Here I am standing with Mars Ichiban
In the U.S citizens’ line
Because here and now,
The color of my passport
Is deeper than the color of my skin.
And standing in the other line
Of this instant and uneven divide
Are people who look to me
Some of African bloodlines,
Some of Indigenous.
Most are of some mixture of something.
Children of colonization, occupation, enslavement
Of melanin, miscegenation, migration.
All of them
Yet their passports make them
When I get to the customs desk
And the agent asks me for my passport,
And do I have anything to declare,
I want to say,
I have no passport
To give to you, America.
It has been stolen from me
Over and over again.
My name is Willy Brown Lowman
But you must call me Memo.
I’m late for my night job
As a busboy in a Japanese restaurant.
So can I please go now?
You don’t believe me?
OK, My name is Hugo Chavez.
But you can call me Fidel.
My purpose for going to Venezuela?
To watch a game of beisbol.
On my way home,
I plan to stop in D.C
To get a ball off the White House lawn.
Those people in the other line.
They’re with me.
Tío Carlos the Customs vato, too.
I can vouch for all of them,
And you can create all the lines you want,
Cordon us off,
Impose and revoke citizenship,
Wash the salt of Caribbean seas from our skin,
The island sand from our hair,
Scold the trill from our tongues
Criminalize our languages
Anglicize our birthnames
But I will not let you
Take from us
Of family home language blood.
These we hide very well
Amongst the pages of our passports
The one we keep
Just below the top layer of our skin,
The only passport
We ever really need
To know just who we are
And where we come from.
Emmanuel Ortiz introduces and reads Brown unLike Me on April 14, 2012:
Emmanuel Ortiz is a third-generation Chicano/Puerto Rican/Irish-American activist and poet. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks, The Word Is a Machete (self-published, 2003), Brown unLike Me: Poems From the Second Layer of Our Skin (Calaca Press, 2009) and co-editor of Under What Bandera?: Anti-War Ofrendas from Minnesota y Califas (Calaca Press, 2004). He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.