Below is the paper presented at the panel, “In the Place of Bones: Indigenous Place-Based Writing,” at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference in Denver, CO.
My gratitude and love to Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán for organizing these panels, and to the brilliant, sweet and fierce people who were a part of them... you are my conversion.
I am a child of the corn
I come from valleys far
from the land where people were
created from clay*
Yo soy fruto del desierto, a drop of sweat from the branch of a mesquite. A son of sierra miners and of desert farmers. Birthed in the once-orchard filled valley of San José, California, trained in the hot pecan groves of Eastern Aztlán, known also as Tejas.
A ustedes, les digo, bienvenidas. Y a ti.. bienvenido.
I am a trampled seed
pedacito de elote
stepped on and stabbed by the sons of my white fathers
inevitably sprung and cast aside by the crushing
of my mother’s womb*
My father has always said we do not belong in California we belong in Shihuahua. Sí, in Shihuahua. A place where, as layers of caliche, decades upon decades contain piles of structural, cultural, financial, educational and, of course, religious practices carving in stone that Tarahumara’s do not belong. A place where not even the chastising whip of the white tongue que es el español, can strip our lips from the Rarámuri etched onto the woven cords of our throats.
There is nothing mythical about Shihuahua, about the tree with a sign saying “Aquí murió Pancho Villa.” There is no mythology in the voices of children running up and down the overcrowded streets of Parral, extending their hands and whispering in a coy and angry voice: “Corima.” Children who will never see the inside of a classroom, whose parents will never be employed in the white-only industry of the region; children who will pee on the tree crippled by the wreckage of a car carrying the dying body of Pancho Villa. Shihuahua is not a land of a past that those of us carrying the colonizing scar of a lighter skin are trying to forget.
I am the manifestation of an occupied land
the rivers of my veins
by a plague as dangerous
as men determining the reproductive rights of
as the four religions that raped by my soul*
I am a Xicano, sí, with an X. This indigenously birthed brown body is the land on which I build bonitas fincas de adobe. Casitas that house the memory of stampedes of mining companies drilling and exploding all that stood in their way, leaving behind ruble, vestiges of a land who will not forget. My body is not separate from the arid terrain of Shihuahua. The topographic maps of mi tierra mark the high mountaintops of my curves, rising violently from the fluctuating valley of my back. My body is not separate from Shihuahua. On me, brown men go in search for berries, buscando liebres, building fires, building home.
I am a queer Xicano, sí, un joto. This indigenously birthed brown body carries the rivers that rip and roar through the arid valleys of farmland, of communities of hope, of kindergarten playgrounds. My veins, too, carry the plague of disease, of toxic waste, of bodies who will never be found, of bodies who will never be missed. My body is not separate from Shihuahua. My veins are extensions of el Río Parral that once a year, fed by the sudden storms of August, grows angry and large. As this river I swam in naked as a child, my veins will never be cleansed. Even as the stillness of clear water spring currents welcomes you, even as the dormant undetectable viral loads of my desire call to you, we are not clean.
I am of a rising people
gente con piel de nixtamal
lengua de huisache
manos de surco
y ojos de lechuza*
I am Antonia’s grandson, waking at 4am to grind the corn of the one inch-thick tortillas that will feed us during the winter, the poorest months of the year. I rise at 4am to grind a keyboard with the memories that will fill the quarter inch books you might read during the poorest months of your solitude. I am Antonia’s grandson, feeding wood into the fire of a stove of steel tight enough to hide the smoke, strong enough to hold the flames. I am the steel stove whose lips are no longer tight enough to hide the smoke of racism, of misogyny, of hope for a world where children run free; I am not strong enough to hold the flames. I am Antonia’s grandson, sinking her raw fingers into the steaming hot masa of tortillas, to lather them with chunks of year-old butter. I sink my raw fingers into the steaming hot masa of men, to lather them with chunks of 31-year old love.
I am my mother’s son
fed by her brown breasts
carried in her dark arms
protected by her black eyes
I am her only son*
Como siembra de temporal, my parents, too, were unsure if they were to birth children. As farmers who pray to the heavens in hopes that rain might descend with the coming season, and make way for the frail sprouts of a bean pod, mis padres prayed to San Lorenzo that, after two miscarriages, a child might be born. Yo soy frijol de temporal. I am the frail sprout that the April rain made way for. My body is not separate from Shihuahua. As the omnipresent god of the Christians, where I am, Shihuahua is.
In the pale and unwelcoming hallways of the academy I am a minero. In the oxymoronic board rooms of nonprofit organizations, yo soy campesino. On the beating dancefloors of the Castro, I am a matachín. In the frigid regulations of this conference, yo soy un poeta.
I am what the white picket fence
meant to keep out
I am in*
While my Rarámuri brother continues to run fiercely through the never-ending canyons of la Sierra Tarahumara, this Rarámuri walks quietly through the never-ending desert of blank pages. As the veredas, the trails, we followed on our way into las labores, the farmland, I continue to follow the pathways forged by my ancestors. Shihuahua is a place of bones, of untold burial grounds left during the revolution. A place of bones, where my ancestors lay buried under all-telling pecan trees that once gave shade to enslaving landowners, and today give shade to tired farmers. My body is not separate from Shihuahua, the place from which I write. My body is a place of bones, the land on which I write.
* Excerpts from “Testimonio Escrito Sobre Hojas de Maíz: My Joto Manifesto” in Santo de la Pata Alzada: Poems from the Queer/Xicano/Positive Pen [Evelyn Street Press, 2005]