Here and There: An Immigrant Poem, by Gladys Arellano

I.
Nostalgia

When I wake up in Miami, the sumptuous Avila
Mountain is not drawn against the blue sky.
My Cerro Avila comes as a song—
Voy de Petare rumbo a la Pastora
Contemplando la montaña que decora mi ciudad
—or as nostalgia that seeks its greens
with watercolors made of tears.

My mornings have lost the vibrancy
of free tropical birds celebrating sunrise.
I miss the splendor and miss the singing
of querre-querres, macaws or parrots
squawking loud hellos, ¡Despiértate!
“Time to wake up!”

On the way to my children’s school,
a quiet house with bright pink bougainvilleas
carries me all the way to Playa Pintada.
And, when at a red light I spot some mangoes, I see
Adriana targeting them in Mother’s garden.

My sister was best at knocking them down:
She grabbed the fruits already on the ground
to aim at the mangoes still high on the branches,
luxuriant in their yellows and reds.
Together, we indulged in a sweet-smelling messy feast.

Red mangoes, sea breeze, coconuts, palm trees,
sunshine and blue skies—bits of home in my new home.
Setting a vase with gladioli
opens a window to my mother’s living room,
to Venezuela, where darkness had its own sound:
the soothing chirping of crickets
and coqui frogs singing goodnight.

When the Brickell streets take me one night to a concert
by Los Crema Paraíso – the name of the band, but also
of that ice cream place in my Venezuelan childhood –
the guitar strings cut through my veins, and bring me
back to the invisible friends of my lonesome years,
as I get a high from an obscure Caracas night.

The wild partying at Haulover Sandbar in Miami –
the noise, the crowd – is just like some old days
on the beaches of Santa Fe. Not my thing.
On the way back from a boat ride,
the quiet breeze and the steles in the sea
bring me to more peaceful Venezuelan motorboat days.
I remember who I was, … and ‘til this day, who I am.

II.
Identity

There is grief hidden behind “¡Qué chévere!
In Miami, homesick Venezuelans create
sacred spaces for themselves:
mirrors built to reflect what they lost.
In closed, reminiscent echo chambers,
they can’t see otherness,
their sight blurred with yearning
for a homeland that’s been shattered.

But shaming Miami won’t bring back Caracas.
Shaming the Diaspora does very little
to ease the pain of those left behind.

Venezuela still lives within me:
as remembrance of a lost past.
I’ve brought the loud ways;
I’ve kept the hugging, the touching and the kissing.
I am pop latino, I am salsa and I am merengue.

But my marroncito is now a macchiato,
and my panadería de la esquina is now a Starbucks
where my Proust’s madeleine tastes like an arepa.
At parties, in Caracas, I ate tequeños.
Now chips, pizza and hummus
articulate a wider world.

My new friends bring different soils under their shoes.
They awaken new sensitivities; they give me nuances
and new grounds to stand on.
New layers on my skin have the smell of Miami’s streets,
of the local school in a neighborhood where
Americans wear flip-flops.

I am neither… nor…,
I belong and don’t belong.
Because I don’t endure the agonies
of those who stayed behind,
my Venzuelan-ess is dismissed and disdained.
Yet my American-ess will always be insufficient:
incomplete.

But in Miami, I’ve found a voice that tells me who I am:
There’s a new freedom I’ve discovered
with secret passages to who I was,
full of bits of home in my new home.

III.
I am

Here in Miami, I can go around speaking in Spanish,
although I’ve stopped using dangerous words:
Cachucha – a baseball hat
Or concha – a simple shell
They trigger laughter as they call for a vagina
among other Hispanics who found a new home here in Florida.

When I speak English, my accent with its Spanish
thickness and its callous ruses, glues all over me
and creates subtle, invisible barriers
for the listener who cannot follow my words,
I’m in a sticky accent prison, and “who I am”
can’t come across.
But then again, now, who am I?

Embracing my accent, I muse some answers.
My accent has the sand of my childhood beach days,
of bad sunburns after fun afternoons at the pool.
It carries the dirt of summer games
and the church songs of Venezuelan Sundays.
It wears the burgundy of my grade school uniform.

It throws the rocks of an old hopscotch game –
for some rayuela, for me avioncito –
and plays yet another game
where I am flying,
my belly pressed against my mother’s feet
as she’s lying down with her legs way up high.
We’re both full of excitement and sheer happiness.

It swallows the tears of my father’s funeral:
Still a teenager, I laughed and laughed,
hysterical, entranced,
not knowing what or how to feel.
It still mourns my mother’s death,
which ¡gracias a dios!
came during my own motherhood:
a finale I longed for, after too many years of suffering.

It carries too, the latest family funeral
I wasn’t able to attend:
Uncle Ernesto was my real father,
but it was unsafe to travel back
and honor him the proper way.

I have an accent in Miami
and with it I carry my story –
with its pleasures and its privileges,
but also its sorrows.
I am no other than this story
of ubiquitous here and there,
in a country of immigrant stories.

***

Venzuelan-American Gladys Arellano is the author of Abecedario Temerario (Camelia Ediciones, 2007), which received the Best Children Bookreads award from Banco del Libro in Caracas. Gladys studied Philosophy at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas; she holds an LL.B. from Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas, an LL.M. from Paris University (Paris II Assas) in Paris, and an LLM. from New York University, NY. Gladys lives in Miami, where she teaches Philosophy and Ethics at Florida International University. She is fluent in French and Spanish.

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