Speedy Gonzales

I remember in high school, explaining to friends

the racism of the cartoon, Speedy Gonzales. His

“arriba arriba” grito just a Chicano shuck and jive.

His campesino hat too big for even the sombrero dance.

And don’t even get me spit balling about Slowpoke

Rodriguez, Speedy’s boozed out cousin from el campo.

It can be hard telling your friends, in the warmup

layup line before basketball practice, that

imagining being different than the people who came

before them is scary, but may signal a reckoning

a Clyde Frazier crossover of potential.

Then the coach, plastic whistle in the corner

of his mouth like a chewed stub three day old

cigar, asking, “What are you guys talking about?”

And George, the fearless one with a strong baseline move

to the rim, says, “the perpetuation of stereotypes

in our culture.” Which made me smile all the way down

to my Pumas. This was like watching the firemen

arriving at the fire with their gear ready for business.

There are surprises and amazements left in life.

But the coach licked his thin train rail lips,

The whistle dangling covered in spit, “let’s

focus on our practice, our game.” The world is such

an imperfect place consider the ant-eater, the mole.

I am sure the coach was who he told us he was. And

when he spoke sometimes all the team heard

were the bubbles coming out of his head. His

smile looked like it pained his face.


My favorite word to say in Español

es mota. It is the final word of a wild song

on a long road through

Aztlán tequila lime kisses.

It’s the pan dulce and café

on a cold morning.


In college I’d sing the word

with emphasis and my gringo friends

asked, “what’s that?”

I could not suppress my giggles

and belted out the word

blues style slower, louder, dragging

the two syllables over sleeping

dogs, “you sabe, moh….tah.”


I often helped others with their

Español tarea. Them thanking me, asking,

“where did you learn to speak Spanish

so good? Really? You don’t look

Mexican…..aren’t you Jewish?”


My Spanish was not perfect, but it must

have sounded like a Chavela Vargas ballad

ripped full of damage and desire

to their gringo and gringa ears.


Once in high school a teacher yelled

that I spoke Spanish on purpose. His words

confusing and silencing me. And each day

in class I reckoned the smoldering power

of his border raged words.


My mother asked why I did not recognize

the historical patterns of oppression. She smiled

when she asked. But it was a counterfeit grin.


Español was the idioma

in my grandparents’ casa in Douglas.


Espanol was the gritos of my grandfather

and tíos as they watched the 8 millimeter

boxing films my grandfather kept in alpha

order in an old shoe box (Canto, Cuevas, Duran).

Español was the weekly phone conversations

between my mother and grandmother on Sunday

afternoons when church ended.


Mota is a one word narrative

of mystery and rebellion. The word

that begins the discovery that no

one is who they want to be.


Christopher Rubio-Goldsmith was born in Mérida, Yucatán, and raised in Tucson, Arizona. Growing up in a biracial, bilingual home near the frontera, and then teaching high school English for 28 years in a large urban school with a diverse student body created many experiences rich in voice and imagination. His poetry has appeared in Fissured Tongue, Amuse-Bouche (Lunch Ticket), the anthology America We Call Your Name, and in other publications as well. Kelly, his wife of almost 30 years, carefully edits his work. He can be found at https://www.facebook.com/chris.goldsmith.16

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