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