In reflecting on borders, identity, belonging … And the politics of citizenship. 

by mposadasn

You came from a mother and a father that loved you very much. Your mother made up responses for you when she didn’t know the answer to your questions. Your father was never taller than you, even when you were five years old, because he spoke a language that made you feel like his head could never be above yours. Your grandmother didn’t speak to your sister for the first three years of her life because she was cinnamon colored, and nobody said anything: so nobody told you that was racist. Anyways, racism was a textbook term between blacks and whites in America, and your white Mexican grandmother could deny the presence of people darker than her because her face and her skin were beautiful. And you, green-eyed, light haired—the one stopped on the streets of Mexico for hands to be run through your curly hair and skin and skin and skin…  
So when you were seven years old, you denied color its existence. And you passed from one country to the next because your skin was as white as your first American friend in the heart of North Carolina, Jordan and your grandmother loved you. When you first moved to Mexico City, you spent nights crying yourself to sleep because you missed the changing seasons, missed the friends that asked you why you didn’t have an accent, and missed English laying comfortably on your mind. Your sister was bitter at you because you had a name whose erres rolled just as comfortably in any language. One day she bit the skin on your forearm so hard, it left a purple crescent. You threw her down the stairs.

“Mami, I need bathroom. Why is officer angry with us? Mami, my pee wants to come out!” If we had been in the car, we would have laughed, because Bebé made funny sentences with his three years of age. But Mami’s hands were trembling, and her brows were pushing the skin between them to form an “N”. “The officer just went to make sure where the bathroom is so we won’t get lost when he gives us directions to get there,” she couldn’t look down into his eyes. She said too many words for Bebé, his index finger was twisting his blond curls trying to make sense of what she was saying. I didn’t understand, either. Why would a police officer separate us from Daddy? He didn’t know Bebé needed to use the bathroom. He asked to pee after he left. Why did the officer storm out when Mami told him we were just like him? Why did she whisper to us that if he’d only been given love as a child, he wouldn’t be afraid: what was he afraid of? My ankles were falling asleep, but when Mami had moved, the officer had yelled at her and tears made her head look swollen. I didn’t want him to yell at me. So instead, I played tic-tac-toe with myself in my head and swallowed every time I crossed out a square. I was shifting to get closer to my mom’s chair when he yanked the door open and tortured us by violently jiggling the loose silver doorknob on his way in. He pounced towards my mother and stopped centimeters from her nose. She swallowed. Bebé began to cry; his hand had been trapped between the officer’s knee and my mother’s. Bebé will still not tell me to this day what the officer said to our mother. But maybe it’s because we were both too aware of his piss running down my mother’s exposed legs and reaching the officer’s black military boots. I looked up to see my mother’s swollen head decompress as tears streamed down her face- but she never looked away from the officer, even while he killed her with his eyes.

“You do not need to lay hands on me,” my mother said in Spanish to him. This made him jump back and run out the door. “When we get to Austin, you can jump on the hotel beds,” she said to us shortly after the slammed door pulled the bitter taste of vomit into my throat. I wanted us to turn around and go back to Mexico. I didn’t want to hear anyone hold the rounded syllables of English in their cheeks. I wanted the officer to tell us we could not pass into the United States, even if he used my mother’s excuse of: because I said so. There is no welcome in shame, and I was ashamed of my blue passport that my father kept in his pocket for me. The blue passport that brought us here; anyways we were only driving through the border because I missed the love that my young hands had received in North Carolina. Now I wanted to peel my skin off and let it run down the Rio Grande. The officer never looked at my brother or me, because we had blue passports, said my mother. She whispered this under her exhausted breathing after my father had pulled over so he could hold her hair back as she puked all over the Texan dirt and her shoes, and dress, and all over my father’s skin.

Today I understand that the officer was ashamed because he could not respond to her in the same language that had loved and given birth to them. He wanted her skin to hate him and keep the border intact. If he could have, he would have taken my mother’s white skin into his hands to make it his own.

Abuela’s house had a large landing, with dusty sofas where she sat to sow, the pictures of her blue-eyed, blonde, and smiling mother, and images of herself when she was crowned princess of her town. You had paused at the top of the stairs with your hands behind your back, twisted fingers around white paper dolls- a loving gift from your grandmother. Your sister had run after you, her large eyelashes pointed her brown eyes at you. You looked at your sister, her skin- her skin glistened. You were fighting over the white paper dolls your Abuela had given you to decide how to share with your sister. She pulled at one of your curls, and leaned to leave a crescent bite mark on your forearm. So you took her forehead in your hand, and threw her down the stairs. Her erres became sobs as she cried out your name. Blood dyed her skin darker- and your grandmother denied the pain you caused her.

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