Please feed the writer/development person.
Please feed the writer/development person.
The day I heard that we were moving to North Carolina, my stomach twisted into a knot so tightly constricted it felt like only a swift sword-stroke would be able to disentangle it.
Considering that I wasn’t unfamiliar with North Carolina, it’s pretty weird verging on the hyperbolic that my stomach ended up collapsing into a mess of Gordian proportions on that snowy Wednesday evening. But after escaping Florida for the Chicago tundra, it felt like I was making one big loop into a Southern past that would once again dig its humid little fingers into my scalp and curl every strand of my thick, unmanageable, Salvadoran hair.
There was that too. I wouldn’t just be the next door Carpetbagger, I would also be “that pale Mexican who talks to her mother on the phone way too often and way too loud in Spanish.” My plaintive “But I’m Salvadoran!” cries would mean nothing to anyone—everything south of the border is Mexico to these people, right?
The fact we were moving to Chapel Hill—not exactly Klan territory—meant little, too. Terrible stereotypes ran through my Chicago wind whipped yet finally fabulous mane: bible-thumpin’, tobacco spittin’, banjo playin’, gay and minority bashin’, gun-lovin’ bubba’s all around. I won’t fit in. No way. No how. Oh god, why?!
Unfortunately, the first few months I lived tightly cocooned in these perceptions, both figuratively and literally. I didn’t get out much and worked hard to plan my escape. Things were just too different from the snappy, fast paced, enlightened northern atmosphere that I was so used to. Why bother getting to know anything else? Why prove myself wrong about anything I thought was true about the South? I’ll tolerate it as long as I have to. They don’t want my kind around here anyway.
Then I stumbled upon Siler City, or as I call it, the little pueblo of the Piedmont.
Siler City is a town where perceptions and stereotypes took their toll. Latino residents that now account for 50% of the town’s population arrived in the mid-90s to work at the poultry processing plants. Many long-term residents didn’t really jive with the demographic change.
Things are better than they were in, say, 2000 when the KKK held a rally outside the City Council Building. Maybe it’s because the apple of discord—jobs considered “stolen” by new arrivals—rolled out of Chatham County or disappeared altogether, screwing everyone equally. Maybe it’s because everyone got used to each other—over time, the new residents became old residents and everyone figured coexisting in an uneasy tolerance of each other was easier. Maybe it’s because Tacos al Pastor with a side of Collard Greens makes for a good (great!) combination.
The more I hung around, the more Siler City spoke to me. I’d been here about a month when my co-worker, an 18-year old bundle of kindness originally from Hidalgo, Mexico told me point blank in the middle of the CCCC parking lot “You’re so used to the fast life, you don’t know what it’s like to really know people, to slow down and say hi to your neighbors.”
It struck me right then and there that I wasn’t as cool as I thought I was. What was the point of being an “enlightened” northerner if you can muster only 30 seconds out of your day to put on a good show of tolerance for your neighbor.
I’m not a fan of Tolerance. Defined as sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own, the word has a patronizing ring to it. Most of the time, we throw that word around to say that we’re putting up with each other because we have to, legally or otherwise; the implication being that we’ll go back to hating each other once legal and social expectations of putting up with each other are removed.
Drinking Joan’s pomegranate Italian soda as I munched down on tostadas de pollo sealed the deal: I would probably hang around Siler City for a while.
Whether it likes it or not, Siler City is at the forefront of a demographic shift happening across the nation, where Hispanics will be the majority minority by 2050. With a population of fully bilingual youth coming of age within the city limits, its biggest strength will one day be these kids who can speak to both the Latino and the White experience (or Latino and African American), and tailor businesses and services to all parts of the Chatham community. And just think of the culinary possibilities.
For the sake of getting things done and for the sake of food (ok, there were other reasons), I decided I didn’t want to keep fitting a pretty wide swath of people into a tight little box cluttered by negativity, false media propaganda, and my own aversions to change. I accepted the Cheerwine, the Carolina style BBQ, the Southern hospitality in the hope that the same courtesy would be expended on myself as the outsider.
Naturally, it’s different when you’re in a small group of folks confronted by an overwhelming, powerful majority that doesn’t want you there. Quite literally, you could be run out of town at any moment with only the clothes on your back (or worse). However, I’m not trying to slap together an analysis of power relations in rural North Carolina quite yet. I’m trying to conjure up a specific sentiment that often gets in the way of progress: the vested effort in keeping each other at bay that cuts across all groups.
Tolerance simply isn’t enough. Acceptance, giving up that sense of wrongness in the “other”, is a lot more definite. It will make the pulled pork con mole sandwiches all the more enjoyable.
Originally published in Chatham County Line November/December Issue
A Change of Seasons.
With a cropping up of public trials and increased access to historical archives, countries like Guatemala and Brazil are moving forward in rescuing the memories of victims of human rights abuses perpetrated during the military regimes and dictatorships of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The alternative narratives of history presented in trials and archives are slowly prying the door open for justice across Latin America. In El Salvador, however, it seems like time is moving backward.
Your pink mouth arranges itself in angular yet softening shapes
From the slackening lines, my hands take their belabored flight
And above my aching hips fold themselves mid-air into a question mark.
Sleep defeats the quandary, but
at its edges , the void of night remains contoured in the shape of your panther-like frame.
Then the morning, with her shafts of blinding light
drives her pointed ends into our sides.
Cast out and sleepless, I exit the bed sheets like an exorcised ghost and move forward in my search.
New Color Pencil Set (it works)
Twelve Humboldt Penguins have been taking the La Aurora Zoo in Guatemala City by storm. The 6 males and 6 females arrived in early May as part of a wildlife donation made by France’s Beauval ZooParc.
The donation falls under a European threatened species program where the Guatemala Zoo will try to breed the penguins and send them to South America.
Humboldt Penguins are endemic to Chile and Peru. Sadly, due to commercial fishing, guano extraction, and loss of nesting grounds, only 12,000 penguins are left in the wild.
As Central America’s first penguins, these little guys have become rock stars. On May 19th, a record 14,000 people of all ages dropped by to see the newest additions to the zoo get their penguin thang on.
Anyway, its a nice change of pace from all the doom and gloom we usually hear about in reference to Guate. But seriously, enough talking. Here’s some squee!
Oh my god, it’s like they’re wearing little suits!
Every night I drowned in the memory
Of the cigarette stained whorls of your fingers
I couldn’t wash myself out.
A substitute drug, curling smoky junk-words
Through the dot-dash-dots into your nose
While I siphoned the flakes of blood from my
Whiskey flask at the bottom of a device-littered trench
Paris burned all around me.
But a few curlicued syllables on yellowed paper
Dimmed the glow.
I thought it was enough. But there was no rescue effort to yank me from the muck.
Always ready with my grenades but
The diplomatic mechanisms always caved my throwing arm
Recoiling on broken mirrors and charred photographs
Among the ruins of the atomic burn
Where were you when my lights blazed brightest, Hiroshima my own
I never stopped burning for you.
Even during the slough through no-man’s land, picnicking under shell-shocked oaks
At intervals as I dragged my comrade’s rotting body.
The bloated corpse forced its maggots into my mouth
I now spit the flies in his goose stepping direction
The dead never end their tread on the crooked living.
Every pipe bomb dream of his was a lie.
But I carried alone.
He brushed the word liberation off his shoulder
Splintered it agains my lips, ruffling his black moustache with a sonderkommando grin
How duty has her hold. I carried alone.
A gas mask fixed to my face. I now dodged ghosts in their B-52 chicken play.
The chemicals do their work well at stripping breath and brain.
M-60 firefly flak telegraphed your name which I forgot, reclaimed
Threw away with the rest of the scrap metal.
The weight was all that mattered and the rest of the body parts collected
From between mines and bayonets.
War is the most beauteous art ever rendered under God’s silver Fingernail.
The war ended years ago yet it continues to play,
Whiskey tastes best under the eucalyptus trees at your memorial bench
On the corner of Dresden and London.
Ours was the war that ended them all, I bury you in the safest pocket of a private plot
Under the upturned roots for the dogs to keep warm during winter.
Been a long day…