Brown Girl Glossary of Terms
In the story, children who bite their tongues eat a porridge of falsehood til they are fattened little piggies. In the story, ladies who say yes are locked in wrought, jeweled cages. They sway to the tune of Taylor Swift covering Earth, Wind & Fire, and they say, this is just fine.
They want to take this word away from you. They want you to explain why you look Asian, when your name is clearly Spanish. They want to bring you Jesus, even though they see your people nailing themselves to crosses on Good Friday. Moreover, they think they brought you light bulbs, feminine hygiene products, and feminism. They love your fine white sand beaches. They think your whole nation is one of military bases and air conditioned shopping malls, and fine white sand beaches made for them. They need you to clean their houses and raise their babies. They don’t even pay you minimum wage to change their elders’ adult diapers. They don’t accept that you are from Oakland. They don’t accept that you have a nation they did not name.
In the story, the hero is always light-eyed and fair-haired. The distressed damsel is as well. Of course, he is meant to claim her. Of course, they are meant to have the brightest babies. See them banish all dark from their domain. See them build their castles of light where our dark children play. Our dark bodies and tongues will be outlaw. Our dark gods as well. See the hero thrust himself upon his dark maidservants. See those dark maidservants silenced. See how wretched and ratchet, all their dark offspring, ruckus making hoodlums and hooligans. See the hero and the damsel call the cops. Hear the chorus of “not all white people.” Hear the chorus of “all lives matter.” See the waterfall of white tears.
You know what annoys me? People who won’t see the through line from Joe Bataan to Bruno Mars. You ever wonder about the sound of a poet rappin’ with ten thousand carabaos in the dark? You ever eat fish and rice with your hands, off styrofoam plates, in a hole in the wall, south of Market Street? You ever roll down your windows while speeding down Highway 101, to smell the Pajaro River? What if that’s the poem, and you missed it, because you were looking for something roseate, effete, something that smells like prestige.
Do you know yourself, Pinay? Do you name yourself, Pinay? This name was made here, born here, American as you, your SPAM cans, and your balikbayan boxes. American as the jeepney. American as your father’s favorite Applebee’s on Farwell in Fremont. Do you cringe when your people don’t translate — have you Googled “cultural cringe”? I fucking hate that term. Do you know that Prego® commercial daughter, pleading, “English please,” for her white lover, at a table full of titas and pinsans? That fabled Filipina hospitality, so much giving unto others until you are shoeless, penniless, mute and hollowed out. Hija, you ain’t Jesus, multiplying fishes and loaves.
Hella indigenous, which does not mean gone native. Kakayahan umunawa sa damdamin ng iba, for real. You know, like Ruby Ibarra and one hundred Pinays giving you resting bitch face. You know, like those syndicated, full color photographs, of boys and men in LeBron James and Steph Curry jerseys, thinned flipflops on their feet, one body together, shouldering a nation. One bamboo hut at a time. One set of lungs breathing. One heart. Isang mahal. Isang bagsak.
Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Invocation to Daughters (City Lights Books, 2017). She is the author of four previous poetry collections, including Poeta en San Francisco (TinFish Press), and Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd.). She lives in Oakland, CA. http://barbarajanereyes.com.