And My Boricua Asked My Whiteness:
What do you know of war, nena? What do you know of being gifted a dead body where your mouth should’ve been? What do you know of grease, of bacalaítos and cheap beer and platanos frying, swaying softly to old salsa next to the telescope? What do you know of all that’s missed? Of the ways the lens refracts the images so what we see is some kind of tragic comedy of ignorances? And did you know that was a metaphor? A way of trying to make sense of all that’s been stolen from us? What do you know of womanhood, of machismo, of the way the two leave no space for me? How often does the taste of me run bitterly down your face–like some kind of river you misnamed once? What do you know of violence?
And my whiteness responded:
You are asking the wrong questions. You don’t even know of these things. You think you are claiming an affect, but you are only stealing a language. You ask what I know of violence. I know what it is to watch how clumsily you tear through this body trying to understand yourself.
And my boricua was silent for a moment before looking up and saying:
Coño! What else will you steal from me? Was the island’s blood not enough? Do I also have to bleed my trauma for you? Who are you to tell a parent how to grieve for its child? Who are you to tell the child it doesn’t know enough to grieve? You have claimed the skin. I have claimed the rest. This is a child of sun, of a people that have known loss and resignation and carved a home out of the dead air around it. This is a child that has inherited joy in the midst of slaughter. I have taught them what it means to sing like your life depends on it. Because once our song was illegal. You claim I am stealing a language, but how can you steal something that was shoved down your throat and ripped away in the same breath? How can it be theft if you are only coming home?
And my whiteness, for once, had nothing left to say.
Cat Velez is a nonbinary, queer Boricua poet from Trenton, NJ. They attend Swarthmore College where they are a special major in Intersectional Representation. Cat was a semifinalist at the 2015 National Poetry Slam and College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI), and was a finalist at 2016 CUPSI. They were also the 2015 Grand Slam Champion and Individual World Poetry Slam Representative for the Philadelphia Fuze. Cat loves angering white men, listening to trap music and salsa almost nonstop, and is a proud cat lover, but hates cat puns, so like, please don’t.