The same Tía who named Mama una india fea y ignorante,
ingrata y desagradecida named me William, a name Mama
would misspell on birthday cakes but fits cleanly in the mouth
of every white person I have met. A name that could shake
Johnny’s hand but never look at me in the mirror. Tia wanted
people to know I belong here. Look, I can speak English
just like you do, mister. If I am wiping the window of a Bentley,
it is because I own the Bentley, sir. If I am asking you for rent
money, it’s because I own the building, madam. By twelve,
teenage girls, the irrefutable lords of our middle school kingdom,
christened me Willy, and it stuck because I had dreams of biting
into “the white nectarine of their necks.” I never wanted William
anyway. If you asked me, he was a sellout, who can’t pronounce
his own name. When he’s at the door, even his Mama pretends
she ain’t home. Better be Willy, like Rodriguez, like Colón,
like Perdomo. You can come back home as Willy Palomo.
I’m telling you, if Mama wasn’t ass-tired from fighting
over money, she would have named me after her father,
Felipe. It’d be my name if there wasn’t already too many
holes in the wall and broken bottles shattered against
the counter. Teachers would have called roll in fear
of the sullen brown boy in the back of the classroom
who always raised his hand and looked them dead
in the eyes when he asked questions about the other
side of history. Felipe is a man with strong, calloused
hands, a grip that could rip a root shackled in rock,
shoot a steaming stream of milk fat from swollen
utters, catch a fish with nothing but a shirt as a net.
Felipe is the name of a survivor, who only limps
because men from Atacatl’s battalion ran him over
with a car and still couldn’t kill him. If he’s a spick,
he’s the spick that stole your job, fool. He’s the spick,
talking to your wifey right now and you ain’t even know.
I’m still searching for Felipe lost in fields of maiz.
Tía was right, Mama, we come from una marabunta
de indios locos y ignorantes, feos y desagradecidos.
Shoulda been Felipe to prove it to her—to prove her right.
After Patricia Smith
Willy Palomo is the son of two immigrants from El Salvador. WAKE THE OTHERS, his debut collection of poetry, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in March 2020. In 2019, he co-founded La Piscucha Magazine, a bilingual Salvadoran literature and culture magazine published online by Editorial Kalina. In 2018, he graduated with an MA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and an MFA in Poetry from Indiana University. In 2017, he received the City of Bloomington Latino Leadership Award, the MLK Building Bridges Graduate Student Award, and the Latino Faculty & Staff Graduate Student Award for his work serving undocumented communities in Indiana.