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José Olivarez

(citizen) (illegal)

Mexican woman (illegal) and Mexican man (illegal) have
a Mexican (illegal)-American (citizen).
Is the baby more Mexican or American?
Place the baby in the arms of the mother (illegal).
If the mother holds the baby (citizen)
too long, does the baby become illegal?

The baby is a boy (citizen). He goes to school (citizen).
His classmates are American (citizen). He is outcast (illegal).
His “Hellos” are in the wrong language (illegal).
He takes the hyphen separating loneliness (Mexican)
from friendship (American) and jabs it at the culprit (illegal).
Himself (illegal). His own traitorous tongue (illegal).
His name (illegal). His mom (illegal). His dad (illegal).

Take a Mexican woman (illegal) and a Mexican man (illegal).
If they have a baby and the baby looks white enough to pass (citizen).
If the baby grows up singing Selena songs to his reflection (illegal).
If the baby hides from el cucuy and la migra (illegal).
If the baby (illegal) (citizen) grows up to speak broken Spanish (illegal)
and perfect English (citizen). If the boy’s nickname is Güerito (citizen).
If the boy attends college (citizen). If the boy only dates women (illegal)
of color (illegal). If the boy (illegal) uses phrases like Women of Color (citizen).
If the boy (illegal) (citizen) writes (illegal) poems (illegal).

If the boy (citizen) (illegal) grows up (illegal) and can only write (illegal)
this story in English (citizen), does that make him more
American (citizen) or Mexican (illegal)?


José Olivarez is the co-author of the book of poems Home Court (2014). He serves as Program Director at Urban Word NYC, and received a Bronx Recognizes Its Own award from the Bronx Council on the Arts in 2015. His work has been published in The BreakBeat Poets, Vinyl Poetry and Prose, Specter Magazine, and Union Station Magazine, among other journals. He is from Calumet City, IL and lives in the Bronx.


See full list of 2016 Emerging Poets Fellows