I am homesick for Venezuela,
a country that has never been mine.
I was born in America;
my parents planted me here;
my branches grew into this sky;
my roots dug into this ground,
but when I pulled a brown bottle out of my lunch bag in 1st grade
and Susie asked why it smelled so bad,
my heart turned inside of my chest
like a compass pointing towards a home where the kids knew what Malta was.
My cousins used to cradle seven bottles in their arms
as they raced to our haven in the apple trees.
The bottles would clink when we tossed them to the ground,
and hiss when we pried the caps off with our teeth,
and slosh when we emptied them down our throats.
I extended the bottle towards Susie,
but her mother told her never to drink things she couldn’t pronounce.
I blast reggaeton through my earbuds,
feet strutting to the heavy rhythm,
hips swaying with the staccato raps,
lips muttering the crude profanities.
Tio Fernando’s car used to shake with the thump of a reggaeton beat.
Tia Maria-Gracia used to teach me how the girls in the music videos danced,
arms waving, bodies twisting.
I offer someone a taste of these electric rap verses,
and they ask me why I listen to K-pop.
Teenage girls love to say
“you look so white” “you act so white” “you are so white”.
At night, I slick on crimson lipstick,
hook on golden hoop earrings,
and drape a Venezuelan flag over my shoulders.
I look in the mirror and wonder if this is what it takes
for people to believe me.
When I skype my cousins, they nickname me gringa.
I explain to them that a true gringa would not know what the word meant,
but they continue to chant “Gringa! Gringa! Gringa!”
I will go a whole day with America as my home,
and the moment my mother calls me “amor”,
my life seems colored,
as if I am supposed to eat with girls who call that fuckboy a cabron,
as if I am supposed to greet my friend with a peck on the cheek,
as if I am supposed to come home to a warm cup of toddy.
I am an American.
I grill burgers on the 4th of July.
I wear a bikini with stars and stripes.
I scoop vanilla ice cream onto apple pie.
But I am homesick for the smell of corn
that used to nuzzle me warmly
while my abuela and I slid cachapas onto plates.
I am homesick for the roosters
whose 4am calls reminded me
that the sunlight was coming to graze my cheeks.
I am homesick for the mellifluous language
that my abuelo delivers smoothly over grainy phone reception
while my tongue struggles to wrap around te quiero.
I have been homesick for four years,
trying to find Venezuela in an American life,
stuck with souvenir keychains
and Star Market Malta.