new mami - Claudia Inglessis

my mother is the type of woman

who smiles like sunshine when speaking

someone must be lucky enough to hear her english words trip over each other

when they cocked their head

and furrowed their brow

saying “this is america – learn english!”

in petty facial expressions

my mother lingers at the edge of her sentences, a cliff she hasn’t jumped from in years

too embarrassed to say nevermind


so to whoever told my mother to learn english

i want you to know that when she thinks i’m sleeping

my mother sits alone

and reads the dictionary out loud

i wake up to





my mother tries 3, 4, 5 times to stretch her mouth around english

rehearsing until the words are no longer out of tune


so to whoever convinced my mother she was nothing

turned her on herself

wrung life out of her skin until the word “immigrant” could crack her


i want you to know that i watched my mother sit silent through dinner

when my father’s friends yelled

“oh my god did you hear that? she said leesen! what is leesen? do you mean listen?”

i want you to know that my mother plucked her caterpillar eyebrows raw

when her coworker said “you know, unpopular opinion: i think frida kahlo’s ugly…”

i want you to know that my mother spread bleaching creams on her face

until the burning brought tears to her eyes

because a girl in my first grade class asked “why is your mommy brown?”


i want those friends, that coworker, that little girl to know that my mother is history

of moving to a country with her mind and two cents

of hearing “be like us” and mistaking it for “welcome home”

of shoving that mind in her pocket when she was told she had too many opinions

that immigrants like her had to earn the right to speak up

my mother is history

of being handed soggy crumbs from the back of america’s mouth and seeing opportunity


my mother made a life out of the rotten scraps you threw at her

my mother bears the andes mountains on her shoulders

she is salsa hospitality in heaping spoonfuls

holding the moon’s glint in her eyes

with palms that push and pull oceans of pain


my mother is not your savage

your illegal

your alien

she may not be her own yet, but my mother was certainly never yours

her self hatred is a leash you are losing your grip on


because there are days when my mother lets her face lie bare

lets her coarse hair grow into stubble

lets her dictionary gather dust in its drawer


my mother’s tongue is learning that it doesn’t need to wrap itself around english

it already has too much amor

too much vida of its own


my mother’s tongue,

her voice,

her body

claim themselves a little bit more every day

your grip is loosening