You ask me for my name,
and I say, “It’s pronounced Mendoza,”
and again, the Spaniard spits it out my throat,
pats me on the tongue,
tells me I have been a good subject,
and again, I have traded this empire
for my former one.
I’m sorry. I did not mean to confuse you.
I, too, would like to proudly bestow a heritage,
except I do not know what home
I’d tell my children to go to.
I speak English, and my Abuelo’s cane shakes.
I speak Spanish, and an Aztec priest
cradles smallpox with his lungs,
I say “Nahuatl,” and a Wixarika mother
asks for her daughter back. When I say “home,”
to whose mother am I referring?
Which war am I praying to flee?
Ask me of my name, and I will tell you
of the first men who brought it here,
how they’d unleash dogs onto the children
and clothe entire villages in flames.
Ask me of my name, I’ll tell you I only have it
because a Spaniard stamped it
into a Caxcane woman with his teeth.
I’m sorry, I did not mean to bring
my blood into the room.
I, too, would like to state my presence
and not hawk up a genocide.
I would have known my indigenous parts first,
but I searched for my kin in a schoolbook,
and learned only of them as the European’s casualty,
in that I asked for a history
and was handed a cup of blood. I’m sorry,
I reached back across the border
to find anything that has not already been buried,
but most times, I find America imperialized
an already colonized nation.
Most times, I find colony
stacked atop another colony, repeatedly,
a layered cake of mass graves,
so when I ask “how deep must I go
to find my origins?”
this is not a metaphor.
I mean there is likely a Walmart
plopped upon my ancestors.
I mean in the shoveling for identity
I must unearth all the shopping malls
and pipelines that have crushed it.
I mean the Spanish
literally built the Mexican capitol
over the Aztec city and broadened it
to swallow the entire lake,
that each year the city sinks whole feet
into a cavity of its own making.
I mean bedrock becomes untrustworthy
when it was someone else’s home.
Ask me of my name, and I’ll say
I do not know how to honor my existence
and the holocaust that caused it
in the same mouth.
Ask me of my name,
and I’ll say it’s still a last thing I have left to pride
in a country that does not want it here.
Ask me of my name,
and I’ll say, “It’s pronounced Mendoza,”
but a Wixarika elder
at the top of my neck
sings and cries
in the same tone,
“It’s okay, love.
Now dig deeper.
Added: Tuesday, October 1, 2019 / Used with permission.
Jonathan Mendoza is a Boston-bred, Chicago-based Jewish and Mexican-American activist, spoken word poet, social justice educator, and musician. He is a National Poetry Slam Champion and the winner of Split This Rock’s 2018 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest. Jonathan serves as a community organizer for housing and youth power with Pilsen Alliance and as a teaching artist with Young Chicago Authors. Find books and updates at his website and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.