Monday, March 27, 2017

#WeComeFromEverything: no. 14

  “Because We Come from Everything: Poetry &Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. 

During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present guest posts by CM fellows at Letras Latinas Blog that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.

Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas 

Migration Memory

by Juan Morales

My parents went to Spanish services at a church near the corner of Conejos and Colorado Avenue in Colorado Springs when they first met. Mom described living in her sister’s basement  with my brother and sister, and my father talked about his house near Ft. Carson. In the version I knew, they married after knowing each other three weeks. In their wedding photo, they toast in my aunt’s kitchen with plastic champagne glasses in front of the cake that my mom made. They’re smiling, mom in her pink dress and my father in a brown plaid suit. When I ask my mom if this is true, she laughs, “Of course not. It was longer than that.” With their 38th anniversary approaching, I’m left asking where did I get the three-week version of their story?

My mother was twenty when she left Ecuador. She spent a decade in Panama and then moved my brother and sister to Colorado. She sorted microchips for a computer company for minimum wage, shredding up her hands every day. Mom spent little and saved for the three of them. She understates her winding path to US citizenship, similar to so many other hard workers that add to our countrys rich tapestry by stepping past invisible borders we’re not supposed to cross. During our last family visit to Ecuador, we went to la línea equinoccial, the monument to the Equator, where we stood in the northern and southern hemispheres at the same time. We took photos crossing back and forth and then balanced on the yellow line. It cost around $3 to enter the monument, but at least you can cross it without consequence.

My father enlisted in the US Army at 17 or 18, knowing full well he’d fight in Korea. It was 1952 when he left Puerto Rico. My father didn’t speak English yet. In the three decades he served, dad earned two Purple Hearts (one for a grenade that temporarily paralyzed him and a bullet clean through the shoulder). He rose to the rank of Sargent Major and traveled the world until stationed in Colorado Springs, where he eventually retired.
            My mistake whenever I tell my father’s story: I claim the military as my fathers pathway to citizenship, waking up to the fact he was a US citizen all along. I omit Puerto Rico as the US commonwealth in the Caribbean, the ambiguous island that isnt a state or an independent country. Just like his home island, my father had to work harder to learn and to speak the right language, and he had to suffer most of his adult life to prove that the effects of PTSD and Agent Orange were real. He still never complains. There is guilt I didn’t make these connections sooner, but I have always been proud of his sacrifices. I see it in his beat-up black hat with the Korea and Vietnam Veteran patch. Soldiers in uniform always look at his hat and then thank my dad for his service whenever they see him in public.

I was born in Iowa City, Iowa. My mom mentions a memory of how tall the corn grew. And that’s about it. We don’t have connections there, beyond my father rooting for the Hawkeyes and my mother telling me the hospital’s name there was Mercy. Instead of the Midwest, I gravitate toward my parents’ migration stories and what places they call home. Sometimes the gaps in my parentsstories defeat me. I cant keep the dates right. The math doesnt add up to a cogent timeline. My want is to braid the two stories and to avoid losing a single strand of them, which cannot be done. Some stories mom and dad just cant remember. Some questions they wont answer. Others I dont know to ask yet. I try to get out of the way and let their stories unfold again, the way that I heard them over the years, accepting the unavoidable memory fog that wraps around us all. 

Juan Morales was born in the U.S. to an Ecuadorian mother and a Puerto Rican father. He is the author of the poetry collections The Siren World, Friday and the Year That Followed, and the forthcoming, The Handyman's Guide to End Times in early 2018. He is a CantoMundo Fellow, The Editor of Pilgrimage Magazine, and an Associate Professor of English at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where he directs the Creative Writing Program and curates the SoCo Reading Series. His poems have recently appeared in Pank, Post Road, The Malpais Review, Green Mountains Review,, and others.


Lisa Zimmerman said...

A lovely, honest essay, Juan. It reminded my of a line by Marianne Boruch--"Everything begins by being dreamt."

GloriaA said...

Really great essay. I love that you included photographs. I also like that some stories are surrounded by fog of memories--that's the way it really is.