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Charles Kell

Jun 12, 2021

David A. Romero’s My Name Is Romero is a funny, dark, investigatory look at what it means to be Latinx in our present moment. Romero also powerfully balances how one is looked at, looks back, and is constantly in the process of creating identities through the practice of art.

What is striking about My Name Is Romero is how the poet balances somberness and levity over a wide polyvocal range of disparate poems. Prevalent themes include names/naming and identities, our contemporary political milieu, and how one navigates difficult familial relationships and the struggle to contextualize one’s self in the world.

Comprised of four distinct sections—“My Name Is…”; “Flowers”; “Beloved”; “Etymology”—the opening focuses on the multiple selves one inhabits and contends with. In the first poem, “My Name Is Romero,” the speaker struggles with the fact of others repeatedly mispronouncing his name: “Is Mr. Romeo in?” (15), one telemarketer asks. Further, the speaker notes how his appearance—because of his light skin and blue eyes—does not fit the typical/preconceived notions of what a Latinx man should physically look like. In an exclamatory refrain, the speaker relates, “I am a Romero!” situating his identity in a long line of family members: “And I know one thing: / That the name of my father / And my father’s father / And his father’s father / Before him / Was Romero” (18).

Romero’s sly yet distinct use of repetition throughout this collection works in a number of powerful ways: it reiterates who the speaker is while simultaneously drawing attention to the power of art and how one is constantly at work on constructing one’s place in a hostile world. In the next poem, “Make Me More Mexican,” the speaker upends and inhabits stereotypical depictions:

Raiders and Dodgers jerseys
Cholos and cholitas
Rebels and rockers
Borders and bullets (26).

Before the speaker continues, “This / Is what makes a Mexican / And this is what doesn’t” (26). What these seemingly straightforward observations subtly showcase is how slippery identities can be. What is most powerful about Romero’s attention to these details is that he depicts and overturns identities thrust upon others and ourselves. We have the power to claim our name, our identities, and what our lives mean. Romero claims and creates various art forms and voices throughout, showing how these parts of the self are always in the process of becoming, how they are multiple, and how they are impossible to pin down and define. Other stirring moments touch upon difficult familial relationships.

In “Gorilla Arms” the speaker recalls being a young boy and hurtling an insult at his father: “You look like a gorilla” (39). Feeling guilt and regret, thinking “There was hate there / Disgust there / Dehumanization” before reflecting, in a close meditation, on his father’s arms:

He used them
To clean ditches
Build pipe systems
To cut down trees
To clear fields (41).

What’s powerful about this poem—and this is repeated in all the poems in the collection—is that there are no easy answers, a tidy tying together. Rather, the poem itself meditates on work and works as a practice of reflecting on how words can harm not only who they are directed at, but the speaker as well. However, words, poetry, and art can also allow a working through of these difficult thoughts.

A highlight in My Name Is Romero includes a suite of three poems, three “diss tracks,”: “An Open Letter to Donald Trump”; “An Open Letter to Edward James Olmos”; and “An Open Letter to Katt Williams.” In “An Open Letter to Edward James Olmos,” the speaker, again, practices a deft use of repetition to lament and lambast the actor: “Because you are such an accomplished actor.” This statement works as a refrain to investigate the different parts the actor plays, and, specifically, how he flew back from the Super Bowl with Jan Brewer, the republican governor of Arizona. The speaker asks:

Could you feel something
Deep in your bones
Telling you not to get on that plane?
Stories of corpses haunting the desert (69).

The speaker remembers the actor’s powerful roles before and recalls, now, how that was all they simply were:

All we were left with
Was your sad carcass
An empty plane
And the realization
You had never been
The first Chicano
Anything. (71-72)

Romero’s distinct talent lies in his staccato cadence and his singular ability to balance humor and pathos, alongside devastating political critique. On second thought, these poems are working in much more nuanced ways than simple “diss tracks”: they balance our difficult relationship to celebrity while simultaneously critiquing the genealogical variants that allow for celebrity to influence and “speak for” a vast number of individuals. And they’re devastatingly hilarious.

Other poems in the collection touch upon a wide variety of subjects: colonialism and mass murder; the intricate, complicated relationships of family members; border guards and police brutality; a playful “Ode to the Burrito”; and meditations on artists such as Michael Jackson, Kanye West, and Jay-Z. In one moving portrait, “Micro Machines,” the speaker recalls his uncle, the artist, Frank Romero. The refrain used in this poem, “My uncle is an artist / A painter,” proliferates as not only a guide for speaker on the path toward becoming an artist, but also looks closely at the practice of painting, and how the uncle works as a symbol of pride, a symbol of belief; the uncle buoys the young poet:

Because my uncle is an artist
A painter
His work has hung in galleries the world over
You can find him in the Smithsonian
See his mural in L.A.
By the 101
And, yes
He, like me
Is a Mexican!
My uncle is an artist
A painter (46-47).

What David A. Romero accomplishes in My Name Is Romero is a critique / calling out of the problems plaguing the current moment—brought upon by the past—in the United States. However, this text is so much more—it is a celebration of plural identities, of family, work, of names. It is a celebration of art, the practice of art, and, ultimately, how art gives hope and can help people accomplish stunning things. My Name Is Romero is a powerful and necessary book.

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