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December 7, 2020

A Review of David A. Romero's My Name is Romero

 

Yolanda Nieves

Some Latino poets like Willie Perdomo dish out the grit of living on the margins with superb poetical musical cadence in his 2014 The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon: Poems. Other writers like Daniel Borzutzky—a 2016 National Book Award Winner for The Performance of Becoming Human—immortalize the monumental horror of terror and torture of being “Othered.” What makes David A. Romero’s book My Name Is Romero a good addition to the Latin@/x canon is the honesty of the subject matter.  The title of the book is not simply what it implies—the centering of the “Self”—of one Latino. Instead, it’s an informed, intrepid, and at times, painful revelation of thoughts and dialogue that lie unspoken in our brains and amongst many Latin@/xs, and in Latin@/x communities.

The book’s title My Name Is Romero feels like a salute to Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez’s 1967 epic poem titled, “I Am Joaquin.” While Gonzalez’s poem encompasses the historical totality of what it means to be a Chicano, Romero’s identity poem takes on Latinidad in a more straightforward manner. At the same time, its echo is emotionally complicated. His poetics is rolled in the empirical and intellectual politics of a Latino’s identity construction in the U.S. 

The book begins with a culture clash. In the introductory poem “My Name Is Romero,” our author recounts how his name is mispronounced. Romeo? Or Romero?  Is any name just as significant?  Contrary to Shakespeare’s idea that “a rose by any other name is just as sweet,” the renaming or mispronunciation of Romero’s name is just the tip of what can be considered microaggressions.

In the poem “Sweet Pochx Pie,” he writes: “And rolling R’s seem as silly to me / As caricatures of twirling mustaches / When saying my own name properly / Makes me feel like Zorro.” The rolling of the “r’s” highlights a poignant theme of how the use of language is related to  the ability of crossing ethnic and racial borders, and how language is used as a measuring tape of a Latin@/x’s level of Latinidad. Throughout the book Romero deals with the conundrum of Spanish as a weapon and a place of healing. 

As you can tell by now, the poems are ethnographic and derived from the perspective and duality of being able to “pass” as a white Mexican but mired in the purgatory of being “Othered.” The progression of the poems reads like a coming-of-age story—a geschichte, where the dialogue travels between the evolving identity in the present and the identity shed from the past. Through his poems the “white”/ “passing” Mexican is as much an alien amongst Latin@/x communities as well as in the mainstream.  The “white” or “passing” Latin@/x is another foreign threat that can never fully be permitted or assimilable into U.S. society. The sadness of being forever in limbo, between the world that Latin@/xs actually inhabit, and the one they imagine and struggle to create for themselves, runs in the veins of Romero’s poems, “Make me more Mexican / A simple statement / A declaration / A cry for help!” he demands in his poem titled, “Make Me More Mexican.”

Yolanda Nieves, born and raised in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, is an award-winning poet, playwright, director, educator, actress, and founder of The Vida Bella Ensemble. Author of two highly acclaimed poetry books, Dove over Clouds and The Spoken Body (Plainview Press), Dr. Nieves’s research and poetry has been featured in Hunter College’s prestigious El Centro Journal for Puerto Rican Studies, DePaul University’s Diálogo Center for Latino Research Journal, the San Francisco based New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education Journal, and the Journal of Vocational Education and Technology.

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