“We have a duty to our ancestors to survive”: An Interview with David A. Romero
David A. Romero is a Mexican-American spoken word artist from Diamond Bar, CA and the author of full length poetry collection My Name Is Romero which came out this year from FlowerSong Press. While reading My Name Is Romero I found my journey through the book to be tumultuous, parts I loved and parts that didn’t necessarily sit right with me. One of the great by products to this, however, was I found myself engaging in really great conversations with those around me because of this book. It opened up a dialogue that I otherwise might not have had the opportunity to have. I then was able to ask David some questions which I feel gave me better insight into the book and some of the sections I might have originally struggled with.
In this interview we are able to discuss some intricate aspects of being Latinx and My Name Is Romero.
Ni de aquí, ni de allá is a phrase that Ulises Bella brought up while reviewing your book saying, ““Ni de aquí, ni de allá” (not from here, not from there) is a saying and a dynamic that many of us Latinx/ Chicano/ Hispanic people struggle with. David tackles this theme and the complexities of how this mindset affects not only the personal, but also our role, or perceived roles, in modern America.” So, what does this phrase mean to you personally?
That phrase sums up a huge part of My Name Is Romero (FlowerSong Press, 2020). It is the theme of poems such as “My Name Is Romero,” “Make Me More Mexican,” “Sweet Pochx Pie,” “Gorilla Arms” and more that deal with my experiences as a Mexican-American. The quote sums up questions of identity and feelings of belonging and exclusion.
I’m not fully considered Mexican: I am white-passing, I don’t speak Spanish, I am unaware of a lot of the everyday knowledge of Mexican culture that most Mexicans possess, so the reaction of most Mexicans I meet is to, at first, deny my identity. There are times in which this hurts very deeply, but at the same time, I understand.
I’m not fully considered American either. As a child I would see the reactions of Caucasian-American friends towards family heirlooms in my home and notice how they looked at them with disgust or reacted to them in ways that played into stereotypes. For example, we had a sombrero in our garage. I think it was covered in dark blue felt with some ornate sequins. It belonged to my father and was kept among my grandfather’s things. Sometimes when my friends would come over, they would put the sombrero on and immediately pretend they were bandits and quote lines from stereotypical Mexican movie characters. As we got older, some of those same friends would feel comfortable saying openly racist things about my people in front of me. When they noticed that this made me upset, they would say things like, “Don’t get upset, you’re not really Mexican.” This has been a constant theme in my life. Caucasian-Americans saying things to the effect of, “You’re one of us. Not one of them.”
However, in college, I met some Caucasian-Americans who looked at me with hatred the second I told them I was Mexican. I flashed them a smile but they weren’t having it. It was a new experience for me and one that I will never forget. They hated me simply because of my race, not because of my politics, my language, my style, or anything else I might change to make me more pleasing or inoffensive to them. As a white-passing person, it’s one thing to hear about racism, hear and see racism directed towards others, but to experience it firsthand, directed at yourself, is something else entirely. These people would never see me as being American. To them, being American wasn’t simply embracing a set of values and conforming to a culture, after which, you would be accepted, it was being white. Period. End of story. The experience opened my eyes to the reality of racism. The reality that non-passing People of Color experience every day.
Recently I read some really interesting and insightful words from Priscila Garcia-Jacquier on Instagram (@priscilagarciajacquier) about the topic of being a White/White passing Latinx. She writes, “[O]ur desire to deny our whiteness and refute its existence is White Supremacy in action.” She goes on to write, “So, even if our ancestral roots are Indigenous or African or both, if we do not present as such by the color of our skin, we have to take responsibility for our Whiteness.” Which made me think of the lines “Some pochxs are sliced/Into a permanent state of denial/Cut themselves/“White”/Or “Other”/For pie charts” from “Sweet Pochx Pie.” The tone of the poem almost seems dismissive of Latinx people that might check “White” or “Other” while filling out their demographic questionnaires, but there really doesn’t seem to be another option for us. Personally, I check “Other,” and then as I continue on, I check “Latino/Hispanic.”
It seems hard to move in spaces that don’t account for the colonization that is my bloodline. However, I know I have to especially own up to the fact that I am white passing and the privilege that affords me in order to be an ally for Black and Indigenous folks. Am I denying who I am because I check these boxes? In what ways do you think white/white passing Latinx folks should show up for themselves as well as Black and Indigenous folks?
In the demographic questionnaires that omit “Latino/Hispanic” as a category, or list “Latino/Hispanic” only as a secondary category, you are given the choice of “Black,” “White,” “Asian,” “Native American,” or “Other.” If you are Latinx, and aren’t Afro-Latinx (if you were, I would advise you to check “Black” for reasons similar to ones I will touch upon later) I would advise you to check “Native American” instead of “White” or “Other.”
This is counter-intuitive to many. First, is the term, “Native American.” In this context, it doesn’t necessarily mean Cherokee, Seminole, Lakota, Apache, ie, the Indigenous peoples of the current geographic boundaries of the US, in this context, it refers to the Indigenous people of all of the Americas: North, South and Central.
Due to the legacy of the white supremacy inherent in Spanish colonialism, Latinx people have gone on to have negative attitudes towards Indigenous peoples, peoples they have common ancestry with. They have gone on to forward Spanish notions of beauty and, if made to choose, will choose “White” on the pie chart every time. This is what a large part of what my poem “Poor, Poor Spaniard” is about.
Why does this matter? The creation of these surveys and the articulation of the question as such was used as a tool to increase the number of Caucasians in a geographical area or field of research and downplay the number of People of Color in a geographical field or area of research. Latinx people are the fastest growing population in the United States. Historically, we have been the largest population in the American Southwest and have also had large concentrations in the Northeast and Southeast. For decades, our numbers were counted as “White.” These numbers affected public policy decisions, political campaigns, where money was allocated, etc.
When I advocate for non-Afro-Latinx Latinx people to claim “Native American” in that category, I do not argue for us to take up space in conversations focused on marginalized Indigenous peoples concentrated in specific geographic regions, I do not advocate for us to try to lay claim to any owed benefits to Indigenous peoples when we have no solid link to those communities, nor do I advise for us to engage in any cultural appropriation of Indigenous cultures, all things that some Latinxs feel very comfortable doing, I simply argue that we proclaim our Indigenous ancestry, whether we are white passing or not, especially in those circumstances that improve the conditions of our people, increase representation, and consolidate resources for People of Color.
Danni Beltran is a queer, Latinx poet, performer, and creative nonfiction writer. They are a senior at The College of Saint Rose, majoring in English. Their work has appeared in Ethel Zine. Currently they reside in Troy, NY. You can keep up with them on Instagram at @danni_lou_who.