Reviewed by Carla Scarano D'Antonio

 

(FlowerSong Press, 2020)

In his new collection, David Anthony Romero, a spoken-word Mexican American artist and slam award winner, traces the journey of his search for an identity, starting with his name: Romero. He is not Romeo and is not Italian but Spanish or, more precisely, Mexican; his name is a reminder of the archbishop Oscar Romero and the artist Sonia Romero. The name identifies a person in a multiracial environment where being Mexican is considered a stigma. The author is opposed, taking pride in his Latino heritage, his ancestors’ language that he has to learn again, and his family relations. This gives him strength and motivates him to voice the discrimination and injustices that people with an ethnic minority background endure.
 
The collection is dedicated to his grandparents, Delia and Edward Romero. Photographs of them are featured on the cover and in the first few pages, which points to the importance of the poet’s connection with his relatives and the closeness of his family relationships. There is a profound sense of genealogy and his roots – the origin of a larger family that delineates who he is and where he aims to go:

Yo no hablo español
Un poquito
Make me more Mexican
Indigenous
And genuine
[…]
To make myself more Mexican
What do I want?
To have an identity
What do I want?
To feel accepted
¿Quando?
¡Ahora!
¿Dónde?
¡Aquí!
Right here
And right now.
 
(‘Make Me More Mexican’)

​Charting family history through poetry is an attempt to understand the inner meaning of being a Mexican in America; that is, of living in a country that undermines people of colour and minorities to the point of overt discrimination. The melting pot and the American Dream seem to be well-crafted illusions that obscure abusive and, at times, violent attitudes:

The melting pot
For you
Is good
Only if you make sure
You have erased the ingredients
You stay on your side of the fence
[…]
Where did you come from
To dare fill the word “Mexican” with spite?
Show me on the map
Yes …
That’s right
Nowhere
You poor, poor
Nothing
 
(‘Poor, Poor, Spaniard’)

There is anger in the poet’s words, but also a wish to come to terms with this problem and tackle injustices in order to improve things and eventually be accepted. We are all hybrids, mixtures of different heritages that cannot be fully traced.
 
In his poem ‘Open Letter to Donald Trump’, Romero is tough and direct in voicing his discontent about the conservative and discriminatory politics and policies of the American president:

A platform of hate
Talked about making America great
For who?
It wasn’t for us
Latinx America
You called us “criminals”
“Drug dealers”
And “rapists”
A nameless wave of people
Coming “from Mexico”
And “South America”
Donald Trump
Do you know anything?
Heard of Central America?
[…]
I’m not laughing
Because I know
That when you say that we are
“Criminals”
“Drug dealers”
And “rapists”
You mean business
And so do I

('Open Letter to Donald Trump')

Trump’s words criminalise Mexican immigrants, insinuating that they are a danger to white America. By mentioning the racist paedophile Chris Simcox, co-founder of the Minutemen, who patrolled the Mexican border with his militia and abused Mexican children, in one of his poems, Romero indicates that in reality that white Americans might pose a greater danger to Mexican immigrants than the reverse.
 
Shaping identities is not always easy and straightforward, as shown in the moving poem ‘Gorilla Arms’:

​It was Sunday morning
My father
Had just gotten off work
Overtime shift
Family room
Pink box of donuts
My father’s blue work shirt
That put them on the table
Exhausted
But happy
Spending time with the family
His arms on the table
Muscular
Sweaty
Heavy
Hairy
Arms
A bratty
Snotty-nosed
Child
I looked across the table
And told him,
“You look like a gorilla”

('Gorilla Arms')

The poet comes to regret his words and is ashamed of having expressed such spiteful and dehumanising language that reflects the white American mentality – the societal stereotypes he had absorbed in spite of his heritage. He needs to tackle and challenge such stereotypes in order to find his true self. Accepting his father’s humble life, his hard work, his hairy body and blue-collar job means embracing his roots and his people and consequently being proud of them.
 
Romero’s poetry is composed of short, sharp lines, his tone is direct and the message is unmistakable. It is poetry that has been created to be performed, but at times it becomes lyrical, as in ‘Concierto de al-Andalus’:

​African feet glide
Somewhere in the Maghreb
Through waving blades of green grass
And crunch
Darkness comes
Over a field in twilight
African children run
In joy and haste
Somewhere in the distance a fire is built

​This is an interesting collection that explores Mexican American identity in striking lines, denouncing abuse and discrimination, and, at the same time, envisaging possible solutions that point to a renewed discovery of the origins that encompass food, names, language and the power of the imagination. 

Carla Scarano D’Antonio lives in Surrey with her family. She obtained her Degree of Master of Arts in Creative Writing with Merit at Lancaster University in October 2012. Her pamphlet Negotiating Caponata was recently published by Dempsey & Windle (2020); she has also self-published a poetry pamphlet, A Winding Road (2011). She has published her work in various anthologies and magazines, and is currently working on a PhD on Margaret Atwood’s work at the University of Reading. In 2016, she and Keith Lander won first prize in the Dryden Translation Competition with translations of Eugenio Montale’s poems. She writes in English as a second language.

Visit her websites:
http://carlascarano.blogspot.com/
http://www.carlascaranod.co.uk/

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