This Saturday Paul and I are on the street. We’re teasing each other the way we´ve learned to do. It´s a game with simple rules. He’ll laugh at my first world ways: not sharing the last sip of water, how little I seem to notice nature, that I´m talking about money. Then I respond, defend myself, as he laughs over my explanations. This is how I´ve learned to shut up.
We´re with a group of other gringos, walking alongside the park and the stadium. The dizzy lights of the children´s rides spin in the distance. Little knots of friends sharing Pilsener and cigarettes on on the plaza. He turns to the group, and says to no one in particular, though his eyes are watching me:
“I´m the only Latino in this whole group.”
And now I get why he´s been looking at me, maybe knowing how I might reply. The same reply, defensive tone that I´ve learned to use in the United States, “I´m Latino”
“Solo en Sangre,” he shoots back, laughing.
It´s close to ten. With the lights on my curtains are transparent. This is why I´m dancing in the dark. I can hear the audio domino of dogs barks across the neighborhood. First, the yapping German Shepherd on the roof across from ours. Then the poodlemutt on the corner, then farther in the distance, the bass howl of some larger roof dog. And the punctuated calls of others in between.
The soles of my feet adhesive to the linoleum. I have no music so I´m dancing three steps to a medley of patchwork beats from memory and the sounds of neighborhood dogs. I watched a video on youtube before I said goodnight to my family and I’m closing my eyes, trying to remember which foot the instructor told me needs to go forward first. I´ve already stubbed my toe on the dresser.
This seems like something that should come naturally to me. Instead, my legs feel like what they are, slabs of flesh and fat suspended around pieces of bone. Salsa should be easier, I think, with no beat and nobody watching.
I am not Latino. I was raised by a woman whose parents were born in El Salvador. I have eaten and made oil-glistening pupusas and plantains. I have learned spanish. Though I spent the first four years just saying dirty words and forgetting. I´m a burnt sugar color, with enough sun, and can’t run a comb through my hair. But if there were a ranking system, of people and things, Latino to least Latino, I would sit near the bottom, right below a bag of guacamole-flavored doritos and right above people who think adding an ‘o’ to the ends of words makes them sound spanish.
My grandmother led parades in San Salvador. My grandfather was a mechanic in San Francisco. He drank. She loved the The Beatles. I don´t know what kind of people they were, or are, if they still are. I’ve never met them. I am one of three roots of my family tree, splintered to the dirt, choking on sediment for the light.
I am Latino until I open my mouth. I don´t know what that makes me exactly. Irish? I have celebrated about as many Irish holidays as I have Latin holidays. I cannot dance, as I am told I should. I cannot roll my r´s. Like my mother told me, weeks ago, as I drowned in identity and reached for her hand, I too have a sense of diaspora beneath my skin. Whatever I am, and whatever that means, is not easy, does not come in three flavors or celebrate itself on such-and-such date with such-and-such traditional dish. It will not let me say it´s name.
Three months deep and I have no revelations for you. My definitions are stagnant, non-illuminating. I know about as much about myself as you do at this point. I´m going to stop asking the questions I don´t want answers to, like what I am and who decides. I will stop trying to bridge my estar and ser. Estoy bailando. Soy Latino. Estoy comiendo la sopa. Soy Latino. Estoy perdido. Soy Latino.