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sick in “america”

before the crossing1 our family could understand the whispers of the water2. we bathed our cuerpos morenos as if we we were holy: as if our humanity was valuable, as if we were worth life. it is hard to remember anything before the crossing3. how do i tell myself i had a childhood if at the age of five i am a fugitive4 of the law? it would be easier to remember life before the crossing5 if we didn’t become paralyzed for the rest of our lives: the doctor tells me i have post traumatic stress disorder. he says it is because i am an immigrant6, but that in a few years, i will be american7.


1during the crossing // we were faced with // the reality // of what it means // to be Black and Indian // in an Empire // that constantly measures us // on production // production // and production. // our blood // a sustenance // for those // who deem us “illegal.”

2the water here // has been cut through // by wooden logs // that demand // we show them // papers that say // we are not poor // nor Indian or Black.

3i only crossed once // (location: // San Diego/ Tijuana border // age // five // how // by foot and car.)// but every story heard // becomes another crossing // my body remembers every crossing // every crossing becomes mine // my body has experienced every crossing // in dreams.

4fugitive: american indian boarding school runaway// fugitive: runaway slave// fugitive: runaway soon-to-be-lynched negro// fugitive: assata shakur // fugitive: mike brown // fugitive: sandra bland // fugitive: alan carlos pelaez lopez.

5crossing: the precise location in a five-year-old’s life where they lose their humanity, health, and livelihood. // the site where the child realizes their guiding spirit is weakening // the body, changing // the mind, confused // the flesh, shivering // eyes, watering // digits, dancing. // the site where “Americans” will blame the child for “infecting” the “American Dream.”// the site where a child is just a child visiting occupied Indian land.

6“the black body does not migrate, it is shipped”- tavia nyong’o

7american: i guess i’ll be forever “sick.”


Discovering Blackness

I am nine-years-old
& Mamá María tells me que somos negros
I do not believe her
we have only been in this country for 4 years &
one thing I know is that only Americans can be Black
and only Americans can be White
y yo,
?como puedo ser negro?
no hablo Inglés, no tengo papeles, mierda no soy Americano

Mamá María me dice que somos negros
Mamá María tells me that I must learn to love my skin,
mi piel
to love my accent,
mi acento
to love my culture,
mi cultura

I do not understand

one year later, bilingual education ends
(I am shipped to a school 13 miles away)
(I am labeled Haitian)
(I am yelled at in French-Creole by an ESL teacher to whom I am her only student)
(I do not understand.)
(c’est gar?on est tres stupid)
(she whispers to another teacher)

I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not.

That night, I cry in the bathroom until Mamá María comes home from cleaning houses
I tell her I hate my new school
I hate the way Mademoiselle looks at me
I hate the way kids pull my hair
I hate being the only immigrant
El unico illegal

I can see the water in mama’s eyes
“Somos negros” Mamá María tells me
“Pero no le puedes decir a nadie de dónde somos
Nos van a deportar y si nos deportan, nos van a matar”

Alan C Pelaez Lopez is an Afro-Indigenous artist and visionary from Oaxaca, México. Alumni of VONA/Voices and CultureStrike’s UndocuWriting, Alan’s poetry and nonfiction essays have been influenced by growing up Black, poor, queer, and undocumented. Alan has been named one of “10 Poets for the Revolution” in The Best American Poetry Blog, and one of “10 Up And Coming Latinx Poets You Need To Know” by Remezcla.


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