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Curas & Dichos

My mom tried to reclaim me in small ways like teaching me cumbia. When I was young she used to lean in after spinning me to say: el borracho will lean in too close, breathing his hot alcohol on your neck, that’s when you know it’s time to leave. But my hips remain rigid, both native & colonist. My dad’s mixed blood is my mixed blood & some part of me knows I’ll never be able to steal or own a world.

Even in college, a white woman tried to teach me to dance. She insisted, I can teach you. All Mexicans can dance—it’s in your blood. She gave up when my hips wouldn’t give rhythm, leaving me with her purse & drink at the bar. I didn’t tell her about the hooves on her dance partner, sulphur clouding in the air around them. I remember a dicho my mom says before I go out, El diablo nunca duerme—the trouble I’m looking for will always find me first.


As a small child, my grandmother & mom tried to teach me Spanish using incentives. Showing me chocolate gold coins they asked, Qué es esto? I replied full of child certainty, Chocolates. Dulces. Tesoros peque?os. But I’m not comfortable speaking Spanish. Not like my mom & grandma at the kitchen table when they try to keep me from eavesdropping. Spanish for serious matters, English for ordinary gossip. Las peque?as jarras tienen orejas grandes, my grandmother used say about me. As I grew, they spoke faster so I wouldn’t keep up. Listening but never speaking, my family says my eyes talk more than I do. Language has always stumbled drunk from my mouth so I loop it around my tongue & hold it there until it melts like pocketed gold.


I was six when I asked for a Selena doll. It was Christmas & my parents weren’t even sure it existed. But they found one & for the first time I saw myself reflected back in a doll. I get regularly asked the question, What are you? Like the other day in Tokyo Mart when a man asked me to translate a package written in Japanese. I told him I didn’t know. He asked what I was before telling me I look “oriental” & I’m “pretty for a Mexican.” People see what they want when they look at me, most search for kinship & think they find it in the wave of my hair, my almond shaped eyes, or my olive skin. I look for myself in other people too, but only find their questions.


My mom’s remedies have always been the same. Boiled cinnamon sticks for empacho. Caldo & Vicks VapoRub for everything else. Except a week ago, after my brother hydroplaned & crashed his car in a storm. She gave him a spoon of sugar & called it cura de susto. I asked why she’d never given either of us that before. She told me we had never been close enough to steal marigolds from Death. I want to ask if she has a cure for longing to fit in any world. I want to ask if she has a blood cure for wanting to own what isn’t mine. I want to tell her, but en boca cerrada no entran moscas is our family motto.

Laura Villareal earned her MFA from Rutgers University-Newark. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Palette Poetry, Black Warrior Review, Waxwing, and elsewhere. She has received scholarships from Key West Literary Seminar and The Highlights Foundation. More of her writing can be found at www.lauravillareal.com.

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