Where I Come From

As 2018 comes to an end, I’ve been thinking a lot about my life and where I come from. An “I am from…” poem is a simple way to reflect and put together all the important pieces in your life. So today, I would like to share mine in hopes that it inspires your own self-reflective thoughts.

The question comes
in the form of a loaded gun.
Neither answer the right one

Where are you from?

In response, I show them my hands
My scarred skin still softer
Than the calloused hands of my padre.
The journey of my madre still longer than my fingers

Growing up for me
was sharing
a one-bedroom apartment with my parents and 4 siblings,
Loteria with pinto beans, and Cumbia music for cleaning on
Sunday mornings

Where I am from
I am too light for brown kids but too dark to fit in
not knowing yet that I was meant to stand out

I didn’t know
I was “different” from
other American children
until kindergarten
when my classmates thought
it was weird that  I rolled the R in my name
Because their friends Carly and Ralph said their R’s like they were supposed to sound

So I stripped the pain out of my name
and started going by
scarlett instead

In first grade,
my favorite subject
in school
was English
Not to brag but
I was good at it.
Knew words my peers couldn’t spell or pronounce
Words like undocumented,

These words fell out of a deportation letter
that I had to translate for my mother when I was too young to understand why

But I am from stubborn ancestors, from fighters
From I am here to stay
so today, I am from Julia Cortez
who became a citizen of the United States so when people told her to go back to her country she could say
“I am already here”

I am every girl before me that never had a stage to tell their story
I am All the missing and murdered indigenous women that go unnoticed
I am my peers who work three jobs just to survive,
who leave their kids alone at night,
so they can come back year after year
I am all the children who put their families dreams first
because of their parents who left their home countries and risk everything,
How could you not?

I am from borders,

Growing up, I was from speak when spoken to
and my madre raised me right
my madre told me to give credit where it’s due
So I want to make it clear that
The Institute of American Indian Arts did not give me my voice
No, I’ve had this outspoken tongue since I was young
but it did give me
teachers and faculty like all of you
who believed that a student’s
ethnicity, race, trauma or personal history
does not inhibit their ability to succeed

I am from borders,

I know they exist because my parents crossed them
And even though they exist,
I surpassed each and every single one of them to be here
And despite borders, I will pursue my dream of becoming an art therapist so I can help other kids from my community figure out what their borders are and how they can also succeed

Right now in this moment
I am from here.
And I can’t wait to see where else I am going.
And I hope you all come with me

Scarlett Cortez is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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