"She never spoke in shades, only primary colors, geometric shapes
I hide in plain sight, folded
into Europe and El Yunque.
I hold all the colors
beneath this pale carapace.
My borders never closed.
Tucked into the mainstream,
I took advantage of all it had to offer.
Watched from a safe distance
the comments about my mother’s race.
I was labeled—the lady on the Maja bar of soap,
a Chiquita Banana girl.
Upon finding out my Latina roots,
colleagues looked at me
as if I became the other, less than,
then say, Are you sure? As if I couldn’t
be educated y Puertorriquena.
Sally was one hundred percent Latina.
Made in the Caribbean.
She never spoke in shades,
only primary colors, geometric shapes.
Her body built for sunshine and toasted sand.
Most of all she was real.
At fifteen, salsa grew like dandelion at her feet
I tried to catch her lightning, always a beat behind.
And there was Lily, glasses, hair thick, curled
like telephone wire corralled by an elastic
bolita at the nape of her long neck.
Between library books, she exercised popularity.
Hot fashion, cool kicks.
I squeezed into their music. They whispered
in a melody I half understood.
Shut out, English my only language.
Now, members of mi familia appear each night
on TV, hiding in plain sight.
I look close into those brown ojos, feel
their rhythms, how they slide with one foot
beneath the palm trees, the other
almost invisible dancing
the white American cha-cha-cha.
Roxanne Cardona was born in New York City of Puerto Rican heritage. She was a principal and educator in the South Bronx and is finishing up a manuscript based on her experiences. She has been published in One Art: A Journal of Poetry, Connecticut River Review, Pine Hills Review, Mason Street, Ethel Zine, Constellations, Commuter Lit (where her poem “Raven” was chosen for poetry week) and elsewhere. Roxanne lives in New Jersey with her husband.