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Tuesday, September 6, 2016 | One

Do labels define or divide us? Is our sense of Self inside out or outside in? How much of who you call 'I am' is selected from a category of options? How much self-made? How much self-created?

Two Part Harmony
By Roxanna Maria

I am una Isla CARIBEÑA
Slightly tinted by the sun from that distant land.

Mirame, with your imperfect vision
you will trace the history of my people in the frame of my body and see . . . worthlessness

Oyeme, with your selective hearing
you will be untouched by our song echoing in your anthem; it’s too strong to deny, too loud to ignore.

Yet in America, the true meaning of my language unfolds before me and I fail to understand why.

Labeled . . .imigrante for the curl in my hair and the rhythm in my hips, the once whole me begins to tear.

Yo soy mi Isla, become America.
Yo Conozco Mi Gente now know their Nation.
We are not one of you; I am not one of you.

Silently I watch as
2 become 1 and I become none.

Palm trees vs. dead leaves
Mangoes vs. potatoes
Mi alma vs. mi mente


My mind is imprisoned by my soul’s emotions,
Yet they’re still a two-part harmony:

“Just Another to the Grand Ol Flag.”

From First Published Chapbook (2005): EncontrandoMe.  Shout out to Yellow Jacket Press

Artist: Isabel Yepez

By Roxanna Maria

El Ingles is wife to the american dream, tempting the passion behind mi cultura.


I was born on the language of Spanish, pronouncing the I in la Isla on the blemish of a birthmark.

Here, she is my lover.


With outstretched fingers,

Mis raices cling from crumbling towers,

(clandestinely) yearning . . . patria.


“There is another within me,” Rumi says and 
I understand.

My other: lost in this nation’s debris.


Mi amante humiliated my ancestral force

and left me forsaken between I and the other lost.


Hidden behind the stigmatism my pale complexion

confesses,I remain a minority of my roots, of this country.

From First Published Chapbook (2005): EncontrandoMe.  Shout out to Yellow Jacket Press



Americanizada: Complexion & Labels 
By Roxanna Maria

I am the daughter of two immigrants turned citizens. First generation naturalized, thanks to my parents' foresight. I was raised with opportunity at my doorstep for being labeled citizen of the land of the free. Yet, the story I am afraid to tell sings a country-less song. 

Never quite theirs, not quite here’s. I have journeyed through life ebbing and flowing in my sense of ethnicity and culture. A label is a label- regardless of the blood or status that define it: Dominican-American. And so, it has gone- my whole life a pursuit of meaning for these labels. That tell me something about me, I can’t seem to know without them.

I met the Island for the first time at age seven. The plight of the Afro-Latina wasn’t evident on my skin, in the color of my eyes, or the softness of my hair; I felt gawked at and prodded; sported around by my cousins to their friends and classmates for cool points. La Americana.

My complexion has always been a challenge ground for people. I never “look” Dominican to anyone. The colors that make up my being aren’t the palette of the majority. I am fair skinned, have light eyes, and waves of soft hair with the occasional curl when the weather is right. It is the first truth I learned when I made it to the homeland of my lineage- I did not look like them.

Mami is a voluptuous beast of a woman with fair complexion and dark hair. Back in the day her long black hair would fall from her head in a sea of lovely, thick liso strands. She has thick lips and a plump nose. Papi is a caramelo morenito. Back in his peacock days, he’d rock his course hair in a thick fro. He has thin lips and a wide nose.

She was criticized by her family por dañar la raza with this negro for a husband. The fickleness of the human condition: many years later, his own daughter would feel talked of in their homeland for being the very fair complexion he was ostracized for not being; the irony.


I find wonder and value in the complexities of the people of my lineage.  My hunt for meaning has built with this a sense of pride in history.

The truth though, is the truth; my love affair with my bloodline is anchored in its language.  I learned to communicate in Spanish.

Era la motivacion de mi lengua. Ejerserme al aire. Today, when I watch myself in videotapes, I catch the wildness of the fire that lights me.

Even with Juan Luis Guerra’s lullabies.

“Como un beso que calla y se ensiende, si es que acaso le quiere.” 

Even with Raulin y sus Medicinas de Amor

I left it abruptly, and I can’t even call it for Yankee Pride.  I heard my sister crone all through my adolescence, telling me to keep its pace and practice. But, it was I who was running. (Or was it hiding?)

Two Part Harmony, shared here, was an attempt at broaching the subject from an outside angle. It has been almost 15 years since I wrote that piece. I am still writing it, about the search for these two harmonies to fit, the Dominican-American? Outside-in.

Never felt there. Never felt here. Always felt the language. My accent has changed since the age in those videotapes. But, I am hiding it, behind music and movies, and sweet guilty pleasures like Galerias Velvet on Netflix.

My father’s great-grandfather was Spanish, they say. And that language toys with me, like a kiss that just grazes my tongue and barely touches my lips.

My greatest sense of belonging comes from the moment a Spanish speaker recognizes that I, too, speak Spanish. Guards drop, faces soften, we become conozidosEl sabor en mi lengua even in English, always gives me away. So, the country that is responsible for that flavor in my speech is always de-facto homeland, because in the land of the white, color is always other. Ni de aqui. Ni de aya.

One of my early vivid memories is the classroom experience during my first trip to DR. It was school. There were teachers. We were kids. What made me so different; that my passport said American?

So, this whole dress-up game feels like garb.  Dominican-American. But, not because of any ANTI feelings, simply because of everyone’s narrow-mindedness. It leaves those of us (me) with a struggle to use these labels you need to know us (me), before you learn us.  ME.

My great-great grandmother was Haitian, they say. Je ne sais pas, pourquio le francais, still escapes my lips with some of its phrases that have lingered. Could I turn some of that high school French into a confidence boost to learn Creole? To stop hiding. To chase language over a sense of patria.

I am learning of the palettes that have colored my make-up. Shared here are a few from my father’s side. I am Caribeña. I can own that umbrella. Before Dominicana- a nod to an island that does not feel like home to me. Or American- a country that continues to warn of its savagery.  

No sense of place, another to both my states. So, it has gone- my whole life a pursuit of meaning for these labels. That tell me something about me, it seems I can’t know without them.

The complexities of all people are fascinating. With those in my lineage, I feel a sense of connection to time. That sense of pride doesn’t feel the same as allegiance to the flag of recent predecessors. 

From what I have seen of allegiance, it seems to fuel a sense of arrogant conceitedness and a drive toward seeing otherness over collective bonds that strengthen us?

*ANTI: vibes of the moment.

Roxanna Maria is zoning on a canvas that speaks in hidden messages.

I Did Not Ask To Be Born On This Planet
By Bianca Salvant


Illustration by Robin Eisenberg

Before attempting to explore the relevance of identity, I must first recognize the privilege I have been granted with no request of my own. I will never know why I was born in Queens, New York,  in 1988 and not in a remote village somewhere off the coast of Indonesia in 1888. I will never know why I came from a fair skinned Puerto Rican woman and a brown skinned Haitian man, who is often mistaken for being mixed himself. I will never know why I was born with watered down African features that include curly hair and light brown skin. I will also probably never understand why people with darker skin have been bullied, silenced and oppressed.

I can not be one hundred percent sure, but I suppose it is because of my background and the features I bare that I am constantly with a conviction to explore the lines of identity. The world is constantly attempting to tell me who I am, which side I represent the most and why. Their explanations eliminate the father in me who has played a crucial role in how I hustle in this world. This father of mine, a trilingual Haitian man, has been a part of my life since day one: conceiving me at night and planting seeds to shade me by day. He has always been loud in his language, hanging out and collaborating with his brothers all day, everyday. They’d debate on politics while cursing Haiti and loving it at the same time.

The earliest project I remember them working on was an electronic store they opened on Beach 20th Street in Far Rockaway. We lived in a two-story white house at 1084 Gipson Street. I can still remember the nights in my little mind when I was scared of the dark. I’d run up the stairs, passing the large mirror that floated above the fireplace with an urgency, as if being chased. What was I so scared of? My father always left early in the morning and returned late in the evening. Sometimes my sister and I would join him. On the days we were there until closing, I remember sitting in the car watching as he and my uncles shut the large garage door with a chain and lock. Summer time was the best because there was a pizza shop across the street, Papi would give us money to get Italian ices. I always felt like a big girl whenever he let my sister and I cross the street alone. When tired of being in the electronic store, bored, I’d trut to the library not too far away.

Some nights he’d pull me up into bed with him, a book in his hands, trying to teach me how to say words like ‘rooster’ in Creole and French. He would point to a picture and I’d repeat after him several times. Then he’d proceed to lecture me on the importance of learning these words, the importance of being Haitian. It wasn’t as consistent as I now wish it was. His lack of consistency has made me the butt of jokes, a woman who isn’t really Haitian.  

My mother and her family were the fun ones. Their Spanish was colorful, always accompanied by music, dancing and parties. Our house was always filled with cousins, toys and weekend gatherings that felt like holidays. They drove sports cars, with large Puerto Rican flags on the hood or hanging from the rearview mirror. I remember taking an empty beer bottle from the dining room table during a Thanksgiving party, filling it with water and trying to be cool while drinking. My father saw me as he arrived home from the store. He snatched it from me, sniffed the liquid and yelled at my mother, “Look at what you’re teaching Bianca!” I, not knowing why he was upset, ran off to play with something else. Even now, my father blames all my mistakes on my Puerto Rican side, all my successes on his.

On my face I wear Mami’s. Her thin lips shaping my own, her straight hair combing mine. She hugged my sister and I often, taking us to the mall and being a girl with us. She made sure we experienced Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. She made sure we had everything on our Christmas list while Papi would gift us with jewelry or neon lights (literally). My neon light was purple and spelled my name; my room buzzed at night when I turned it on, my skin glowing. Mami’s greatest passion was sewing clothes and she’d always dressing us in the most unique gowns for weddings. On trips to Jamaica Avenue, we’d spend a lot of time in fabric stores.

When I was old enough to express what type of toys I wanted to play with, I told Mami that I didn’t want any white baby dolls because I’m black. What provided me with that distinction, I do not know for sure, especially considering Mami’s skin is not the same color as mine. I suppose I figured one looked less like me than the other. I overheard one of my aunt’s asking about my black dolls, Mami casually replied, “She asked me why would she have a white doll when she is black. So I’m only getting her black dolls.” I do not remember if there was continued dialogue about this or whether my family members expressed disagreement. Mami never argued with my point of view and if a doll I wanted didn’t come in darker shades, she wouldn’t get it. That time period is the first revolution I can remember being involved in and, oddly enough, it started at home and pertained to the color of skin. I wasn’t aware of the political climate in the world at seven years old, where did such a conviction come from?

After my parents split up when I was ten, Mami took my sister and I to Florida where everything we’ve ever known was downsized. I witnessed the packaging of marijuana when my sister and I were young adults, hanging out in the projects of West Tampa. I experienced the fruits of hard labor when my mother was finally able to take us out of there and into a small and nice apartment complex with a pool. I learned what it felt like to get nothing for Christmas, now living between two homes in two states.

When I got to high school, my closest friends were the girls who were pretty and smart, always had an opinion and were involved in extracurricular activities. We were neither the losers or the most popular, we were neither in the drama or completely removed from it. We were writers, always trying to find ways to express ourselves. We were always talking, whining about and crushing over boys. I was a band student, playing the alto saxophone, singing in the gospel choir and a part of the Yearbook staff. On days I stayed late on the Howard W. Blake campus, I wrote poetry and recited them with my oldest friend.

The friends I had who lived in the projects often referred to me as white girl. They sometimes mocked my accent, but I do not remember this ever hurting my feelings. I remember, instead, laughing with them and  never changing who I was or how I spoke. I’d have the most fun with them because we’d walk around the neighborhood, visiting the park and watching people play basketball. We’d go to the corner store, buy junk food and then sit on the porch watching the block flow. Hip hop songs by Juvenile and Khia were hot and would blast through the cars passing by.

As an adult, my way of being is a mixture of all of this. I talk with my hands, animated and full of energy. I eat novels and books, formulating deep thoughts and theories on limitless subjects while being wrong and right often. I am attracted to men of color who enjoy making their brains work while representing deep rooted cultures of diversity. My hips dance fluidly to reggae, and I can get lost while listening to Marc Anthony, Lupe Fiasco or 2 Chainz.

As I command larger spaces of myself in this world, I am forced to confront the notion that I must pick a side; be one thing, one person. The choosing is something I am uncomfortable with, the pressure to wave a flag and check a box is overwhelming. When the world responds to me, the picking is being done on my behalf: black people tell me I’m not one of them; white people tell me not to get it twisted; fair skinned Latinos tell me my hair is too thick, straighten it out; black people say it’s not thick enough.

What those people do not know about me, though, is that I’ve been involved in this revolution of self preservation for a very long time. I do not take kindly to demands that do not serve me. Ask those baby dolls.

I did not ask to be born on a planet that concerns itself with separating creatures based off cultural differences, features and skin color. I did not ask to be stripped bare of the parents who made and raised me simply because I do not aesthetically wear the features of what others have accepted to represent black. I would have much rather been on a planet in which we sang kumbaya all day long, climbing trees and drinking the juice from coconuts. A utopia, the garden of eden, in which starving and greed does not exist. But here I am, here you are.

We, humans, maintain a need to have a word for everything, naming things and engraving it within the compounds of our language. Words exist for the tangible and intangible, serving as a vessel for things we can not touch and need to organize. Like, for example, identity. Our consistent belief in ‘identity’ provides it with true power. Like magic, though, we can choose to make it disappear. Instead, we’ve allowed ourselves to be sold on ideologies that do more harm than good, building walls of anger and separation; stripping people of the person they see in the mirror. It's as if the purpose of identity is to simply provide people with something to fight for, something to have pride in, as if it is impossible to generate personable reasons without outside help. Those who are upset with Colin Kaepernick, for example, are serving as an ugly reminder about what can happen when people are given things to identify with, instead of accumulating their own convictions.

I've never struggled with my identity until people started to lend their thoughts on who I was, who I represented. I've always been very confident and sure about myself, my parents and have always been open to learning new things from different people. It is the world who can not gather themselves to accept my ability to live in two worlds, claiming two cultures, being two people. The world’s need to check a box for me has led me to sometimes wondering if I was experiencing an identity crisis; making me feel uncomfortable to call myself either Puerto Rican or Haitian.

I learned that my reflection is very specific to me. While everyone else's interpretation of me is tainted by a list that is accompanied by a box that needs to be checked, my vision is clear and sound, allowing me to be a black Puerto Rican and Haitian woman who was born in America.

Bianca Salvant is a writer and producer who is forever learning.


La Ciega
By Roxanna Maria


Like the dusky orange in sunburned mountains, her skin 

favors the terra-cotta tiles del Caribe.

A no face name                 molded from the
barro of her patria, composing dignity in the fractured creases of its imperfections.


The hands of her artesanos nourish this 
vulnerability, sweetened by the mango taste of her


The same hands who’ve impressed on 
her origin                       prostitution.
Sold for salvation from poverty; she’s defined,
an orgullo resounding in her submission. 

I was seven when I met her.

With slightly tinted skin and the blue eyes of a fraud,

I was the peninsula of La Isla.


Lost between the filters of the language my mind speaks

and the Spanish voice that translates.


La Ciega, they call her.


She gave no face to our cultura, no identity, just a movement that came from feeling.

I was ten when I learned what being Dominicana moved

like. A peninsula of washed down tradiciones; lost to the generations across the ocean.

This Dominican doll sculpted from my veins a pride that has no sight and courage without voice.


I was twelve when I aspired to paint her in the curves of my poetry.


From First Published Chapbook (2005): EncontrandoMe.  Shout out to Yellow Jacket Press






An awakening occurs like a rumble, within. Perhaps, quiet. Perhaps, obscene. One that will surge a force back into existence.
Any reader interested in submitting your perspective for inclusion in an upcoming reader's edition, feel free to send your write-ups to 

Deadline: Oct. 31, 2016.
Copyright © 2016 awOke Newsletter, All rights reserved.

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