El Barrio (Spanish Harlem)

January 15, 2012

218 e. 122nd street
105 e. 107th street
123 e. 112th street
is Home.

my DominiRican blood diluted
by the salted waters of the atlantic.
abuela left her Puerto Rico:
from el caserio to the projects.

(like moving from hell’s first floor to the second)

a government “project”
called HOPE VI
revitalized ghettos for the pictures.
while section 8 has been subsidizing
our communities will to fight
since 1973.

still, here…
there is Love, and laughter and strength.

i’ve walked these streets
my streets
el barrio… mi barrio.
mis calles.

all of it my childhood playground.
i ran up and down third ave,
our shopping mall strip.
stopping at a hunded’ sixteen for that sanguich’ cubano
walking up to lo’ cuchifritos for my orchata.
the scents watering my mouth
-i salivate spanglish lyrics.

that’s the spoken word here in el barrio.
at first, a struggling tongue-twister
that with time became the last romance language.

a language of love that dances in my mouf
like a smooth socially conscious ruben blades salsa.

turning corners. hopping trains.
breaking into night pool. sitting on stoops.
chillin’ on park benches. talkin’ mierda.

i. was. home.

those streets call me by my middle name.
they speak to my soul. the music of
hector lavoe. ray barreto.
the barrio boyz.
like TKA we were “louder than love.”
blasting from cars.

the sounds orchestrated
a latin symphony.
horns, percussions, and strings
attached to our souls.
sweet music of esperanza.

on 110th and 2nd ave.
doña clara sold limbel de coco
for .25 cents from the 5th floor of her building.
you’d put your change in a bucket
she’d pull it up. put your limbel
in the bucket and lower it.
you sucked it all the way to
wagner housing.

our parents worked
and worked. and worked.
“tryina’ make a dollah’ outta’ .15cents.”
they worked magia
like Chuito the Santero.

we were a commUNITY.

the lady on the third floor
who was always watching
out the window, (the one we
called Carmen la bochinchera)
she would tell your parents on you
if you were outta’ line.

and your Tio had as much right
to whoop your ass con la correa
as your moms’.

it was only called the ghetto
because they labeled it so
but we knew this was paradise.

yeah, it wasn’t the places we saw on TV
but it wasn’t the mortar and brick that made
it what it was… it was our Love that sustained
an entire community.

now i go back… heard something
about calling it “Spa Ha.” i thought
it was a new business they were opening
that offered massages and shit like that…
pero no, they want to sell it like SoHo
to the yuppies…

you can’t gentrify a pastelillo, or an alcapurria.

what the fuck do you want to revitalize?
this place has been alive for years.

you want to create change in our communities?
go into the projects and fix my aunt’s bathroom walls
you can see the old plumbing as clear as your deceitful
intentions to “make it better” for us.

she’s been living there for more than 30 years.

change the tired kitchen cabinets
that have been storing your expired
generic canned goods that have been feeding
us poverty dressed in “good deeds.”

these roach-infested-asthma-trigerring
-drug-ridden-violence-beaten-poverty-
stricken-hunger-growling-projects
are a direct result of your “projected” outcome.
when instead of providing resources to a people
you gave them temporary assistance
in the form of block cheese
(we have been your lab mice for decades).

i would’ve preferred a block grant
that offered real solutions not temporary ones.

carajo!

the images of mi barrio
will change drastically.

’cause starbucks coffee smells stronger
than capri’s bustelo.

but i swear…
te lo juro por mi madre,
if my fucking cuchifrito place
closes… i will round up
every botanica from 125th to 103rd
and ask the gods to burn this mutha’ fucka’ down.

this. is. my. home.

you can’t keep coming
into people’s communities
and displacing their dreams.
you delay their achievement.
you deplete them of drive.
you keep them in ghetto mentalities.

pero coño, you’ve been doing this shit since 1492…
and you do it so fucking well.

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bitter

August 22, 2009

Las Salinas, Bani Dominican RepublicPhoto: www.lagacetafea.blogger.combracero2

these tracks are old
they lead nowhere.
this is the land of salt mines
and sand dunes.

heat burning skin.
salt stinging wounds.
over one million
Haitians
migrate
to this
third world.

third world country
with first world mentality
put these men to labor
extracting salt
from pool bottoms.

salt in wagons
pulled and pushed
on tired tracks
eroding
corroding

Bani
Las Salinas
Dominican Republic
known as the land
of poets and liberators.

this is one sad poem
and liberation,
is only reserved
for non-Haitians
“para todo aquel
que no sea negro.”

travel 400 kilometers east
along the southern coast

on different tracks
railroad tracks
pulling thousands
of sugar cane sticks

loaded by braceros
sugar cane cutters
back breaking
soul aching.

nine to twelve hours,
machetes swinging.
young sons alongside
exhausted
with no time to play,
must say
“there is nothing
sweet
about this sugar cane
stick dad.”

La Romana
Dominican Republic
the name
comes from a balance
used to weigh
merchandise for export.

but there is no balance
in inequality.

and what this third world exports is

not salty
not sweet
just bitter.

~sarahi yajaira, 2009

god’s intentions

August 16, 2009

yesterday
driving
my eyes fixed
on the beauty
of the landscape
that is this
Dominican Republic

i saw you
in your school uniform
your little hand
extended
on the side of the road
asking for a ride

hitchhiking
is the only way to get
to school for you
and thousands alike.

‘cause papi walks six miles
to work
a twelve hour shift
in the sugar cane fields.
and mami can’t leave
your little brothers
under that tin roof home
alone
to walk you
four miles
to school
and back
under this hot
caribbean sun
that burns and turns
hope into ashes.

stop.
your school
on the left
is falling
and failing.

your abc’s
become POW’s.
prisoners of a war
you didn’t wage,
prisoners to a system
that keeps you caged.

you sit in the car
i ask “what’s your name?”
“Rosaury,” you smile
(that beautiful smile).
you’re just ten-years-old
and you tell us you’re
in first grade.
i do the math
quickly
i realize that you’re behind.
logic tells me
it has nothing to do with your ability to learn,
but in this government’s unwillingness to provide
the necessary resources.
science tells me nature and nurture have abused you,
while geography displaces your dreams.
history will repeat itself in the womb of your offspring
and religion will make you question God’s intentions.

this government
in disorder
robs your future
then punishes you
for the crime it commits against you.

this landscape
can not hold beauty
if it’s just a backdrop
for what really lies behind.

~Sarahi Yajaira, 2009