Nó, Actually, Soy Salvadoreño

“EL Sal-va-doh-RE-AN Salva-doh-RAN, Salva-DOH-RÍ-an,”
los mui-muis, we don’t even know what
to call ourselves. How to eat
a pupusa: ¿fork & knife? or
¿open it up & treat it like a taco? but
then, we’re betraying our nationalistic (read:
anti-black, anti-indigenous) impulse
to not mix with anyone else. ¿& what’s
with jalapeños in the curtido,
cipotes? ¿With using spicy “salsa”
instead of salsa de tomate? There’s too many
“restaurantes,” one side of the menu: Mexican,
the other, platos típicos. Typically
I want to order the ensalada, but then
they bring me an actual salad.
I say: cóman miercoles, they
want to charge me extra for harina de arroz. Extra
por los nueagados. There’s
nowhere I’d rather be most
than in Abuelita’s kitchen, watching her
throw bay leaves, tomatoes, garlic, orégano
into the blender, then chicharrón,
helping her sell to everyone that knows
she made the best pupusas
from 1985 to 2004. By then,
Salvadoreños became “Hermanos Lejanos,”
we traded Colón for Washingtón. By then,
Los Hermanos Flores looked for new singers
every time they returned from Los Yunaited
to San Salvador. Stay, no se vayan,
es-tei, no sean dundos, was all
those Salvadoreños could say.
We didn’t listen & came here
only to be called Mexican or Puerto Rican,
depending on the coast. We had to fight
for our better horchata, not
the lazy whiter one with only rice. & when
we didn’t want to fight
we tried to blend, speak more “Mexican,”
more ira, more popote, more
no pos guao. ¡Nó, majes!
¡No se me hagan dundos,
ponganse trucha vos!
When anyone wants to call you: Mexican.
You can just say: Nó,
actually, andáte a la M—
racista cara de nacionalista.


Copyright © 2020 by Javier Zamora. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Many immigrants from Central America are fleeing their country’s failed nationalistic projects (as well as American imperialism). When I say nationalism, I mean an anti-black, anti-indigenous, white supremacist project. On top of this hardship, or because of it, Central Americans encounter racism and a nationalistic backlash by Mexicans within Mexico. So we try to assimilate in order to successfully cross Mexico. This assimilation continues within the United States; trying to blend into the white English-speaking world AND also trying to blend into the Spanish-speaking world that in California is dominated by Mexicans. ‘Central American-ness,’ or in this particular poem, ‘Salvadoran-ness’ is found and empowered usually after these first assimilations. But, like the poem addresses, this ‘backlash’ only returns to the cause of the evil: nationalism. There must be something outside of the ‘myth,’ outside of ‘pupusas’ ‘horchata,’ ‘nuegados.’ But after the initial hurt of trying to hide that ‘Salvadoran’ identity, it’s a pleasant first step, but it shouldn’t be the end-step. It’s cool repping your country, but that ain’t it. It can’t be it. The poem attempts to highlight this irony: the ‘micro-aggressions,’ the hierarchies within the ‘Latinx’ world.”
Javier Zamora