Alejandra Medina, age 22 (alum)
Fragments of this piece were written at a time when the Latinx community was experiencing hate crimes in Los Angeles. I was trying to write something empowering and ended up abandoning this piece. Now, three years later, I was inspired by a writing activity in the WriteGirl Planet to revisit this poem and focus more on answering the question: what brings a city to life? The answer was its people, their history and the culture they’ve helped establish through hardship and sacrifice.
I was born here, long before the conquistadores ever
set foot through these parts. I am older than the palm trees
that migrated from foreign lands and now break through
concrete, thriving along L.A. streets, swaying over highways,
rivers, sidewalks and sand. I was born on stolen soil.
On Chumash, Tongva, Gabrielino land,
a place of Mexica fruits, where my ancestors were made to forget
their Nahuatl roots, our mother tongue replaced by another one.
Nos dijeron que habláramos español but now they demand English
because the Spanish forced onto our Aztec ancestors became too
powerful when it started coming from mouths comfortable with
speaking up. I was born in a country divided.
There is a man-made barrier set to put people in their place, said
to make it difficult for my people to reclaim their space. But I
come from hunters, warriors and luchadores who once built cities
on lakes and have risen from the ashes again and again – no wall
withholds our incessant strength. I was born right here, where
schools manufactured rules
that made sure people with too much melanin remained colonized.
In East L.A., where Chicanos walked out, so we could walk on,
not erased from history, our stories immortalized through the murals
on walls. I was born right beside the taco stands, where embers kiss
ash-stained fingers and chiles skip in their skins with a snap. A place
of great culinary creations, all tasting of campesino hands.
They’ve been harvesting dreams here in the promised land, singing,
“¡Si se puede!” as Huerta and Chavez did before them. I was born
right next to your local mom-and-pop, end-of-the-block, corner market,
its walls collaged with la Virgen de Guadalupe, her brown skin a signal
of safety. In a culture of lowriders cruising, rancheras playing, mariachis
breaking the silence con sus gritos, puros Latinos.
I come from the mountains, valleys, deserts and oceans. My blood runs
through these tree roots like veins. I was born in the city of Los Angeles,
built on indigenous and immigrant backs, built by hands both brown
and Black. Historically speaking, I’ve been here since the beginning.
Hear my voice ringing through the Santa Ana winds and recall all
we’ve outlived – born in revolutionary space and destined
to remain here, always.