They say there’s muscle buried under the fat, that not all of my 200, 185, 169, 145 pounds is lard hidden beneath XXL shirts and baggy pants.
Plenty of muscle. My mom, dad, uncle, friends, they all say it. It’s because I’m strong, I can push anyone I want down, run them over with little effort like a gorilla. That’s why I wrestled for two years, it was the perfect extension of my power and my anger. I’m strong, they say. I’ve got to be strong, there has to be muscle under all that fat. How else would I be able to carry this all?
My book bag has three pockets. The large central pocket holds all of my binders and workbooks and readings and essays and returned quizzes from the past two years I’ve been at Riverdale. I can almost touch the stain these years left behind.
There are the tangibles and there are the intangibles. In the small pocket I carry my schedule with me because it’s practically impossible to memorize, and I can never keep it unsullied for more than a week. I carry my asthma pump in case I start wheezing. I carry my wallet, and never more than ten dollars in cash, because you never know when someone might try to mug you.
In the medium-sized pocket I carry my Carmex even though my lips are permachapped, and I carry my keys and my Magic: The Gathering cards and my pens and pencils and books and scraps of paper. It’s heavy. And I carry unweighable intangibles: the things that have made men stutter and mumble for years before me, things that make those same men silence women and hurt them. I carry these things and I need all of my muscle and more to keep myself from faltering under the weight. I carry the history of my people and the struggles of my family and my soul.
I carry every Dominican. I carry Dominican blood. I carry the dead bodies of every Taina and Awarakan woman Christopher Columbus and his men raped. I carry Juan Pablo Duarte and Pedro Mir and Salome Ureña and the Mirabal sisters, I carry the language and the music and the dancing, I carry the dominoes and the Haitian sugarcane rum and the love of life which is not Hispanic-specific. None of this is. Nothing is ever specific. But I do carry the Dominican flag and the Puerto Rican flag and the Mexican flag, I carry it all. Every time I am named ‘Hispanic,’ weight is added to my load. I carry even the Uruguayan flag, though I’ve never seen it. I carry invisible pampas, inaudible minor-key modes.
It’s not like these things are mine. They’re yours. I am a hyperlink, a flag for a fake country. You look at me and tell me what I am. I become what you name me. I carry these becomings. I am not male. You name me male. I am not Other. You name me Other. I carry all the names I’m given. I carry all the pained faces people have made when they look at my face or body. I carry a phallus I wish I didn’t have. I carry a body I wish I didn’t have, and I put food into it that I wish I didn’t need. I try not to.
I carry the smell of pastelitos and mofongo and yaniqueque and chimichurri, I carry arroz con leche and and mangos whose skin you can slurp off and Morir Soñando and Malta, I carry the pungent odor of farmers in the coca fields of Peru and in the sugarcane fields of the Dominican Republic and the factory workers in Salvador, I carry the faces behind the barricade wall, I carry everything. I carry these voiceless and all the others. I carry the loud ones and the ones who can’t reach me.
It makes me everything I am, it makes me intelligent and honest and nappy-haired and big-lipped, it makes me a ‘spic,’ a ‘beaner,’ a ‘wetback,’ a ‘nigger,’ a ‘coconut,’ an ‘oreo,’ a ‘white Dominican,’ a ‘cracker.’ I’m wonderbread. It makes me a ‘faggot,’ a ‘queer,’ a ‘pajaro,’ a ‘maricon.’ It makes me everything, it makes me nothing. It gives me the duty to move us forward, to redeem ourselves from the oppression we bend into like grass bends to wind, it forces me to be different, it forces me to be the same. Thank you for all of my names. They make me alienated from everything. I carry this and more, and I need all the muscle I have to hold it up if I ever want to actually return to the Dominican Republic and not dance at the long edge of a fantasy, the lack huge as towers. It makes me deprived of the real.
I carry the poor, kids with nappy hair and crooked teeth and soft cocoa skin with rough scars on their legs, I carry basketballs and baseballs and boom-boxes and drum sets made of garbage cans and Nike gym pouches as book bags and fly sneakers, I carry welfare checks and high school dropouts and selling drugs to support your children. I carry the shine of the gun. I carry the statistics that make us feel good when we disprove them, as if that were us, as if this were us. I carry my father who works every day from 5 AM to 9 PM, who comes home tired and cranky and bloody inside, who gave up his future to feed his three kids, who comes home smelling like hatred and hopelessness.
I carry my fraught gratitude for the faceless ones who are supporting my financial aid, I carry my love of reading and writing and computers and art and photography, I carry it because of poverty. I’ll never be able to repay all the people that help me and the best I can do is better myself, and in turn, better them, because I am inevitably a product, a representative, and an afterthought of my surroundings. I encompass everything around me and let it soak through me like I’m a cheesecloth, my pores cradle it and I’m driven to make something. I am turned into something else. It fuels me to turn life into something else because I carry depraved fantasy. I carry all of this so that one day, still a poor person forever but with lots of money, I may put my fantasy down and pet it on the head and let it run away with a bone in its mouth, because I carry everything that surrounds me and in turn I carry myself.
I carry myself. But I am bigger than myself. I’ll get tired sooner or later, carrying all these things, and one day the burden will be lifted off of my back onto another. One day others will be writing about how their struggles make them who they are, how feeling sadness is the only way they can be reminded of happiness, and that they need pain to know what pleasure feels like. I’m a proud Black man, a proud Hispanic man, a proud White man. I’m a proud Black woman, a proud Hispanic woman, a proud White woman. Mestizo. Mestiza. One day you’ll name me ‘human’ but I never cared to begin with.