Dreams of a Wetback

A KIPP Academy student, Sayda Morales, was a junior in high school at my daughters’ school when read this slam poetry tribute to her grandmother at Cultural Night last year. It’s one of the most moving things I’ve ever read/heard.

Dreams of a Wetback
By Sayda Morales

It began in a hazy one-bedroom
Isolated amidst the other rooms
Perhaps it was the creek that looms
Or her hands that spoke in threads
That suffocated me in the poison of peeling lead
Run-down tenements with anti-comforts:
Freezing winters and sweating summers.
The windows, so beckoning have lied
And the rusty metal in her eyes have died
With dignity she made her life on the streets
But now she stoops as she cleans toilet seats
And as she glances in the soapy mirror
Resonates within the hollow of her pocket
Not quite as deep as the bags under her eye sockets
Heavy from staring at breathing flags that sway
In a nation/dream so far away
But perhaps her posterity will fly
Fly high till they can touch the sky
Become lawyers and doctors and business clerks
Just like the fancy people for whom she works
And as she bends and breaks her back
My grandmother makes it hard for me to follow her tracks
I’ll sit on the porcelain sink
While she scrubs and sweeps and tells me what she thinks
That I’ll never clean anyone else’s house
That I’ll have a good life with a decent spouse
That I’ll have all that I need
And that in God I shall always believe
For there’s nothing greater than her love
And with that I can reach the heavens above.
Yet, she asks me to bid her only request
That no matter what I’ll always be my best
And even when she moves on and dies
I’ll never forget where my heritage lies:
In the nostalgic knowledge of dry, shiny drops
On the cracked backs of the smell of maize crops
Growing in parched, barren soil
Perhaps America can relieve her toil
But the sweat in the sink’s dirty water
Don’t even bother
To give some relief
So, now I’m thinking
“America is Liberty” is just a belief
In which sterile minds cannot conceive.
America is its own religion in which twisted tongues and bloody hands
Crawl to find some future in this land.
So, now here I am under the scrutiny
Of blue eyes and blonde hair; just another private school mutiny
While the thirst, the hunger runs through my veins
Like the fertilized grain
Of a dream already implanted
And a desire meant to be granted
I will continue to cross borders
And disrupt social order
I’ll smile at those who jeer and laugh
While pride in my blood I shall be glad to have:
Mira mi cara cuando te digo que soy Hondure’a-Mexicana
No te distraigas con mis caderas
Dulcuras, delicadas como la bandera
Que bonita, que bonita, que rica la negra
Te digo que esta sangre hispana corre por mis venas
Arroz y habichuelas como por la cena
No tengo pena para descirte que
Sayda Valetnina Morales Martinez es Hondure’a-Mexicana.
In honor of her and all that have died
I’d rather be dead than say I hadn’t tried
I’ll go to school and try my hardest
So, I won’t be the one who’s gone the farthest
I’ll take that road less traveled by
And just quite maybe I’ll fly past the sky.

She is also the author & reader of the poem at the beginning the KIPP Welcome Video.

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