What Country Are You From?

by Araceli Montaño, from the book Hustlin’ Hermanas (2016)

I’ve worked the same retail job for almost four years.
It’s located what I consider central,
ten minutes east of the university.

I’ve had my share of horror stories.
My share of what it’s like
living under corporate culture
while in college to pay bills.

Today was no exception.
I helped an older woman
with permed, gray hair
and glasses hanging on a lanyard.

She asked me about accent tables.
For ten minutes we conversed
about the tablecloth she already had
and a nice table she wanted to drape it on.
I helped her to the best of my ability.

Before I turned to leave she asked me

What country are you from?

I promptly responded,

I’m from here.

Oh, from here? Well—I don’t know
what all the commotion
is about—you know.

I bit my tongue.
Squeezed vowels of my
ancestors back down,
a knot in my throat.

She thanked me for my help
while I turned to walk away.
And then,
I cried.

This is not the first kind of
experience I’ve had in my workspace,
nor will it be the last.

But it’s the first experience I’ve
had since the presidential election.
This rhetoric has always existed here,
but now in a more obvious light.

She asked me what country I’m from,
her connotation said you’re too brown to be from here.
She asked me what country I’m from,
her meaning was you look like an outsider.

But my roots are grounded here, since
long before treaties and cessions.

I am questioned in the only place I’ve ever known.
English is my first language,
but with or without an accentdehumanized.
Privileged to be documented,
but with or without papersdehumanized,
identities constructed.

I live in a place that does not recognize me,
does not see me
as one of its own.

She looked
into my eyes
unwilling to accept their depth,
unwilling to accept my people
and our deep roots here.

Her words meant to create a dust storm,
but I was born and raised in this desert, lady,
I’m always shaking dirt off my shoulders.