Ay Caribe, tierra de mi gente hermosa.
Tremors from the speaker’s bass reverberate across the wooden floor.
Our bodies become a vessel of rhythm.
Our minds hollow.
Hips driven by a melodic motion, legs, then feet.
Cielo y Sol, me acompanan dondéquiera.
My right hand follows the gentle sways of her hips.
She concedes control.
I am to lead, she to follow.
Her left hand placed upon my right shoulder blade.
My left hand, her right, our palms are one.
Beatings of congas, timbres of maracas harmonize with my family’s howls and catcalls. In time, grandparents, parents, and cousins follow our lead.
In keeping with the rhythm she spins.
Her hair deep and rich, the hue of black coffee, is angelic within the air.
Repetition of motion, it’s an exchange of rhythmic foot pattern.
Our bodies speak to one another as intimacy occupies all space.
A pig lies in the smoke chamber.
Its skin drenched in the tang of garlic, cumin and lemon, permeates through the blistering heat of the sun.
The rich aroma enters our nostrils, encouraging our receptors to follow our bodies in rhythmic motion.
Adorning the patio table lays a feast.
Rice, white and pure, infused with the sweetness of coconut milk, mixed with the perpetual depth of black beans, remains trapped in a tin foil container patiently waiting liberation.
Chicken simmering in its own sweat, its flesh tender, soaking in the spice of garlic, cilantro, and dormant heat of cayenne.
Wedges of yucca crisped by the heat of canola oil garnished with the simplicity of salt and pepper line the glass bowl.
Empanadas, golden semicircles, fattened with beef and potatoes lay one upon another, each on the verge of bursting at the seams.
Encapsulated within a glass prism, resides a thick, off-white disk of custard.
Brown and sweet, caramel overflows the surface, dripping, caressing all around.
This is our gathering.
This is an exhibition of the culture breathing life into our souls, embracing Cubanidad.
My father hails from the island of Cuba where the heat of the sun scorches sand and palm trees.
Where freedom and liberties are unfound and desperation reigns free.
Beyond the dark hue that encompasses my body, I am birthed from two cultures, of two slaves.
Both slaves shackled by perceived superiority of whiteness one bod, however, maimed by an Anglo, the other a Spaniard.
My colored body is not one culture overshadowing another.
I am Black and Latino, equal parts of both.
My blackness does not inhibit Latinidad.
Latinidad does not conform to racial constructs.
Latino does not constitute white or fair skin.
There is no spice flowing through my veins; don’t attribute my sass to some heat your tongue can’t handle.
Neither am I exotic and wild, I am not an animal for your domestication.
Your prejudice rages like flames, and what burns deep inside you are insecurities you inflame with denial rather than quench with truth.
Face the reality that I present to you, for I am the embodiment of diversity and I am not lesser.
I am Afro-Latino unburdened and capable of greatness.
This pride is a product of exhaustion; calculating who I am to conform to what is believed culturally acceptable.
The identity crisis that I endured, that pain proved to be my salvation.
That struggle has made me who I am.
So however deep you think your cutting me with your words or judgment,
whatever scathing scrutiny you may hold…that’s no longer worth my time.
I have been whitewashed by the articulation with which I speak;
yet my blackness excludes me from whites and pollutes the Latino ideal.
Despite this push and pull, this battle society seeks to enlist me in I have come to remain firm in my identity.
Staunch in my identity I attribute my self-love to the words of Nicholá Guillén.
His lyricism of Negro Bembón.
Akin to Guillén I am Cuban with a milk chocolate hue.
It is the rhythm of his words that have to come to love.
The rhythm of his poetry sways my body, akin to the beat of congas.
I relish knowing someone lived similar to I.
Thick-lipped and painted with a brown hue,
One that seeks to make people feel with words.
One that understands rhythm exists around us all,
Using Spanish and English to produce such a tempo.
One that can speak with a cadence to make the Anglo’s head spin.
I am taken back to my father’s home as my mouth brings life to Guillén’s words.
I am Negro Bembón.
I am a poet seeking to make the world heed my rhythm.