I see you from a distance. Bruce thinks you look like a serial killer’s wall:
matted hair pinned to canvas with a comb above a floral cross.
It should remind me of something significant,
something distinctly identifiable as a Mexican upbringing,
but all I can think of are my grandmother’s floral couches
before she replaced them when I was in middle school—
now they’re these beige, fancy things you see in Crate and Barrel
and later in the home of a white middle class
stay-at-home-slash-part-time-interior-designer trophy wife.
But they’re in my grandma’s house, where I can still smell
faint wisps of summer—of chlorine and sunscreen,
and the wet-flour scent of tortillas in progress—
can almost feel the warm water over my hands,
the lard slippery with the dough—
and smell the cinnamon she would let us put on the tortillas
after she cooked them. Butter under the cinnamon,
and then we got creative with sprinkles.
It’s the closest I get to Mexico, that place that’s supposed to be
coursing through half my blood. My Spanish is European from my mother,
Californian from my upbringing. My hair is loose and frizzy
unlike the other Mexican girls’ at school, slicked-back and braided,
neat and sleek. And still I bore the name Castro,
the questions about my relation to Cuba, the squints at me
from people who think I’m white but also sort of don’t.
I’m a chameleon, blending into the background anywhere I go—
I’m part-Jewish, part-Asian, part-Armenian, part-Italian, part-Some-thing,
where’s your accent from? I can’t tell. But they don’t know I’m
not really Mexican and not really European, but it’s cliché
to call myself just-American. When they ask what I am, I want to
Cinnamon. Oh, Mexico, I don’t recognize your colors in the frame.
Your faded pastels and burnt-rose fabrics don’t call my name—
and who would recognize me anyway, now that I’ve shed
all ties with you under the disguise of Lee?
Gabrielle Lee, originally from Fresno, is a Pasadena-based writer and editor. She has a BFA in Dance Choreography and a BA in English from the UC Irvine, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. A past Managing Editor of Willow Springs and now working in Contracts for the government’s space program, Gabrielle writes and edits by the candle of the night (sometimes literally). Her first novel, Comforts We Despise, is forthcoming from Zoozil Media in 2018. Connect with her on twitter @yesrielee.