Marlene Labastida


A SF Bay area resident, Marlene Labastida was born in Mexico and grew up in Oakland, California. She is interested in exploring and narrating the stories of immigrant youth through poetry, particularly around trauma, perception and the DACA experience. Marlene graduated from Dartmouth College with B.A. in Economics and did graduate studies at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Quedate callada

Quedate callada, mami whispered on my first day of kindergarten

Si, mami.

Reminded me again as we walked past the laundromat,

I clenched my red Sesame Street lunch box as she murmured,


if anybody asks about your immigration status


or about how our family got here

        (Walked across the dry 100 degree Sonoran desert holding papi’s hand.

         My toddler feet barely making any strides.

        Unable to distinguish between US and Mexican soil.

        Cried most of the way.

        We almost ran out of water.

        It took 4 days.)

Don’t tell anyone that..

no tienes papeles.

Not your friends,

or even your teachers

        (don’t trust a soul with these things)

If the daily instructions weren’t enough,

on Saturdays, she reminded me again before catechism

Whispered in secrecy in the entrance of our studio apartment

as she polished my shoes

    (as if our neighbors could hear over the city noise,

         or their saturday morning novelas)

and cautioned me again as we approached St. Liz,

where all of the other five year old girls with patent leather shoes

waited to learn about Jesus

No le digas a nadie

    (not even the church is to be trusted)


Quedate callada

Be quiet



Si, mami.

        (Stayed quiet. Mum. Silenced.

        Injustices. Harassment. Wrongdoings.

        During my childhood.

         My teens.

         My twenties.

        A lifetime.)  


Quedate callada, I mumbled on my first day of college

I clutched my books as I walked across the quad


Don’t get too much attention or talk too much.

Don’t overshare, especially about your family.

    (There are consequences)



No tienes papeles

Mami’s cautions rang in my ears as I made

new friends,

new teammates,

new boyfriends

Don’t say a word about the situation

    (Sin papeles.

Started to become invisible)

Didn’t want to be branded as illegal.

Even though that’s what it was

        (Or in more politically correct terms

        these days,Undocumented,

        because Human beings can’t be illegal

        or aliens. Unless they are branded so

        by the government and the media)

Nothing anyone could do for me.

    (Besides pity me, like you do a wounded animal.

    Stare at it helplessly.)

Occasionally, we found each other.

        (the handful of us. estudiantes sin papeles)

And we immediately understood

And tacitly knew that that we needed

to protect each other’s secret.

as if it was our own. It was.

That’s when I learned, that there is nothing personal in pain.


Quedate callada.

Be quiet.


    (That keeping secret shit stays with you)    

© The Acentos Review 2018