Melissa Castillo Planas


Dr. Melissa Castillo Planas an Assistant Professor of English at Lehman College. She is editor of the anthology, ¡Manteca!: An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets, co-editor of La Verdad: An International Dialogue on Hip Hop Latinidades, the author of the poetry collection Coatlicue Eats the Apple, and co-author of the novel, Pure Bronx. Her current book project, forthcoming with Rutgers University Press’ new Global Race and Media series, A Mexican State of Mind: New York City and the New Borderlands of Culture, examines the creative worlds and cultural productions of Mexican migrants in New York City. To learn more:

Social media handles:

facebook: Melissa.castilloplanas

IG: @melissacastilloplanas

Twitter: @DrMeliCastillo

She asks me how in 2018 there is a first Latinx anything?

Mija, please.
This is Harvard.
H -A-R-V -A -R-D
As in never had a president of color
As in doesn’t have Latino studies anything
As in didn’t merge with Radcliffe until 1999
As in home to just 3 percent Latino tenure track faculty

Pero no me miras asi

We should have learned by now not to be so surprised

The century old Jones act strangles a colony into bankruptcy - a colony that is no
longer officially a territory as if
Libre Estado asociado
Wasn’t another term for occupation
As if NAFTA Isn’t a death sentence
A train brining migrants to a desert for slaughter

Pero didn’t you know Mija?
You go to college mija
Mas y mas
More and more Latinas go to college every year
Free to fly in the face of those barren wastelands
Barren because bodies sink into deep sands
Never to be found again
Barren because these brick walls feel cold without our cultures
Colder when the snows cover these fancy steps
like Wall Street covers a slave burial site
Making it harder and harder to find my way into these ivyed walls

It is a Wall, mija.

Not just those fences that lock me in or you out late at night

It’s a wall between you and me

Nationwide only 4 percent of tenure track professors are Latino, less then 2 percent

You go to college and the walls between us, the walls in our community grow higher  -
it’s not that I don’t want Latinas in college, it’s just that I’d like you to come here
and be able to learn about yourself too.
Your history
Tu Poesia 

So that it is no longer just something to protect  but something to behold.

I want you to feel like John Harvard did. Like history isn’t just something you can
learn, but something you can own

Like a paper clip
An earring
Something that feels like a baby’s hand
Soft & fatty

I want you to feel like that here - where four percent Latino nationwide becomes 3
percent - here

Where Harvard does it better.

Better at saying you don’t belong here and pretending that is not violent

Better at saying your literature is not taught here

As if that isnt an extension of the Americanization programs- those 30 years when the
language of Puerto Rico was English,
When those laws banned Mexican American studies in Texas just a few years ago.

You ask me how in 2018 there is a first Latinx Anything?

Mija please

This is America

A porn Star is suing the president. That’s a First too.



Letter to the young black man who road the bus with me from Postdam NY to New York City

Half a sleep 
Dreaming of home 
A warm embrace
Puppy kisses & a cold beer 
Barely into the journey
Barely into my dreams
Awoken by a strange man
A white face
A green uniform and a voice:  

Where were you born?
Why are you traveling? 

Tulsa, Oklahoma I say slowly
As shocked by his inspection
As by the memory of the odd circumstances of my birth
Nine months in a place
I would never return to
Nine months in a place
I have no connection to
Nine months in a place 
That protect me now 

Calmed in the realization that odd
Is what saves me -
A Mexican American woman
In upstate NY 
A Mexican American woman with a strange but definitely "Latino” name
A Latina women who has been cooper skinned kissed too recently by the sun
To feel safe 
When awoken by a strange man
A white face
A green uniform and a voice:  

Where were you born?
Why are you traveling? 

I think of Valeria Luselli
Another Mexican woman with 
a strange name 
And how awful it felt
To travel the borderlands as an other
Your worth questioned constantly
We are just writers
And just on vacation
A vacation to a 
A beautiful broken country
Once full of buffalo
Now filled with herds of border patrol
Green uniforms asking,  

Where were you born?
Why are you traveling? 

Tulsa OK / Mexico City
I'm a poet / we are on vacation
we are only writers, sir.  

And we do not have accents
We do not look too brown
We are not black
But in a vigilante country
Where white men carry pistols
Target practice in deserts 
We also, do not say we are Mexican  

Until forced by a uniform and a voice: 

Where were you born?
Why are you traveling? 

And I can't even imagine what you've been through
As a young black man 


But we can't really
Can we? 

On that same bus 
I sit next to a young black man
Who makes himself small next to me
Cedes the center arm rest 
So automatically and respectfully 
That when our elbows touch
I try to imagine what life looks like 
What America means  
Through his eyes
I want to say I'm sorry
But I don't - 
I wouldn't know where to begin. 

We say things like police state 
Rail against the prison industrial complex
 - Perhaps I am more guilty of this than most - 
How often do we stop to think how terrifying this all is
For a young black man sitting next to us on a bus?
For the young brown woman clearing away our plates? 

To know that the simple question of your birth
Could detain for an average of six months? 
Separate parents 
Take away children
And can I just say I hate the word detain - such a harmless sounding word for the
truth -
  jail without a lawyer, prison without bail, and this death sentence: 
a homeland whose defining characteristic is murder.  

Where were you born? 
Why are you traveling? 
I'm going home  

Sitting next to you,
The white face fades
The questions I have answers to recede
Packed up neatly into instagram & Facebook 
Indignant yes,
But not really threatened
I realize for you, maybe the defining characteristic of your America
Is already murder. 

Born in a place where the simple color of your skin
Could imprison you for life 
Could send you to your death -
They don't even ask you where you were born
They know where and shoot anyway. 

Awoken by a strange man
A white face
A green uniform and a voice -
They were never going to take me off that bus,
For questions I had answers for
You had answers too  -
But you,
you they might have just shot.

Where were you born?
Why are you traveling?
Officer, I'd like to revise my answers:  

It's none of your fucking business.

© The Acentos Review 2018