Jayleen Cerda


Jayleen Cerda is a Mexican American/Chicana poet residing in Jacksonville, Florida. Although most of her life she has lived in Florida, she was born in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from the creative program at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and now currently attends the University of Central Florida. Cerda’s work has been recognized with Silver Keys at the regional level of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She has also introduced her poetry for Bridge Eight literary magazine event ‘Abridged.’

Cerda can be reached by the following email: jayleenzcerda@gmail.com.


Unsent Apology Letter

Dear Julianna,

         I remember your wild hair. Crinkly black spirals bouncing when you first walked in. [1] You were the first brown girl I had ever seen. I looked at everyone around the classroom, they all had silky, blonde hair either tainted with strips of brown or not. Surely, she’s in the wrong place? Or from space? But no, I took another look around the room. Everyone didn’t seem as confused as I, not even our teacher, Ms. Clarke and she loved you. Always praising you more than the rest of us, all squirming in our desks in our 2nd grade class. Her voice boomed against our hollow walls, “Okay, class—we have a new student. Say hello to ‘Julianna’!” But before we could recite your name, we are shushed. Your small hand grasped Ms. Clarke’s daisy yellow pencil skirt. We all glanced back at one another as you whispered in her ear. She made an ‘Ahh!’ face before turning back to us, “I’m sorry class. It seems I’ve mispronounced our new student’s name. It’s You-li-ana. You-liana.” The word felt spicy in my mouth. The heat of You instead of Ju felt foreign to my mouth.

         As we jumped head first into your name like diving in sharp cold, shallow water, your lips curled slightly into your mouth. Probably because it was still wrong. [2] 

         Our high-pitched collective voice started, “Hello, Y-youli-anna.” She sounded out every letter’s curve, every sway. But all of us could tell she sounded it out early so she wouldn’t be heard amongst us. We turned to Ms. Clarke, our mouths, agape—still in distraught. Your wide brown eyes blinked slowly.

         Ms. Clarke bit the insides of her mouth, quickly shook her head side-to-side, “You know what! How about we just call you Julie. How about that, sweetie?”

         I don’t think I’ll ever understand how seven-year-olds are able to communicate without speaking so easily. But I felt ourselves in sync, unconsciously nodded in agreement, could fear our voices chime Perfect. Jewel-y was perfect. [3] You opened your mouth, your Sweat beaded at your forehead, you opened your mouth to say something and we all waited in anticipation. But she just pushed you along. “Okay then! It’s settled—Julie it is.” We did nothing about it, even when we felt a shadow plaster across your face. Your eyes bounced off our white walls. [4]

         When it was lunch time, you pulled out your Snow White and the Seven Dwarves lunch box; some of the design had been scraped off, as if by a penny or rat’s teeth, but the dull tin still displayed her pale cheeks. You took out your lunch and we all pretended we didn’t hover over it. We scanned your lunchbox like a treasure hunt, digging for ‘X’ marks the spot but to our avail we only saw the absence of a fork or a utensil of any kind.

         Our noses wrinkled at the stench of the mystery meat, its blood broiled brown and wrapped in a spotted tortilla. Red hue of the pinto beans stood out amongst the orange rice. You scooped it into your mouth. You try to chew quietly, but the loud smacking of the steak only pulled us in closer. We could hear your polished bleach white shoes tap against each other nervously. [5]

         One of us became brave enough to ask what you were eating and you calmly explained Lengua de vaca. Cow’s tongue. This was the only offered explanation as to possibly why your baby hairs curled upward, almost frozen. [6]  


         When I got home that day, at dinner I blurted about you to my parents. They set them down and the knives’ metallic echoed. Mom looked up, titled her head with slight grin. [7]

         “Oh really? What’s her name?” she continued cutting into the steak, sliced deeper until pink flesh ran over the silver shining.


         “Wow, Julie? What a lovely name,” Mom said. [8]

         Dad put down the utensils, the china clatters, “So…do you know where she’s from? She’s not from here, right?” [9] My response, not quick enough, forced him to raise both his voice and eyebrow at me. His teeth pushed out the ‘t’ in his extra Right? He slicks back his greasy brown hair and runs his fingers through it.

         “I-I don’t know. She just came yesterday,” I finally uttered out. They both glanced at each other in disapproval.

         “Uh…uh maybe Mexico?” [10]


         “She’s probably a wetback then,” Mom said quickly, taking a swig of white wine. [11] I had never heard the term before, I don’t even remember how I said it. I just know I repeated it.

         “Yeah. Wetback,” Dad replied—like something stuck in his teeth. His frown deepened into his newly shaven pale face.

         “Someone who doesn’t belong here,” Mom interrupted. [12]

         “But why? They let her be in class with me—” My father’s fist, in the middle of our table, silences me. Seconds that seem to drag on pass, he uncurls his fist before retracting it back.

         “They are dirty, Shelley. She’s a fucking anchor baby and a beaner and their skin is stained. She. Is. Illegal.”

         We continued to eat. Many questions picked my mind like carcass.


         Every time you got close, I have no tongue and the words clutter in my throat and your baked earth skin distracts me. [13]

         I follow you to line and check out two lines before you. Your thinly plucked eyebrows furrow at the prices then soften as the numbers run across the screen smoothly.[14] Everything in me wanted to say I’m sorry Julianna, I’m sorry.[15]

         Your heel’s clicks are enveloped by the bright floors. I just wanted to say I’m sorry.  


-       Shelley Mitchell, your 2nd grade classmate

445 Blanco CT

Winnemucca, NV 89087


[1] Instead your stiff and spilt-end crowded hair locks eyes with me at the grocery store. I didn’t notice you at first but then your voice, as stark papaya, wafts toward me.

[2] You weave through the produce section with ease and I wonder why I’ve never seen you until now. You talk nonchalantly with a store employee and I reach to touch my lips.

[3] Or as your people say it: Perfecto.

[4] Your bronze skin glints off bright lights. Thick, black hair carpet your arms.

[5] Probably the pair you wore every Sunday to mass but your mom probably made you wear to impress the kids. 

[6] I search your grocery cart for answers, excuses, your faults. I cannot find any. I see your hand place flank steak, Goya orange marinade, and sausage patties into the cart. Your concentration sends your forehead into ripples, your intense earth eyes squint. I hide behind the peppers.

[7] Her voice did not match her expression.

[8] She didn’t make eye contact with me. Instead, choosing to swirl around the buttered mashed potatoes. As if our dinner would offer her anymore answers.

[9] I looked over to Mom and she’s cutting the steak into smaller and smaller pieces.

[10] The silence almost deafens me, paralyzes me but not as much as seeing you after 22 years. 

[11] Only, she sneered at the last syllable of ‘ck’—using the alcohol to drown the distate in your mouth, like when you’ve been chewing gum for too long or biting into a sour, musty apple.

[12] Our small town still made you stand out. Though you graced the aisles, your brown shadow still trails you.

[13] I don’t know why I came up to you the next week on the playground. I don’t know why I thought it was fine for me to say what I did. But the memory of your black ringlets bouncing, your tan skin glistening in the sun is etched. At recess, you looked so normal—even if you didn’t speak much, you didn’t seem to be clueless about anything going on. I tapped your shoulder, pushed my fingertip into something that looked like circular scar but not quite.

[14] I rolled back my feet back and forth. Just told you, “You don’t belong here.” You raised your thick eyebrows, answered And why not?—your voice cracked in anticipation. I touched my mouth, unable to speak for a moment. I couldn’t believe I didn’t say it like a question. Yet I started searching your hands for dirt.

[15] “Cause-cause we can’t even pronounce your name, Julie. And-and you have weird hair that looks like curly dirt. And-and your skin…it’s so, dark?” You put your head down, made spirals in the dark rubber mulch with your stained ballet shoes and I could feel your shame surge through you. “Why are you so different, Julie? Why?”


© The Acentos Review 2017