Dear White Girls in My Spanish Class by Ariana Brown

I see you—


Ariana Brown is a queer Black Mexican American poet from the Southside of San Antonio, TX, with a B.A. in African Diaspora Studies and Mexican American Studies from UT Austin. She is a 2014 collegiate national poetry slam champion and a survivor of the Poetry MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh. Ariana does not believe in Latinidad or nationhood as a concept or useful organizing tool; she finds refuge and community among Afro-Indigenous and Afrocaribbean folks. Ariana is lowkey a curandera and highkey the yungest abuela you will ever meet. Follow her work online at and on Twitter & Instagram @arianathepoet. 

stumbling so hard you laugh through entire sentences

because my ancestors are a punchline

& everything that comes out your mouth is funny.

Funny. Guess I’m used to being a joke—a brown body splayed

& smoldering at the corner of your lip.

I just wanna know, when you hold the sacred sounds

on your tongue, do you feel less holy?

Why are you here?

I bet you thought this class would be easy,

since Spanish is what poor brown people speak, right?

Not something you actually have to try to understand, not fancy or sophisticated,

not like French—the language you love over-pronouncing

as if compensating for your basic American whiteness—

you are not special. You are the reason my grandmother feared her children

would speak with accents. So afraid, she buried her first language

in the space between blood & bone,

since your grandparents wouldn’t let her make a home outside her body.

Did your ancestors protect you from pain

by withholding what they knew of a country before this one?


Let me be clear. Spanish was given to my people

at the end of a sword, forced in our throats gory,

sharpened under the colonizer’s constant eye.  

Each rolled r is a red wet fingerprint pointing me back

to this. Spanish is not my native tongue. English isn’t either.

The languages I speak are bursting with blood,

but they are all I have. I own only my hot mouth, speeding

against assimilation’s clock & a colonial legacy

you won’t even try to pronounce.

So I’ll ask again—why are you here?

Do you think my grandmother’s accent a sickness—

one so volatile you call yourself ‘gringa’ at every chance,

so I won’t make fun of you, when you make fun

of the way my language sounds to you?

Don’t you know I had to fight for this?

For every scrap of culture I could get my hands on,

even if its lineage is as European as yours?

My father, a Black American man, is descended from slaves.

I am descended from slaves. I want to know where I come from,

but I can only trace my history in one direction—so I am here,

in yet another Spanish class, desperately reaching

for a language I hope will choose me back someday.

What is it like to be a tourist in the halls of my silence?

To not be expected to speak better than you do?

To visit Mexico & to not care that people mistake you

for being from somewhere else? How does it feel—

to take a foreign language, for fun?

To owe your history nothing?

The Acentos Review 2019