Gabriela Ramirez-Chavez

Pulling Onions 

In Guatemala, the children on the streets enjoy
Arranca Cebollas. A young boy hugs
a light post fiercely, while others try to
pull him off, out like an onion in hardened dirt.
They tug and tug, careful not to fall
among the ubiquitous pebbles and shards of glass
that draw blood. 

In Guatemala, an adult version of the game was played.
In the guise of the night, men and women,
indígenas and ladinos, young and old,
were plucked from their colonias,
leaving behind them a trail
of revolutionary pamphlets and empty spaces.

 An unholy rapture. Not Jesus, but Ríos Montt.
Genocide as vast as the silent El Petén jungle
where the military hid its victims,
tortured and killed.


There is No Violence Here
For Arnoldo 

There is no Death Squad.
No 200,000 indígenes and ladinos
disappeared, raped, tortured,
or killed under Ix Chel and Jesus. 

No bodies deposited in Guatemala,
the Motherland,
in estanques, jungles, and on military bases. 

Only arrested marijuaneros, solventeros,
hookers, malcriados,
and communists. 

Only puntos being erased
from the sentence
that is organized crime. 


There is no SWAT
knocking at your door,
asking for your son. 

There are no narcóticos agents
breaking into his home,
smashing his trinchante and ribs,
taking everything else. 

Only confiscation of evidence,
items purchased
with blood money. 

Not your son’s sweat.
Not his own checks.
Not his own receipts
to prove it, now
burning over the stove. 

There are no militares
with ametralladoras
around every dirt block
grabbing the crotch
of any girl who passes them
with too much hope
in her stride. 

No girls now walking by
your son’s body,
his ears, eyes, and
mouth full of stones. 

No officers so high
off dope they smell colors,
and jump off State jeeps
like Quetzals attempting flight. 

Only imagined absence.
Only your silence now.

At the Center of Things 

Below the United States, Land of the Dreamer,
there is Mexico and South America. 

And at the center, I stand,
            an imaginary Guatemalan,
            alongside Maya Chinchilla (like tortilla), 

As invisible as our disappeared
brothers, uncles, boyfriends,
mothers, sisters, friends, ancestors,
speakers of revolution, in Spanish and K’iche. 

As invisible as the fictional
            Luz Delcano and Rosario, Central American
            washerwomen, housekeepers, and widows,
            in Chicana refugee novels.  

We stand in Yichkan,
            the center of the earth,
            the place between dirt and sky,
            where two dimensions meet. 

There we remain
bearers of cultures that do not exist.

When You Insist I’m Mexican,
You Bring Out the Guatemalan in Me
[Inspired by Sandra Cisneros’s “You Bring Out the Mexican in Me”]

When you insist I’m Mexican, 
you bring out the Guatemalan in me.
The memory of the past.
Civil War cries.
The frijoles negros blood.

Hear, all Latinos are not the same.
Words fly from my tongue like 
Calidad, chilero, puchicas vos,
rape, disappearance, torture.

A green Quetzal, I sing silence.
Feel my El Petén rainstorms of fury,
the hatred of state-sanctioned violence
and US-intervention are in me.  

When you insist I’m Mexican, 
you bring out the Ix Chel
mood goddess in me.
La Siguanaba seductress.
The dark sands of San Jose.

See, sí, I am
la viuda, planchadora, tamalera.
El comal y la pila.
pata rajada y Maya huipil.
The K’iche fire tone.
The indígena and ladina.
The victim and conqueror.


Gabriela R-CGabriela Ramirez-Chavez is a writer based in Santa Cruz, California. She received her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from California State University, Long Beach, where she pursued her research interest in Sylvia Plath and began her series of poems on Guatemalan/Central American identity and memory. Her poems have most recently been featured in Kweli and Plath Profiles. Gaby is currently pursuing a PhD in Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she continues to write poetry beside the ocean. Contact her at

© The Acentos Review 2013