2020 Winner

This poem was a collaboration between Emma Pardo, Ali Hellerman, and Melanie Breslin and is repeated for each winner.

American

She’s been in this country since before she said her first words or learned her ABCs

Her first steps were walked on the same soil as yours were,

and it was on this land that her tufts of

peach fuzz turned into the locks they are now.

How is she any less American than you?

 

He spends hours picking tomatoes, red like dried blood encased in cracks on his knuckles.

His stomach pleads, begs for food as he shucks corn, again and again,

*CHHHHH CHHHHH CHHHHH*

so your dinner plate isn’t empty.

He picks and picks, shucks and shucks all day.

Nail beds bleeding, throat dry from lack of water, like sun beating down on his hot back

 

She gets home from work,

her back aching and her knees bruised from hours she has spent kneeling over toilets

scrubbing them raw,

her eyes teary from bottles and bottles products she uses to make silk expensive luxurious clothes

perfect

She gets home from work drained

worrying that after fourteen hours it still isn’t enough

 

Every morning she looks at her reflection and her frizzy hair speaks and tells her,

“You are not American.”

She spends hours trying to flatten her hair, trying to dull the voice

and make her thick brown hair thin like girls in her class.

She pretends like she can’t hear when her classmates call her an alien, put her in a zoo for them to spectate.

 

Pick and put in the basket

Pick and put in the basket

Over and over

“Faster!” they scream

faster and faster he goes so they don’t call him “lazy”

His life orbits around this one motion like earth does sun

It is the only thing keeping him and his family alive

When the day is done he returns home with little to nothing than he had the day before

 

Night after night her memories conquer her mind like stars filling the sky

Her baby boy had brown hair that could never be held down by a comb

His smile was a lottery ticket, once in a lifetime opportunity, first snowfall of the season

His cheeks round and red like so many apples that are picked by her people every day

His little plump hands were soft and smooth unknown to dry skin or calluses

His eyes sparkled still, peaceful blue

He was her everything

She wishes that she could go home to her mother and father

waiting for her at the door like families in all the Hallmark movies,

So she tries to hide her loathing and embarrassment of her parents

when they come back after 14 hour shifts, with their joints aching from endlessly

picking, harvesting, shoving, cleaning, and being treated

like they are anything but humans.

 

Hands tired.

Feet tired.

Body tired.

He is tired.

Tired of his employers forgetting to add a few 100 dollars to his paycheck.

Tired of having to hear his wife tell him about how she is assaulted, by white men

who chew on her and then spit her out like gum.

Tired of watching his children come home, bruises pasted on their faces

that cover their expressions of guilt and embarrassment for being where they are from.

 

Her son was her everything

yet thin green paper invaded her mind and poisoned her thoughts

Because when her baby boy can’t get better

can’t get healthy you start questioning everything

America is the only solution to fix everything

So she left

Left her perfect boy and didn’t stay to watch him turn into a man

She has been nothing but a friendly neighbor, a straight A student, a helping hand.

She never learned Spanish for fear people would realize that her caramel skin

isn’t the same shade as your fair skin.

She followed all of your rules.

 

Land of opportunity,

American Dream

But he is not living a dream

This is a nightmare

But no matter how many times he pinches himself,

he can never wake up

 

She crossed the border, wall that divides her from her baby boy

Crossed the border with nothing in her hands

But in her mind she carried the hope that this would help

Not knowing that America would be filled with fear and terror that one day

She will pay the price for stepping across the border

And treated as if she will never be American

You call her a “criminal” just because all those years ago she passed the barrier

into her true home.

How can you look at her brown skin and imagine

badged men coming behind her, bringing her down to her knees

as she bellows to be left alone, reaching out for her home but her hands are tied back.

How could you deny her from being American?

 

She has come here to help her family and yet her black hair and light brown skin

make it so that she will never be able to relax, take a breath

And if she does try and come up for air you will not help her

You will push her back into the water so that she can’t get any air

and watch her as she sinks deeper and deeper into dark shameful water

Watch as she disappears

 

He gave his life to this country, and for what in return?

He is exhausted, and yet his country continues to use his dream as a punching bag,

knocking him down every chance they get.

*Bang*

Dirty wetback

*Bang*

Thief

*Bang*

Lazy Mexican

*Bang*

You don’t belong

*Bang*

You are not American

 

But they are American

Nearly 15% of the US population are immigrants

They are real

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Melanie Breslin

Sheridan School

Grade: 8