Don’t Know Nobody from Ellis Island

“Black slaves first arrived in Mexico in 1519 as part of the Panfilo Narvaez expedition. It is uncertain whether they assisted Hernan Cortes in the conquest of the Aztec Empire. We do know that Esteban, one of the slaves introduced by Narvaez, participated in the first expedition to set foot in Texas.”
Martha Menchaca,
Recovering History, Constructing Race

i had a friend named guillermo
          in elementary & for three years
          our teacher decided i was his tutor
          dark sea-washed temple of bronze
          his name with two most difficult
          letters guillermo’s hair a torch
          thick & going straight up i never
          thought guillermo could be my
          brother, my interest when i say
          ‘friend’ i mean he was someone
          who sat next to me in class
          bothered my conversations no
          context for showing up i mean
          it’s a miracle i remembered
          his name & guillermo was
          the darkest mexican i’d ever met
          & my exiled hair was a harbor
          we both could have moored in
          & i did not know how to lift my
          silent lip & smile. i only knew he
          was annoying & i memorized the
          lightning color of jacob’s hair
          instead jacob with the thin lip &
          small ankles i did not see esteban
          prince of conquest pouring sand
          into my blood esteban who survived
          the ocean twice & left behind no
          images of himself instead gave
          the spaniards a key to the world
          above the river & this crossing
          is where i begin. were your grand
          parents immigrants did they read
          the signs no niggers mexicans or
          dogs allowed were they assumed
          to be rich were they rich did they
          own themselves did they have to
          work for their freedom
          & the ancient lands our feet kissed
          with blood call us back to the soil
          saying, remember & i know now
          the statute of liberty which embraced
          the necks of esteban’s skinfolk &
          draped the bodies of his descendants
          across huizaches in texas & esteban
          did not live long enough to have children
          & the soil swallows so many bodies
          & myself and guillermo spoke as little
          as possible suffice it to say we have
          a history & our teachers said guillermo’s
name like the name of an exile

Ariana Brown is an Afromexicana poet from San Antonio, Texas. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize, member of the University of Texas at Austin winning team at the 2014 national collegiate poetry slam, and is currently working on her first manuscript.