Collective Unrest


Four Poems by Lauren Villa

February 26, 2020


The first time I heard how my father came to the United States
It was snowing and I drank tea and watched the sky open with blue 

My father’s stories pulled me on a dark train flying me deep into
The pit of fear and what it means to take cover in a desert
What it means to save every penny you made farming to pay a coyote
To trust someone with your life and to leave at sunrise to meet the caravan
What it means to freeze, truly freeze, in the middle of a desert when it’s too dark
To see your hand in front of your face and to plan the trip around the new moon
So it will be dark enough to run and pretending to be a rock so the helicopters
So the federales don’t find you, so they don’t kill you, shoot you, right there

Of what it means to watch the woman you truly love climb into a plastic inner tube
Grasping at the sides of the inflatable circle, grasping at the scent of a new life
Daughter in her lap and to never see her again 

Of what it means to escape deportation again and again
To apply for a green card when you can’t speak English
To work in the basement of an Italian restaurant peeling shrimp
How ten years after you jump the fence and run for your life but the officials
Still find you make you get out of your car at a traffic stop in LA and throw you
Into questioning, convinced that my mother, your wife, a blonde rubia, rica, flaca
Couldn’t be in love with you, with a dark-skinned Mexican and how they humiliated
You, of course, she had been kidnapped, of course, you were forcing her to run
Of course, she didn’t want this life, of course, you couldn’t be the father, of course
You couldn’t be free

Of what it feels like to watch your new wife, the mother of your unborn son
Convulsing with anger and strength when they question whether you stole her
Shaking like an opera singer with her dress wrapped in blue diamonds
To watch her sing out loudly, high-pitched enough that nobody, not nobody
Could question that you were free in her arms that you were the father of my brother
That you needed to stay.


All the kids in the backseat of the truck
Rumbling towards Paradise Valley
Three uncles and five cousins
Neftali, Pindaro, Beto, Benny, Flavio,
Nacho, Chris, and all of my freckles

Gold chains, singing, Ala vio ala vao a la bim bom ba
Lauren, Lauren, rah rah rah!

Beto puts the glass bottles on the cinder blocks
And hands me a gun with three rounds loaded

My brother chews on Big Red gum, clears the bottles
Blasts them into tiny fragments, mirroring up the sun

A chipmunk peeks out of a hole, the uncles sing, Shoot, shoot
My baby brother shoots, trying to act like a man and the uncles
With their silver capped teeth smile and say, Good job mijo
My brother buries his head in his hands the whole ride home
Holding in his cries the rest of the summer, the rest of his life.


This is for the White-Mexicans
Who look like gringas
With red hair and freckles
Who question their identity
Their dance moves
Their language
Their religion
Their hips
Their hair
Question where they belong
Who grew up in a place hard
To describe
Country town
Everyone wearing Carhartts
Shopping at Wal-Mart
Daddy with a truck
Football is religion
It’s hard to be a White-Mexican
Anywhere but especially here
No one “gets it”
Questions it
Why would I lie
About my tios and tias
About sleeping in one bed
About how he didn’t teach
Me Spanish so I’d fit in
About writing letters
To my half brother and sister
In Mexico
About what it feels like to be both
And to feel like neither
To pray in Mass for nothing more
Than enough money to buy Nike
This is for the White-Mexicans
Who got a full-ride scholarship
And everyone said it’s just cuz
You used the “Mexican card”
And when you’re 30 years old
Your boss asks you to write
This year’s Cinco de Mayo
Email and say, Make it ay ay ay
Make it spicy and arriba
You know how, right?


Climbed out of your mother
Enough light to dissolve
Nightmares and in middle school 

They make fun of your
Hips saying they like prickly pear
Cactus, too big and round to fit in here

The blonde bombshells
With faces as fresh as raindrops
With perfect clothes and makeup

In high school
Suicidal cutting, every part
To let the pink nectar juice

Fill up an entire glass
Reading reading reading
Trying to translate thighs, hair
Nail polish, boys, college essays

The kitchen is empty
Mom is tired, dad is gone

In college you’re just another White
Mexican who can’t speak Spanish
Your high school jeans don’t fit
It’s all imposter syndrome
Throwing up in the co-ed bathrooms
The Colombian girls have their own chatter
The Mexican boys are mouthfuls
Professors want more they say, You have potential
The boys take pictures of you in a bathtub
The Baltimore cold is colder than cold

Call home and your sister says it’s prom night
She asks, Where are you?
Your tongue can’t answer, it’s stuck between
Paralysis and depression.

Lauren Villa is a Mexican American poet. She was raised in Pinetop, Arizona and she earned her Bachelor’s in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University. Her work has appeared in Coffin Bell, Thoughtful Dog, Sky Island Journal, and more. She lives in San Diego, California and her first chapbook, Close To Something Beautiful, will be released in June 2020. You can find her on Twitter @laurenvilla89 and Instagram @thecreativityhouse.

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