Digging for Lost Temples

Thumbing through The Borderlands, I can’t help but feel not “brown” enough. I’m Mexican Lite. Got a case of the “coconuts.” There are no rageful battle cries inflaming this breast. No bitterness lingering on the tip of the tongue (the back of hands and the starch of white collars taste just the same no matter the bearer’s color). No tortured soul, longing for identity and re-appropriation. Just me and this suit of rosy-beige meat that touts my value best in the dead of winter. 

“If you’re not pissed, you aren’t paying attention,” some people say. Others, “We’re nothing but second-class citizens—wetbacks—to them!” (My back dried three generations ago!) Then, there’s all this talk of The Wall, as if one had actually never existed before in the first place. How funny people are when the invisible begin to reflect the Spectrum of Things in the cruel clarity of daylight—ancient atrocities shining, unforgivingly, like newly minted coins under brusque fluorescents. When did symbols become more real than the things they represented? (Maybe around the same time ‘detention centers’ and ‘concentration camps’ meant different things?) “Better them than me,” I would think to myself. “Everyone’s got to hate someone, right?”

Call it apathy. Detachment. Indifference. Call it what you like, but don’t let an absence of tears convey a treason of the flesh. I know where I come from and where my people have been. I am one of the many brown bodies that was piled in heaps, used as target practice by Texas Rangers that stood proudly before them, posing for photographs. I swung low from sturdy boughs in the Southwest, proving Strange Fruit—plucked in all its hues and flavors—tastes coppery and bitter in Life’s maw. I starved outside with the rest of the dogs, staring into diner windows—mind, body, and spirit consumed—barred from entry, wanting for crumbs. The narrative’s my own, but the story remains the same. 

I’m no one’s machisto, gangbanger, Latin lover, wetback, or Spic. I am no one’s pimp, Sancho, caballero, or maricon. I can’t roll my Rs, I hate tequila, and I don’t code switch. Sheepskins—paid by my own coin—adorn my walls, not holographic portraits of “The Last Supper” or La Santa Muerte adorned with plastic red roses from the dollar store. I am not “spicy” like something that is novelly consumed. And I—a being, self-determined, not cast from a vulgar mold—respect God’s will as much as he respects mine (which doesn’t say much). 

The blood of peasants and slaves, warriors and kings run through our veins. Our ears once heard gods’ whispers through the rustling of leaves in the breeze and the trickling of streams over time-smoothed stones. We rode the winds—the sun kissing our backs (not breaking them)—as we flew through fields of pale azure upon Serpent’s wings, over treetops and verdant expanses. We ate our enemies’ courage and drank victor’s wine with lips, stained red, from their skulls. (So, step back with your ‘tallboys’ and that Four Lokos jive!) This is what lies beneath the skin. Melanin be damned! We are the sons and daughters of Earth and Sky, Aztec Temples of Sun and Moon, buried beneath blanched soil, crowned by cathedrals—papal tiaras anointed by brown blood that pepper the land like so many gravestones. Remember?

Originally published in 45 Magazine

David Estringel

What is the significance of this work to you?

For me, "Digging for Lost Temples" is an incredibly special piece. The topics of culture and acculturation/assimilation are very personal to me as 3rd Generation Mexican-American who grew up during a time when assimilation into the Anglo world was highly endorsed and striven for (in the hopes of garnering more success and opportunity in the future). Obviously, with so much attention on immigration and the blatant discrimination and demonization of the Mexican-American community by some these past few years, some introspection was called for: I certainly was not immune to the pull. As a youngster, I was happy to assimilate and felt like I benefited from it (just as my parents had hoped). This came at a cost, however. As an adult, after a great deal of education and attained wisdom, I see that I had surrendered a significant part of my identify for the sake of embracing a sociocultural narrative that wasn't even my own, cheating myself out of a rich and powerful history that indelibly defined who I was (whether I wanted to believe it or not). I still am not totally sure who I am as a Mexican-American man, but I am a lot closer to knowing than I was.

What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?

I actually love prose poetry. I fancy myself to be a 'storyteller', so this form strongly resonates with me. This piece does relay a narrative, but it also serves as a personal manifesto of self-acceptance, as well as culpability: it was an act of liberation and penance, really.

What was your process for creating this work?

The poem created itself and presented to the page when I was finally ready to read it. Through the education I have received over the years and through my work as a professor of Social Work, I have developed a great appreciation for the Mexican-American history and culture I spent so many years running away from. With that came a lot of angst over the systematic and institutional discrimination my community has faced (and continues to face), as well as the microaggressions I have experienced over time (some that I was oblivious to). After "Digging for Lost Temples', I began to play with code-switching in my work, exploring topics that were more culturally relevant to who I am. "Digging for Lost Temples" opened a door for me that, luckily, will always remain open.

David Estringel holds a B.A. in English. His poetry and short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in online and print publications, such as the North Meridian Review, Setu Bilingual Journal, Azahares Literary Magazine, Route 7 Review, The Blue Nib, Pif Magazine, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, Latin Anthology, Bosphorus Review, Lahar Magazine, The Bitchin' Kitsch, and Drunk Monkeys. David has also been an editor at The Good Men Project, Red Fez, and The Elixir Magazine. 

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