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My Father Taught Me

Poem by Staff Writer Cecilia Caballero

My father taught me

To hate the flatness of his nose

And its broadness, his dark lips the color

Of rotting piloncillo. The curls that

He always kept shorn and short.

He never wears shorts because he doesn’t

Want to get darker. He only wears slacks

In shades of tans and blues which he buys

From Mervny’s once a year during Christmas sales

(He wrapped them himself in flimsy festive paper and then opened

Them just to have something to hold up for the camera) and he would

Raise his pant leg and shout, “Mira, mija, soy white!”

The skin he feared would darken under the sun

Appeared in my tan skin, my curls that I grew out because

I did not hate them like he does. But I did when I was three.

I took a bottle of baby powder and dusted my body

Into snow like all the blonde girls that I watched on TV.

The powder creased and bunched underneath my eyes,

Nostrils, mouth, collarbone. “Mira, soy white!” My father laughed

When I emerged from the bathroom. My father, his piloncillo lips,

The color of sugar he melted in a saucepan when he baked pan dulce

I laughed too, and with that single blow of air, an exhalation.

A declaration. Powder spills from skin.

This whiteness does not work.


Based in Los Angeles, Cecilia Caballero is an Afro-Chicana single mother, poet, creative nonfiction writer, and teaching artist. She has received fellowships from Macondo, Tin House, VONA and the Women's National Book Association and she is coeditor of the bestselling book, The Chicana M (other) work Anthology: Porque Sin Madres No Hay Revolución (The University of Arizona Press 2019). As a teaching artist, Cecilia has been invited to teach poetry workshops at the University of Arizona, Parenting for Liberation, East Los Angeles College, CSU Humboldt, and more. Her creative work has been published in Dryland, Epiphany, The Nasiona, Gathering: A Women Who Submit Anthology, Raising Mothers, The Acentos Review, and elsewhere. Cecilia also recently received a 2021 Pushcart nomination for her poem, "The Revenge of Henrietta Lacks." She is currently working on her first book of creative nonfiction/memoir and starting her second and more experimental book of hybrid poetry and prose about the intersections of BIPOC sci fi and social justice.

Image by Nathan Dumlao

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