“I Am From”

A proud Colombian-American “Jewtina" reflects on identity through poetry.


I AM FROM the place of chicharrones Ay Mamita! as I walk down the block I want to swing my hips like the girls my mother says are loose —
but I don’t.

I am from the prayers of the men
at morning minyan wafting from
the windows of the old synagogue
just like the one in the Ukrainian shtetl my Bobe Fanny was from, before she fled the pogroms
for a new life in Colombia.

I am from African drumming
on gritty Bronx streets
and the Arab fruit stand merchants who wink and say
Salaam Aleikem.

I am from the gang of Irish bullies who don’t like Jews
or Blacks or Latinos or Muslims and sometimes say that
with graffiti. Or fists—
It makes me sad. And rageful.

I am from the Pledge of Allegiance
in elementary school and two straight lines and don’t talk back
and only call adults by their last names.
I am also from hopscotch and
double dutch and
red Spalding balls
bounced against the steps of the stoop with the other kids
until our mothers called us
in to dinner.

I am from sparklers on the Fourth of July and hot New York City summers with fire hydrants turned on illegally and women
in their folding chairs on the curb, gossiping.

And I am also from summers near the equator
and the smell of maduros, sweet plantains from my grandmother’s kitchen,
from Sancocho served with Kasha Varnishkes.

From the brightly plumed macaws that flew over the volcano
in the distance
and the colored snakes and geckos racing down the walls of my grandmother’s garden with
its plants’ leaves so large they were like an umbrella for me, a small child against the tropical rains.

I am from the movements of Cumbia and from swimming in the stream at the Club Shalom
where all the Jews in Cali belonged because Jews weren’t allowed in the other country clubs.

I am from my grandmother’s stories of Ukrainian winters and snow
that reached to the rooftops
and horse-drawn sleigh rides
and how she missed the snow in Colombia,
country of year-round heat.
I am from Shema Yisrael and Bendita Sea

risa y lagrimas
laughter and tears
y de todos los colores.
I am from cracks and crevices in the Western Wall
the fervent prayer on the wrinkled note I place between the stones.

 

A proud Colombian-American “Jewtina,” Dr. Beverly Pincus is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who serves as Bilingual Director of Psychology Training and Evaluation at NY Foundling.

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