By: Malcolm Friend
¡Baila, mi nena! ¡Baila!
Deje que el ritmo te consuma,
rock your hips—I know you want to try
the plena. We can twirl within this room
a bit. Just take my hand
and let me guide you, ma.
The music will put you in a trance
and we’ll dance until a new day’s begun.
Through our movements, you’ll come to understand
where this music comes from…
“Pero, papi, no quiero comprender.
Sólo quiero vacilar. Let’s have some fun.
Come on. People are starting to stare.”
Right, ’cause it’s a crime to speak of race
outside of the fifty states. There
isn’t any place
for that in Puerto Rico. Pero,
mira, how can you label us a disgrace?
“Pai, come on, why are you talking about negros?
We’re Boricua, not black.”
Because our African roots are integral
to who we are. To ignore that fact
is to ignore all that makes us proud
to claim this culture. Do you lack
because we both come from the cadena-
clad victims who first learned how to dance pegao?
“Sólo quiero bailar la plena.”
Pero ignoras tus antepasados prietos
y la sangre africana dentro de tus venas.
And that’s what I can’t accept. No
matter how hard you try to prove
we aren’t black when the güiro plays y empiezo
Bailar con mi tumbao tan smooth
I know what to do, mai:
A little twisting, a little turning, pa’ gozar this African groove
Malcolm Friend was born and raised in Seattle, WA, to a Puerto Rican father and an African American mother. He is currently an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University studying English and classical civilization and hopes to pursue an MFA in creative writing after graduating. His writing blends the personal with the political as he explores his identity as Puerto Rican, African American, and a Seattleite.