Or: Oli-JAN-dro, Oli-HAN-dro, Oli-HAND-dro, Oli-Oxen-Free, Olly olly oxen free, All ye, all ye 'outs' in free, alle alle auch sind frei
Dear Poetry Lab,
"I saw a Mexican—no offense—fixing my friend’s dad's car" my neighbor said to me, despite my white skin. I don’t entirely remember her, but I remember it was often overcast. A gray tint to everything. She had blonde wavy hair and I remember the garage across the street was closed. All of the garages were always closed, except for ours. I started going by Alex in my second year of third grade. I would say "Aye dios mio" when I passed Santiago, the towering Mexican, because I wanted him to like me and know that I could speak Spanish too. Rumors were that he had been a child-soldier in El Salvador. At the time I didn't know that El Salvador had nothing to do with Mexico. Standing at the nickel-op pencil dispenser outside of the Kaiser School library, I got a black sparkle-covered pencil with orange stars that read "Alexander Was Great". That's how I remember it. I took the pencil to the librarian and told her I wanted to be called Alex. All of the adults in my school immediately embraced my transformation. Trans-racial. Overnight. Quick & easy. After that, Santiago scared me.
"The parts of the nervous system involved in the processing of information in declarative memory (hippocampal formation and diencephalon) are different from those involved in non-declarative memory (striatum, cerebellum, and amygdala)." – Mike Staks (1)
As Alex, my family and I became Mormons. My mom had been Mormon in Uruguay, but stopped following for her own reasons. It had something to do with the black shoeshine boy not being able to hold the priesthood. I guess that changed in 1978. We participated for 6 years, from when I was 9 years old to 15, because she felt we needed strong moral men in our lives. There are 3 things I can tell you about Mormons—they really, really don't want you to masturbate; they believe that men and woman should exist in separate societies, though under a single roof; and they really don't think it’s wise for their young white men (with missionarying potential) to be raised by a single Hispanic Latina woman with a thick accent, despite her fair skin.
I dropped out of school in 9th grade, not because I am a loser, but because I wanted to go to Uruguay to finish my schooling, but I couldn't keep up. In Uruguay, they expected me to work hard for my grades. I wasn't interested in that. After two years, I came home, too old to finish high school. In fact, Mr. Manders, an administrator for a Newport-Mesa Unified School District satellite office said to me, "People like you go to Santa Ana College, not Orange Coast. You wouldn't do well there." We believed him. We assumed that SAC was better a set up for dropouts.
"The hippocampus is a crucial structure within the hippocampal formation consisting of dentate gyrus, hippocampus, and subiculum. This folded cortical structure is a threelayered region of cortex in the medial temporal lobes. All new sensory information destined for storage in memory is processed through the hippocampal formation." –Mike Staks (1)
I became a dad at 19 to an amazing son, who today is 23. His mother made it clear that his middle name must be Alexander, not Alejandro. Because she didn't want him to have "issues." Ok. That's cool. I didn't really have issues with my name.
"If nature can be regarded as indifferent, careless, and unconscionable, then human consciousness creates the possibility of questioning nature's ways. The emergence of human consciousness is associated with evolutionary developments in brain, behavior, and mind that ultimately lead to the creation of culture, radical novelty in the sweep of natural history.
How did the independent and rebellious mind develop? One can only speculate … the rebel [organic form] began to take human existence in new directions, some defiant, some accommodating, but all based on thinking through knowledge, mythical knowledge at first, scientific knowledge later, but knowledge nonetheless." –Antonio Damasio, Self Comes To Mind
"Thank god, a white guy."
"Your name is Alejandro?"
"Go back to your fucking country."
Uruguay isn't known for beans but meat and leather. I didn't really become aware of racism aimed at me until my mid 30s when I started driving a taxi in Orange County. How does identity work? Where is it stored in the brain? Of course memory contributes to identity. What affect do social subtleties have in how we see ourselves? How we react to further subtitles. How long do these subtle affects last?
Alejandro Duarte is a devoted father to four. He works with developmentally disabled adults through the Goodwill of Orange County. In the past, Alejandro has been a cab driver, a furniture designer, and a production manager in the fashion industry. Originally from Costa Mesa, CA, Alex lived sometime in Montevideo, Uruguay. Today, he is an active member of the Poetry Lab in Long Beach, CA, and the Poetry Salon, in Culver City, CA. His poems have appeared in TAYO Literary Magazine, Gutters & Alleyways, and theUnrorean, among others. Currently, he is working on a collection of poems called TaxiFly.