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by Mexican-American Poet José Olivarez
all of the Mexicans sneak into heaven.
St. Peter has their names on the list,
but the Mexicans haven't trusted a list
since Ronald Reagan was president.
St. Peter is a Mexican named Pedro,
but he's not a saint. Pedro waits at the gate
with a shot of tequila to welcome
all the Mexicans to heaven,
but he gets drunk
& forgets about the list.
all the Mexicans walk into heaven,
even our no-good cousins who only
go to church for baptisms & funerals.
all the Mexican women refuse to cook or clean
or raise the kids or pay bills or make the bed or
drive your bum ass to work or do anything except
watch their novelas, so heaven is gross, the rats
are fat as roosters & the men die of starvation.
Saint Peter lets Mexicans into heaven
but only to work in the kitchens.
a Mexican dishwasher polishes the crystal,
smells the meals, & hears the music.
they dream of another heaven,
one they might be allowed in
if they work hard enough.
there are white people in heaven, too.
they build condos across the street
& ask the Mexicans to speak English.
i'm just kidding.
there are no white people in heaven.
tamales, tacos, tostadas. tortas.
pozole. sopes. huaraches. menudo.
horchata. jamaica. limonada. agua.
Jesus has a tattoo of La Virgen De Guadalupe
covering his back. turns out he's your cousin
Jesús from the block. turns out he gets reincarnated
every day & no one on earth cares all that much.
It turns out god is one of those religious Mexicans
who doesn't drink or smoke weed, so all the Mexicans
in heaven party in the basement while god reads
the bible & thumbs a rosary. god threatens to kick
all the Mexicans out of heaven si no paran
con las pendejadas, so the Mexicans drink more
discreetly. they smoke outside where god won't
smell the weed. god pretends the Mexicans are reformed.
hallelujah. this cycle repeats once a month. amen.
SOURCE: Citizen Illegal, poetry collection by José Olivarez, Haymarket
Books, Chicago, Illinois, USA, 2018.
JOSÉ OLIVAREZ is a poet
and teaching artist. Born in
Chicago, Illinois, he is the
son of Mexican immigrants.
After obtaining a Bachelor's
Degree from the Havard
University in Massachusetts,
Olivarez returned to Chicago
where he now works as
marketing manager at Young
Chicago Authors (YCA).
His debut poetry collection,
Citizen Illegal, was a finalist
for the PEN / Jean Stein
Award and a winner of the
2018 Chicago Review of
Books Poetry Prize. Poets &
Writers named him Debut
Poet of 2018.
He has taught poetry
workshops and performed at
high school, book fairs, and
universities across the USA.
He is a winner of fellowships
from CantoMundo, Poets
House, the Bronx Council on
the Arts, the Poetry
Foundation, and the
Conversation Literary Festival.
His work has been published
in The BreakBeat Poets, The
New York Times, Paris
Review, and elsewhere.
The way transformation manifests itself through my
poetry is I try to take things that sort of seem ordinary—
processes you see happen on a daily basis or routines
that you become accustomed to seeing—and within that
moment or those experiences try to uncover some sort
of deeper magic or some sort of deeper truth in those
I always tell my students if something’s difficult that’s
when you know that you have something good. Poetry
shouldn’t be easy. It’s not simple mathematics, it’s not
two plus two. It’s something that requires you to take a
good look at yourself and really understand what you’re
saying or take a good look at the world around you and
really pay attention to what’s happening.
~ JOSÉ OLIVAREZ IN A 2014 INTERVIEW WITH CREATIVE KIN.
Citizen Illegal is a fearless, instrumental, honest
collection. Olivarez's poetry navigates the razor-sharp
duality and utter contradiction of citizenship. These
poems help us carry the weight of biases, the absurdity
of our prejudices; they help us seek documentation for
our humanity which cannot, by any means, be dictated
by policy makers.
~ WILLIE PERDOMO, AUTHOR OF THE ESSENTIAL HITS OF SHORTY
BON BON: POEMS, 2014.
HAYMARKET BOOKS / USA