What’s Genocide


their high school principaltold me I couldn’t teachpoetry with profanityso I asked my students,“Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Holocaust.”in unison, their arms rose up like poisonous gasthen straightened out like an SS infantry“Okay. Please put your hands down.Now raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Rwandan genocide.”blank stares mixed with curious ignorancea quivering hand out of the crowdhalf-way raised, like a lone survivorstruggling to stand up in Kigali“Luz, are you sure about that?”“No.”“That’s what I thought.”“Carlos—what’s genocide?”they won’t let you hear the truth at schoolif that person says “fuck”can’t even talk about “fuck”even though a third of your senior classis pregnant.I can’t teach an 18-year-old girl in a public schoolhow to use a condom that will save her lifeand that of the orphan she will be forcedto give to the foster care system—“Carlos, how many 13-year-olds do you know that are HIV-positive?”“Honestly, none. But I do visit a shelter every Monday and talk withsix 12-year-old girls with diagnosed AIDS.”while 4th graders three blocks away give little boys blowjobs during recessI met an 11-year-old gang member in the Bronx who carriesa semi-automatic weapon to study hall so he can make it homeand you want me to censor my language“Carlos, what’s genocide?”your books leave out Emmett Till and Medgar Everscall themselves “World History” and don’t mentionKing Leopold or diamond minescall themselves “Politics in the Modern World”and don’t mention Apartheid“Carlos, what’s genocide?”you wonder why children hide in adult bodieslie under light-color-eyed contact lenseslearn to fetishize the size of their assesand simultaneously hate their lipsmy students thought Che Guevara was a rapperfrom East Harlemstill think my Mumia t-shirt is of Bob Marleyhow can literacy not include Phyllis Wheatley?schools were built in the shadows of ghostsfiltered through incest and grinding teethmolded under veils of extravagant ritual“Carlos, what’s genocide?”“Roselyn, how old was she? Cuántos años tuvo tu madre cuando se murió?”“My mother had 32 years when she died. Ella era bellísima.”…what’s genocide?they’ve moved from sterilizing “Boriqua” womeninjecting indigenous sisters with Hepatitis B,now they just kill mothers with silent poisonstain their loyalty and love into veins and suffocate them…what’s genocide?Ridwan’s father hung himselfin the box because he thought his sonwas ashamed of him…what’s genocide?Maureen’s mother gave herskin lightening creamthe day before she started the 6th grade…what’s genocide?she carves straight lines into herbeautiful brown thighs so she can rememberwhat it feels like to heal…what’s genocide?…what’s genocide?“Carlos, what’s genocide?”“Luz, this…this right here…is genocide.”

Pursuit of Happiness: “What’s Genocide?” by Carlos Andres Romez


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