David A. Romero
(Flowersong Press, 2020); pbk, £11.85
Mexican-American spoken word artist David A. Romero’s most recent collection My Name Is Romero opens to a picture of the poet’s family to whom the collection is dedicated. In the introduction, he sets this photograph within the context of the America he grew up in:
My first memories of my last name stretch back to elementary school, and kids […] intentionally mispronouncing my name to make fun of me. However, I would notice over the years, that […] lots of people weren’t deliberately trying to ridicule my surname but mispronounced it regardless.
The Romeros redefined the ideal of the American family vacation. There were no ‘amusement parks’ or ‘tropical cruises’ only ‘father loading up our van and driving us on road trips to either visit relatives, Catholic holy sites […] or to do genealogy research.’
Romero does not allude to the irony of the American dream, allegedly open to all Americans; He is brutally direct, and the energy and clout of the spoken word is not lost on the page. In ‘My Name Is…’the inaugural, titular poem, slams home the tone, while the tempo pairs with the heart rate in short, sharp beats, tightening the tension as we feel the sting of microaggression from the cold caller:
Calling from their ivy-covered balconies
Calling for their star-crossed lovers
“is Mr. Romeo in?”
The snappy, single word lines project Romero’s frustrations, gathering intensity as he addresses implicit bias when his brother jokes:
How could you be the son of our parents
With your blue eyes
And white skin?
Romero delivers a powerful documentary detailing the subordination of a culture, and the subliminal exploitation of children who learn to sneer at their own fathers; in ‘Gorilla Arms’,
It was the teachers
The guest lecturers
The people on television
The parents of my friends
No one had ever told me
That I should
Want to be like my father[.]
In paintings in ‘Micro Machines’ by Romero’s pioneering uncle and artist, Frank Romero, are diminished by the ‘docent’ in an art gallery who can’t see past the ‘Mexican kid with the white skin and blue eyes’
Visceral discomfort ensues from the incongruent blend of comedy and sarcasm, and the smile slips from our faces as we read ‘That’s a Wrap/Ode to a Burrito’:
The focus group of foods
You were assembled
From the rotting carcasses of recipes
Killed by cultural appropriation
Those who love Mexican food
But hate Mexicans[.]
In a series of poetic letters, Romero calls out high profile Americans from congress to actors, musicians to comedians, complicit in the domination, exploitation and appropriation of his culture. But the beauty of this collection is that Romero takes this all the way, levelling the playing field for all cultures: Aztecs, Palestinians, Africans, Berber to name but a few.
‘Concierto de al-Andalus’ chronicles the birth of oppression in medieval times with ‘A story of the Imazighen/’. Here, the pace slows as imagery takes precedence over animated delivery:
The slaves are weather wracked and tired
In a world of mist[.]
Romero shares the pain of old love interests in the assemblage of poems in ‘Beloved’, while ‘Etymology’, delivers the finale ‘Our name is Romero’. Here, we reconsider the photograph of his grandparents and the pride and trauma rooted deep in the psyche of the Mexican people to
Remember those who have come before
Those we know
And those lost to history
Our name is Romero.
Nevertheless, fervency requires balance by differing focus, tone and pace across the four sections, each one linked presently with a strong didactic element serving summons on America’s white supremacy. In essence, this collection is a call to arms, a call for bystander intervention, a call to open one’s eyes and see, and Romero has left no stone unturned.