MONOLOGUE: How Do You Say Orange at the Border?

by Yolanda Nieves

Setting:           bare stage

Time:               present

Character:       WOMAN, Hispanic, 20-40 something

WOMAN

Orange, china, naranja.
Say it again, caramba!

If you claim U.S. citizenship
you’ve got to prove your membership.

Your color makes you treacherous,
you all look like terrorists.

Our politicians tell us that all the rest
like you

just want to steal
our jobs!

Orange, china, naranja.
Say it again, caramba!

It’s amazing that the name of a fruit can mean the difference between staying in a country and being deported. People think that it can’t happen here, but it does—all the time. It’s a historical pattern: imported for being brown, deported for being brown. I happened to my father! It didn’t matter that he played chess, liked country music, and could quote Hamlet’s “to be or not to be…that is the question,” and the Declaration of Independence.

I am the sole Puerto Rican friend of the new couple and a noisy-high-strung boxer by the name of Larry that I noticed barks only at black people. They bought the foreclosed house two doors down, and took a liking to me because I didn’t get mad when they confused me for the maid, and I let them use the phone when they locked themselves out one evening. Their favorite request is this: let me bounce this off you.

Yesterday it went like this: Let me bounce this off you…I called the cops on this Mexican dude who’s dog barks every time I walk Larry in front of his house…is that racist?

“How do you know he’s Mexican?” I asked.

“He owns a pickup truck, owns a Chihuahua , and drinks Coronas!”

Orange, china, naranja.
Say it again, caramba!

When we used to live on Division Street , I used to sit by the window sill in our third floor apartment, waiting for my father to get home from his factory job. In those days there were factories on almost every other corner in Wicker Park.

My father used to work for the Ludwig Drum Company, right on the corner of Damen and Wabansia earning 90 cents per hour. That was minimum wage for coloreds in 1964. Everybody else got a $1.25. Families like ours survived because of our extended family network. Abuelita and abuelito lived with us. With my grandfathers dish-washing job at the Hilton and my father’s below minimum wage salary, we put food on the table and shared a car with my Uncle Tony who worked nights at the Schwinn Bicycle factory.

In those days, Puerto Rican men would walk to and from work in groups—afraid that the Chicago Police would detain them at anytime for anything. Many a family man got a good bashing on the head just for hanging around in front of his own doorway. But then the deportations came.

I saw it all from our third floor window. It was the summer of 1964. On a clear afternoon a van pulled up to a group of family men walking home from work. Out of a paddy wagon jumped several officials with guns yelling, “Down…get down!” making the men lay on their stomachs as if they were dogs. Their arms handcuffed behind them, I saw my father being pushed and detained like a criminal. He was gone four days. He also lost four days pay and ultimately his job because my mother couldn’t speak English and she couldn’t tell the company what had happened.

Orange, china, naranja.
Say it again, caramba!

Four days later, at the jail, someone finally asked him the question that would determine whether he was a Mexican or a Puerto Rican: how do you say orange in your language? China, he said. They let him go.

It wasn’t until my father died that my mother and I found, among his papers, three draft cards with three different draft numbers! It took me a while to wrap my head around this: he was on the Vietnam War draft list not once, or twice, but three times!

Thomas Santiago Class I-A    ready for service #563271424

Thomas Santiago Class I-A    ready for service #709866217

Thomas Santiago Class I-A    ready for service #348695883

How many men of my father’s generation had more than one draft card? More than one number? How was it that my father had three times more of a chance to be drafted than someone else? I almost thought one of the draft cards had a subtle smell of orange on it.

My father lived his whole life trying to think of ways not to call attention to himself, of trying to be more American than anyone, ridding himself of his accent, listening to Johnny Cash and Freddie Fender (he cheated on that one) until one day someone called him not just a Spic, but a god-damn Spic. That day he hung his Puerto Rican flag in the window for the entire neighborhood to behold. It hung there until the day he died. We put it in his casket.

The darker side of American history isn’t taught very well. Very few people want to acknowledge our own detention centers (remember the Japanese-Americans?), or the 500 plus years of genocide in the U.S. (remember the Native Nations people?), or the colonization of some islands called Guam or Puerto Rico. You can’t expect to colonize people and then not have them in your backyard, in your fields, or in your orchards picking oranges, chinas, and naranjas.

People say that “illegals” are stealing “our” jobs. This is what my friend, who is an undocumented worker and an artist, responds to this accusation: “If a U.S. citizen wants to pick oranges in 100 degree weather, 10-18 hours a day for $3.35 cents an hour…I will gladly step aside.”

If you claim U.S. citizenship
you’ve got to prove your membership.

Your color makes you treacherous
You all look like terrorist
our politicians tell us that all the rest

like you
just want to steal
our jobs!

Orange, china, naranja.
Say it again, caramba!

copyright © 2010 Yolanda Nieves.  All rights reserved.
___________________________________________

Yolanda Nieves is a poet and playwright. She teaches reading and writing to community college students and is the author of Dove over Clouds (Plainview Press, 2007) and The Spoken Body (coming soon.) Ms. Nieves also is the writer and director of The Brown Girls’ Chronicles, awarded the 2010 Arts-Based Research Award by the American Educational Research Conference. Ms. Nieves lives in Chicago.

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