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José Olivarez


he posts on Facebook, the digital block. 

all his old friends & crushes come by to

dap him up. imagine the flowers they place

on his lap. he smells them, but not for long.  


back when he graduated from college, he threw

his cap into the sky & it fluttered like a bird

with a broken wing. when it landed, my brother

was still broke & unemployed. the day my brother


gets into grad school, he can’t afford a happy meal

& still the praise comes through: my mom thanks 

god. my dad offers my brother a cold beer, which

is how my family celebrates everything: a toast.


a drink. my dad prays between gulps. my mom

drinks when god blinks. my family: two fists

colliding. nothing strong enough to stop 

my parents from raising a home in a city


being razed or to stop my dad’s steel mill from closing or

the foreclosure notice from landing at our doorstep,

& here we are, my brother is going to grad school:

another promise, the familiar fluttering. my brother


grown in the after wash of a cold beer. in the after

math of a long prayer. amongst the weeds in the vacant

lot that used to house our dreams. mixed up with dirt.
ordinary ground. no magic but water.



after Pedro Pietri


Juan, Lupe, Lorena became American this way, 

serving crackers at a picnic while a strange wind

swung through the branches carrying names.

Juan, Lupe, Lorena died this way, too, silently

while trump won the presidency & the police

kept killing their Black neighbors & relatives. 

Juan died saying it was none of his business. 

Lupe died believing their degrees would save them.

Lorena died after loading the gun & handing it over

to the policeman that aimed it at her whole family.

Juan, Lupe Lorena all died yesterday today

& will die again tomorrow 

asking Black people to die more quietly, 

asking white people not to turn the gun on us.



after Idris Goodwin

my parents are Mexican who are not 

to be confused with Mexican-Americans

or Chicanos. i am a Chicano from Chicago

which means i am a Mexican-American

with a fancy college degree & a few tattoos.

my parents are Mexican who are not

to be confused with Mexicans still living

in México. those Mexicans call themselves

mexicanos. white folks at parties call them

pobrecitos. American colleges call them

international students & diverse. my mom

was white in México & my dad was mestizo

& after they crossed the border they became

diverse. & minorities. & ethnic. & exotic.

but my parents call themselves mexicanos,

who, again, should not be confused for mexicanos

living in México. those mexicanos might call

my family gringos, which is the word my family calls

white folks & white folks call my parents interracial.

colleges say put them on a brochure.

my parents say que significa esa palabra.

i point out that all the men in my family

marry lighter skinned women. that’s the Chicano

in me. which means it’s the fancy college degrees

in me, which is also diverse of me. everything in me

is diverse even when i eat American foods

like hamburgers, which to clarify, are American

when a white person eats them & diverse

when my family eats them. so much of America

can be understood like this. my parents were

undocumented when they came to this country

& by undocumented, i mean sin papeles, &

by sin papeles, i mean royally fucked which

should not be confused with the American Dream

though the two are cousins. colleges are not

looking for undocumented diversity. my dad

became a citizen which should not be confused

with keys to the house. we were safe from

deportation, which should not be confused

with walking the plank. though they’re cousins.

i call that sociology, but that’s just the Chicano

in me who should not be confused with the diversity

in me or the mexicano in me who is constantly fighting

with the upwardly mobile in me who is good friends

with the Mexican-American in me who the colleges love,
but only on brochures, who the government calls


my parents call mijo even when i don’t come home so much.

-from Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books), selected by Spring 2023 Guest Editor, Gerard Robledo

José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants. His debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal, was a finalist for the PEN/ Jean Stein Award and a winner of the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. It was named a top book of 2018 by The Adroit Journal, NPR, and the New York Public Library. Along with Felicia Chavez and Willie Perdomo, he co-edited the poetry anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. He is the co-host of the poetry podcast, The Poetry Gods. In 2018, he was awarded the first annual Author and Artist in Justice Award from the Phillips Brooks House Association and named a Debut Poet of 2018 by Poets & Writers. In 2019, he was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Paris Review, and elsewhere.

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