The Brown Face

By Guest Contributor Jorge Antonio Vallejos, cross-posted from Black Coffee Poet

I’ve got Scandalous by Psycho Realm playing as I write.

It’s a Brown thing.

Brown Pride more like it.

That’s what this is about.  It’s also a fitting song since I’ve been referred to as scandalous, angry, mean, and I love this one — reverse racist.

Being Brown in a place that doesn’t have many Brown faces with colonial Spanish names in the media has you starving sometimes.  Similarly, I remember my Anishinaabe friend Deb Daynard saying she never saw a Brown face (Native American) on T.V while growing in Winnipeg, Canada.  For me it was never having a Brown writer with a name like mine to follow as a kid.

I grew up reading Gordon Korman and Judy Blume.  Both were funny and had me entertained for years but I couldn’t relate to their characters.

What the f-ck did I have in common with white boys attending private school?

My teen years saw me reading books on the Columbian cartel with dreams of being the next Pablo Escobar.  Maybe if I had some Brown writers to follow I wouldn’t have been looking up to a notoriously violent drug lord.

A few years ago I discovered writers like Jimmy Santiago Bacca, Ana Castillo, Luis J. Rodriguez, Gloria Anzaldua, Sherman Alexie.  I’ve also had the privilege and pleasure of studying with Indigenous greats such as Simon Ortiz, Marilyn Dumont, and Lee Maracle, and a soon to be great Daniel Heath Justice.

I remember jumping up a couple of years ago while reading Ernesto Quinonez’s Bodega Dreams.  There’s a scene where the main character goes to the fridge to grab a bottle of malt to accompany his rice and beans.

I saw myself.  I was at home in Quinonez’s novel.

Gracias Ernesto!

Still, I had no writer in my life who I could really relate to.

Before I go on you have to know my history and who I am, or what a white woman at a party last week asked, “What is your ethnicity?”

I’m mixed and proud.

My mom, born and raised in Peru, is Mestiza (Indigenous and Spanish), quarter Chinese, and has some Basque roots.  My biological sperm donor (I don’t say dad cause he’s didn’t raise me) is Arab.

“That’s some angry people!” said an acquaintance of colour when I told him my mix.

Anyway, last week I attended the International Festival of Authors in Toronto.  Really, it’s the festival of white authors with sprinkles of colour here and there.

I met someone important this week.  Important to me, not the higher ups.

One of my main goals for the week was to meet Ojibwa/French poet David A. Groulx.  I saw his face, a Brown face, in the festival guide and read that he was a poet.

“Perfect,” I thought.  “Someone I can meet and tape for”

It turned out to be way more than that.

I saw David across the room at a party.  It’s hard to miss a six-foot-something, 225 lb. Brown guy in a sea of white people.

“David Groulx,” I said with my hand out to shake his.  “I’m Jorge Antonio Vallejos. I run”

“Oh, you’re Black Coffee Poet!  I watch your site!” said David.

Music to my ears!

We chatted, laughed, met a couple of other rejects in the room (Brown South Asian poet Sheniz Janmohamed and her friend K Rock who the rest of the room would probably label as white trash), and parted ways.

The next day saw us talk on the phone and we made plans for the following night.

I attended his reading which also featured my writing mom Lee Maracle.

David’s poems told stories of uranium mines destroying Indigenous land, racism, cops killing Native men and getting away with it, appropriation of culture, and warnings to white folk.

I was home again.

It was again my Indigenous side, the Mestizo in me, jumping up.  You could argue it was my Basque roots too since they are Indigenous to the lands now called Spain and France.

There were no rice and beans and malt, nor a colonial Spanish name, but there was a mixed race Brown face reading good writing, challenging colonialism, and showing pride in who he was and where he came from.

Another party followed the reading that saw David, Lee, and I chilling in a corner as the white literati sipped wine and made connections.  A Brown guy from Trinidad walked up to us and said, “I thought I’d join the Brown corner.”  We welcomed him with open arms.

One more party happened, as did a dinner, but more importantly I got alone time with David.  We talked Fanon, Alexie, colonialism, peoples with white privilege who don’t come from white backgrounds, being Brown with long hair in a society that sees that as a threat, and our love—poetry.

I felt like I found an older brother.  Someone a little older, who I look like, and who not only has similar history but who has similar day to day experiences when walking the rough terrain that is this white run society.

People of the dominant class don’t understand that.

I was telling a white writer on the weekend how I was so happy to have met David.  I mentioned all the reasons listed above.  He looked at me like I was nuts.

On our last day together David gave me a copy of his first book, The Long Dance, and a three page bio.  I noticed that he was published in 191 different places!  I thought I was doing good.

This year alone David has had 3 collections of poems published.  He showed me his latest, hot off the press, at our last dinner together.  His big smile gobbled shrimp as he had his new book on the table.

While in bed that night I thought of David and how happy I was to meet him.  A Brown guy who was humble, kind, funny, had bang on politics, and who was published in almost 200 places, and who published three books in one year.  If he could do that so could I.

David signed his book for me:

To Jorge,

I’m really glad we met.

Your friend,

David A. Groulx 

Kind words to match a kind Brown face who some label scandalous.

David, I feel the same!

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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  • Shortgirl

    As a very mixed person, I don’t look very brown, although I’m very close to my Native culture and family. I may not look brown, but I associate myself with brownness. It’s interesting that media doesn’t want to depict real brown people, although the current Caucasian trend is to make oneself as tan as possible….

  • Tomás Garnett

    Dear Jorge, what a wonderful experience! I am glad you got to make a meaningful connection with another great writer. I just wanted to mention that I think we’re always going to have people looking at us like we’re nuts when we speak about things like our “white-run society”, patriarchy or heterosexism. Some people just don’t have the filter to be able to listen. Sucks for them!

  • Tomás Garnett

    Dear Jorge, what a wonderful experience! I am glad you got to make a meaningful connection with another great writer. I just wanted to mention that I think we’re always going to have people looking at us like we’re nuts when we speak about things like our “white-run society”, patriarchy or heterosexism. Some people just don’t have the filter to be able to listen. Sucks for them!

  • diana solo

    You’ve misspelled “Colombian” – though I think you may have meant the Medellín Cartel that Escobar founded, since there’s not just a singular “the Colombian Cartel.”