Ludmila Leiva, 2018 Lambda Literary Fellow

Ludmila Leiva, 2018 Lambda Literary Fellow



I will be reading an excerpt from a non-fiction essay in progress called becoming American I am 14 years old on the morning of my naturalization ceremony sleep still lingers in my eyes as I said that my family's kitchen table pushing pieces of food back and forth across my plate eat my mother urges and I do but between fights I meander hesitant silences punctuating my family's hurried meal mixed with smells of toasted bread and freshly ground coffee as Dale dissonance hangs above us after breakfast my mother ushers my younger sister in me and to my father's white sedan her soft brown hands on our shoulders smelling of cold cream it is early November and frost coats the windows my mother does not want to become an American so she stays behind as we pull out of the driveway I look back through the window and watch her wave goodbye to us through a crack in the front door being an American is a privilege my father says his blue eyes glimmering like water as we carved down winding winter roads to the Department of Homeland Security you'll see when you're older you'll be glad you have this passport I've always thought that my father knew everything but this time I don't believe him I think of my mother has she stopped back down at the kitchen table is she still being her lukewarm cuff a connection is she wishing I stayed behind her I sit in the passenger seat asking myself silent questions and watching as evergreen storm passed my window it would be years before I understood the reasons behind her hesitancy hours later I would find myself inside of a carpeted auditorium in my lap would sit a piece of paper and a miniature American flag curls around a small plastic rod I would be surrounded by families of different sizes and colors by little girls in chiffon dresses and boys and pint-sized suits I would read words projected onto a large screen my stomach beginning to not I hereby declare on oath that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all Allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince state or sovereignty I would hear myself read off the screen but more squeezing my sister's hand her dagger dark brown eyes would be wide as they met mine our Father would stand across the room camera in hand pride written into the creases of his face but in my mind I would not stay in that room I would have floated far away past the sub with injuries and sagging power lines of Guatemala City to my grandmother's kitchen where I held her peeled shiness M DeMatteis to make a salsa I would hear this flop flop flop as she saw fit lines by throwing them down onto the cold tile floor I smelled traces of smoke from burning wood as it crept up the hillside from the valley below I would not be there inside of a building a few miles away from an Detention Center or people who looked and talked like my family were locked away swearing an oath to a country that I did not love thank you [Applause]

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