Hands

 By: Alegria M. Mendez

Come, look at my hands,

for here are the hands of a Latina,  

here are working hands,

hands that like fine jewels or furs,

I inherited from a long line of women that came before me,

working hands that are soft, yet strong,

like the many women before me.

 

Hands that cooked and prepared the food,

which nourished young wide eyed girls,

who stood on step stools in tiny kitchens watching,

those very hands chopping and mixing herbs, spices, and vegetables

like sofrito, yuca, tostones, y plátanos maduros

with names and smells some find alien or grossly foreign,

but to me are signs of home,

that grasp me in their warm safe glow.

 

Hands that soothed,

scratched and bruised elbows and knees

or rubbed Vicks VapoRub into feverish sweaty little foreheads and throats,

in circular patterns

as sana, sana colita de rana si no sana hoy, sanará mañana,

is said softly overhead like a healing spell.

 

Hands that helped,

every morning,

combing hair and buttoning coat buttons.

Hands that held mine as we walked or rode the bus together,

before letting go to ruffle my hair, kiss me on the cheek, and say

“te quiero mucho,” or “I love you,” in heavily accented English.

 

Hands that moved animatedly,

as they told stories and personal histories,

to young girls sitting next to them on the floor with toys spread out around them,

soon to be abandoned as these hands drew wild expressive images in the air,

for their wide eyed, round faced audience members.  

 

Hands that lived and loved,

fully and passionately,

as they danced with boyfriends and later husbands,

to songs like El Gran Varón y La Vida es un Carnaval,

with names and sounds some find alien or grossly foreign,

but to me are signs of home,

that comfort me on days when I yearn for that warm, safe glow.

 

Hands that stayed soft, yet strong,

despite the fact that they toiled,

in hot, cramped, poorly ventilated factories,

sewing and molding the very fabric of America.

It was these soft, yet strong hands,

that never struck out in violence or anger when being called,

lazy, dirty, stupid, the help or Spic.

 

Hands that instead built futures,

in the face of hate and adversity,

hands that like Hephaestus,

shaped the young women to come after them,

whose hands will work to deconstruct and dismantle,

the very systems of hate and adversity,

faced by the women that came before them.

 

These are hands that were forged,

in the extreme heat and poverty of Cuba and Puerto Rico,

then cooled in the frigid New York City winters,

where they cracked or bleed if not properly cared for.

And it is these soft, yet strong working hands that I proudly inherit,

like fine jewels or furs,

from a long line of soft, yet strong women that came before me.

-Author’s note: Spic is a highly offensive ethnic slur used in the United States to refer to someone of Hispanic or Latin American heritage or background.  
-Photo Credit: Mangostock via Getty Images

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