Joseph Cardenas


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When I meet new people, they ask me what words I know and I say what sounds like, luego, so I pronounce the word as, luego, and the people always just look at me. And then a friend will come along and say, he’s trying to say, and then, and then the new person will laugh and say, ahh yes, I can see that is what you were trying to say, you fool. And then I laugh because it is funny. 

I ain’t ever had to be foreign to something that’s foreign to me. It’s a new look, a new feelin’. I told my girl the other day, it feels good to be with you and know that you too are exoticized or sexualized in some way by white people. She corrected me and said, you’re saying that you find comfort in the fact that we both know what it feels like to be fetishized by whites. I said, yeah, it feels good that you can see that, that you know how it feels – without me telling you. She said, right, because you’re the sexy, spicy, hot Latin man and I’m the dragon lady… or the docile shy Asian girl ready to bend at your will. I said, right. Except somehow I ended up with the one Asian woman here who won’t bend at all. She said, I bend sometimes.

I try not to talk around foreigners. I don’t like when they hear me speak and realize I’m American. If I can stay quiet and nod and motion to things or default to my friends to order food or drinks for us, I do. I speak softly to my friends, to keep my voice a secret. I like being me and I can be me, the me that’s un-American, when I’m with my friends. They can only understand my English and even then they say my accent is funny. They like the way I talk, how when someone does something mean to them I always say, fuck that bitch.

I bought some new clothes. My mum asks if they don’t fit me since all my pants end above my ankle. I tell her, that’s the style. It is and it isn’t. I tell her that so she can think I’m cool in another country. It ain’t no use really, she knows I’m the same weird-ass style of my own wherever I go. I can tell in her smile that I’m entertaining her through this camera lens. I love how her laugh doesn’t change. I love that our living room only looks slightly different than I remember. I love that she’s calling me on the video chat device I bought her for Christmas a few years ago. I like how it’s a big deal when I call and that they still miss me.

I keep a habit tracker to keep tally of the days I spend being thankful and grateful. I’m sixty-seven percent consistent with a streak of one-day, if you count today. I want to tell you about all the friends I have and all the places they’re from and all the stories they’ve told but I know I’d be stealing from them. I wanna say something about how I ain’t know we could all be split so many ways and still belong to each other. How all the places I have been relate to all the places they have been and how this ground is the first ground we’ve shared together. I want to talk to you about how I learned to tell when my plants need water.

What I can tell you is this: I can see the metro train from the window in my office. I can see this woman on the roof of the adjacent apartment building, she’s gathering white sheets she left up to dry. I can see traffic, both on the street and in the reflection on my window pane. My uncle has Parkinsons, I’ll never be able to hear him speak again. My grandpa had his throat tumor removed, they say he’ll sound different when he’s ever able to speak again. Everyone is either sick or fine, I’m either crying or I’m not. Sometimes when I’m not crying, I wonder why. I like it best when it’s night because it feels like things are almost over. I watch cartoons to make me happy, I love drinking, and bunnies are the most misunderstood Lagomorph.

Joseph Cardenas

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Joseph Aaron Càrdenas is the son of immigrants. He has been published in The Acentos Review, World Literature Today, and FOLIO. He makes music as Cosmic Jo.