Dear Brown Girl,

Barbara Jane Reyes

They will say, your language lacks finesse, your words low. They will form air quotes with their white fingers, say something clever about color. They will corral you into their lowness, as you sully their well-lit high poetic annals. With your darkness. They will say all of these things as they are stealing your language away from you. Until you cannot speak on your own behalf. Until you cannot speak at all. They will say you are simple, making inelegant noise. You are lowing. There is no thievery, they will say, the light is dim in here. You must not trust your own eyes, they will say. See how they cow you. See how they see you (when they wish to see you)—some brown cow best left in darkness.

And I will say, I have mastered your language. I speak it better than many of you monolingual assholes making ching chong noises at me. You think you clever. I know your dirty tricks. I’ll throw air quotes when you say, “diversity,” and “unity,” and “inclusive,” when you say, “I don’t see race.” And I will roll my eyes mighty. Trust this. And I will say everything I say in my many tongues, too much for your mouthing empty words, you don’t even know what I’m saying. My noise is inelegant, because I’m throwing f-bombs at you, motherfucker. I don’t give a shit if you think it’s coarse. Yeah, I’m pretty animal, I’m beastly. Are you threatened that this dark monster can holler and drown you out.

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Peter Dressel

Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Letters to a Young Brown Girl (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2020). She was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the author of five previous collections of poetry, Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books, 2003), Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press, 2005), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets, Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010), which received the Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry, To Love as Aswang (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2015), and Invocation to Daughters (City Lights Publishers, 2017). She is an adjunct professor at University of San Francisco’s Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program.

“Barbara Jane Reyes’s sixth collection of poems is fire—in the colloquial and primordial sense—life-giving, path-lighting. This is a book I know I needed as a young brown girl; it’s a book I didn’t know I needed, still. Reyes’s collection is a gathering place, a site of survival. Part interrogation, part epistle and chronicle, part soundtrack and roadmap, Letters to a Young Brown Girl weaves together songs of experience and wisdom, songs of kapwa and loób, connecting the voices of a lineage of power—from Sugar Pie De Santo to Ruby Ibarra—to create a resounding, multitudinous chorus of young brown women transforming shame into dignity. This book makes me want to throw on my pambahay, raise my glass, and sing!”
—Michelle Peñaloza, author of Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire

“In Letters to a Young Brown Girl, Barbara Jane Reyes is the articulation of rage, power and radical self-love—creating and demanding a space for justice and the value of one’s body, one’s stories, and one’s joy. ‘They say the earth’s most unruly parts sing like you,’ Reyes writes, remembering ancestors’ songs and lovesongs and whalesongs, claiming tongue and narrative ‘no matter what the territory or terrain.’ I have needed these poems my entire poet’s life—these poems that speak to ‘how a brown girl writes and lives,’ that respond with profound love to the urgent plea: ‘how aren’t you afraid, sister … please teach me how to be steel like you.’”
—ire’ne lara silva, author of Blood Sugar Canto and Cuicacalli/House of Song

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