Platanos by Gessy Alvarez

It was 1976 and I was in the first grade. I was assigned to a daily, hour long, ESL class because I had an “accent.” In ESL, I learned that I was not like the kids on the Brady Bunch. I was Hispanic. It took me three weeks to remember that. HIS-PAN-IC. When I asked my teacher what it meant she didn’t answer. She asked instead, what language I spoke at home.

“Hispanic Barbie 1979” (image via Flickr user Freddycat1)

“Spanish,” I said.

“What do you usually eat for dinner?”

“Meat, rice, beans, sometimes platanos.”

“What’s that?”

“Big bananas,” I said, “but they don’t taste like regular bananas.”

My teacher shook her head. “See, that’s what I mean when I say you are Hispanic.”

“But I was born in New York,” I said.

When she laughed, I added, “Roosevelt Hospital on 59th Street.”

My family always said that I was lucky I was born in New York. They said life would be easier for me.

The teacher placed her arm around me. She said, “You need a little extra help. Don’t worry; I will help you get rid of that Hispanic accent.”

Gessy Alvarez received her MFA from Columbia University. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in Letras Caseras and Pank. New stories are forthcoming in Thrice Fiction, Lost In Thought, and Apocrypha and Abstractions. She was a runner-up for the 2012 Glass Woman Prize. She is working on her first novel and poetry collection. You can find more of her work on her blog, Digging Through the Fat, at