“Smuggling A Mango Is Hard,” A Poem by Melania Luisa Marte

Origin: The mango is native to southern Asia. It spread early on to Malaysia, eastern Asia and eastern Africa. Spanish and Portuguese explorers of the fifteenth century brought mangoes to the Caribbean along with genocide, slavery and whitewashed religion.

I tried smuggling a mango through customs. I got caught and pulled to the side. They asked if there was anything in my bag that could be incriminating. I confessed; I’ve got three mangoes from my grandmother’s garden. He opens my bag and confiscates them, leaves the bottle of foreign liquor and winks at me. I don’t tell him that the mango is more valuable than the liquor. I don’t tell him that this mango has helped nourish a home out of many shamed bodies, a dysmorphia of scattered features. That America has waged a war on anything foreign, including organic fruits, cultures and people. I don’t tell him that he is building a wall on my childhood and that this is a souvenir from a tiny paradise. I don’t tell him that I wonder if he would be giving me such a hard time had I been a white tourist co-opting “tropical vibes” for the aesthetic of erasing Indigenous cultures and people.

Right before stealing my mangoes, this white Latinx man proceeds to say, “Pero eres una morena bella y que tu eres?” Which translates to, You are such a pretty Black girl, what are you? I chuckle or choke. Finding it notso-funny how anti-Blackness translates so well. His question posing between bleach and sun. A fetishized love trial. My genetic makeup, a lab experiment. How even the language of romance has a fear of Black beauty. How startling of me to be pretty for a Black girl in two separate languages. Assimilate to these constructs of beauty and still be seen as collateral damage. Me, market-fresh produce waiting to be spritzed and labeled. Appraised at a boosted bill for the joy of stuffing me into two different boxes. Both Black and foreign. Both Black and woman. All foreign and Black and woman. How the prickling of my skin fumigates his slander, pulpifying my pride back into its fruit.

There is not enough juice in me today to come up out this pacified demeanor. Not enough code-switching to stitch me back together. I smile, all nervous, all shaken, still unbothered with white probing, all lightskinned and some privilege. Still tired. Still zesty and firm, denying another man agency to comment on my body. Reminded that I am always the question mark at the end of What are you mixed with? I reply, Have you ever tried chewing on a mango seed? Don’t.


Excerpted from Plantains and Our Becoming: Poems by Melania Luisa Marte. Copyright © 2023. Available from Tiny Reparations Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

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