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My Olmec

My Olmec

By Selina Alko

In the beginning, you slept.

I held you baby boy, in all of your quiet.

The silence of sleep and peace resting on

your Olmec face.

A round mask, like the stone heads from

Central America––

Ancient artisans from a long time ago.

Holding wisdom and forgotten stories from

the past.

Outsized hopes and overcast dreams from

beneath the curtain of your closed eyes, Your father’s complicated African

American history, mostly unknown.

And from my Canadian side, your Jewish

lineage–– Polish and Latvian with

tumultuous Turkish roots.

In my arms, you bore your multicultural

ancestry out loud.


Gradually your Olmec face- graceful and

majestic- began to fill out.

As you grew, carrying quiet confidence and

keen observation,

you demonstrated a gift–

The ability to form in your head pictures so

true to life-

And then transferred those visions to


I watched you navigate the world of two


Translating the music you love into portraits.

Rendering rap and hip hop artists in


Connecting you to your pops.

Helping you understand a part of yourself.

I wonder if, son,

As a light-skinned brown boy living in

bougie Brooklyn, you drew to


To reflect a growing awareness.

The uneasy truth about growing up mixed-

race in a racist land.

I, myself, came late to understanding


When I married your father, I was largely


Coming from Canada, I didn't know much

about slavery.

Or the Great Migration.

Or Jim Crow.

Or Civil Rights.

Then, I learned about Mildred and

Richard Loving—

An interracial couple living in Virginia in the


They were arrested for their illegal marriage.

Nine years later, they won the right to their


Only after writing a book about the

Lovings, I finally understand America’s

sordid past.

How even after slavery ended, laws kept

Blacks and whites separate.

I saw our family's story in the Loving’s


And, I finally understood.

Only 50 years ago, you, my son, would

have been born a crime.

Your father says that his whole life was

“The Talk”.

That his single mother overprotected him by

keeping him indoors.

Sheltering you is not an option for me, your

white, Jewish mother.

I do not want to raise you to be afraid.

But I do want you to be aware.

I want to help you grow.

I want to help you move through this world


Out loud.


Now, son.

You are fourteen. A quiet storm.

Are you aware that you may be

perceived as a threat?

You slam doors and shut me out,

sleeping half the day away.

When you draw, you astound.

You are winning awards for your art.

I know you are good.

You know you are good.

But does the world see you as good?

You are a teenager.

A wild child, ripe with rebellion.

Olmec eyes of coal.



Five feet five inches of brown-boy tall.

So, son.

Do not give them an excuse.

Do not wear a hoodie.

Do not keep your hands inside your pockets.

And, please know.

Please take to heart this truth, my son.

You can not hide from prejudiced eyes.

But you can move through the world


Out loud.



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