The day after Sheriff Weiss called us “animals,” we woke up to find our brown skin transformed into furs and scales of various hues.
We long understood how some people’s words could become reality, how they could create and destroy nations, cultures, and languages. And so we adapted, as we’ve always done. We went to work, replied to emails, and monitored our stocks.
Some of us, however, broke free from such minutia, defaulting on our student loans and mortgage payments. We told ourselves that there was defiance in our acts, regardless of what we did. We told ourselves that we were doing enough.
One night, my father, a poet and activist during the culture wars, addressed a small crowd that had gathered in the city park to sniff grass, stare at stars, and to carve verse into the soil: “Look at them in their houses made of brick and concrete. Look at them drive on the roads we now unsettle and burrow underneath. They think that now they have made it impossible to prove our humanity. But,” his fox lips curled into a smile, “they underestimate us.”
Every night, his audience grew. He neither incited anger nor sparked a revolution. He neither consoled nor disheartened. And yet, he did all these things. One day, reporters from each of the news stations arrived to film him. Their programs aired their coverage alongside interviews with people talking about the sudden transformation of the majority. Some were outraged, some were not, and others wished it had happened to them so they might know what it was like. One young woman in a BRUNCH IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL shirt shrugged and said it didn’t affect her.
Those of us that became creatures often depicted as spirit animals – rabbits, foxes, and wolves – appeared on rich people’s lawns and pissed on the grass. In this way, we fancied ourselves tricksters.
The angriest of us became something monstrous. Animals with no earthly name, teeth sharpened by nightfall. These of us shed our skins and used our bones as bricks to throw at government offices, real estate agencies, and charter schools. In this way, we fancied ourselves destroyers.
We could be both, we reasoned. We could be everything.
The following week, we saw on the news how public opinion was shifting. Some people were saying we should find more constructive ways to protest. One young man furrowed his reddish-blonde brow and shook his head in disappointment. “My ancestors from Ireland didn’t steal or kill or throw things at buildings,” he said. “They just worked hard and saved their money.”
Reporters came looking for my father for a comment. When he did not comply, they conjectured what every twitch of his whiskers or fluttering of his hair could mean. This took up an entire segment of the program, while somewhere else in the world, statues toppled, fires raged, and rivers overflowed.
Then one day, he was gone.
The next time we saw him he was caged and tranquillized in the background of Sheriff Weiss’ news conference.
“I want to first thank the brave men and women on our force who risked their lives in this operation,” the sheriff proclaimed. “Thanks to their heroism, we are all safe. The threat posed to our fine city has ended.”
The news programs moved on to other topics: a celebrity hook-up, a celebrity break-up, the trade negotiations involving a top sports star. We too followed these developing stories. We talked and tweeted about them, but we couldn’t move on as neatly.
We consoled one another in our languages. We planted seeds and composed songs. We told each other that one day the world would know our multitude and splendor without fearing it.
Francisco Delgado is a proud Chamorro and member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca (Wolf clan). He works as an Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY) and lives in Queens with his wife and their son. His creative work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Pithead Chapel, and Wigleaf, and he is the author of the chapbook, Adolescence, Secondhand (Honeysuckle Press, 2018).