“In Defense of Santana’s ‘Maria Maria’ ft. Wyclef & The Product G&B” by Ariana Brown

Ariana Brown


when i heard the lyric, “growing up in spanish harlem,”
i had no idea it was a real place. seven years old,
in san antonio, texas, the backseat of mom’s car:
i knew all the words to “maria maria,” waited for number seven,
the blackest track on supernatural, our road trip album of choice.
on the way to houston, mom & i replayed the song
’til i was black at the joints. g&b stands for ghetto & blues.
santana’s guitar crackles, brews thunder under wyclef’s toasting,
the product g&b singing like desperate men in love
with their people. to a negrita who had never met a puerto rican,
i enveloped myself in a music that was both familiar & kind, not knowing
there are whole islands & coasts of people with my hair & tongue.
it matters that santana is mexican & not black; that he knows
the rhythms he loves are african; that santana makes the music,
but wyclef & the product fill it. it matters too, that the music is in english:
the language i first loved, before i knew; while some words are in spanish:
the language that taunted me, that i grew to love, before i knew; & all
the parts from which i come greet me like a daughter. too shy & knowing
about how hips move & men eat with their eyes, i taught myself to cumbia
to the song, the door to my room closed, where no one could see me.
this is as much about music as it is permission: to allow oneself
to know most music, including mexican, is black at the joints.
to be grateful to caribbeans for preserving blackness
in ways mexicans refuse. to not be jealous of this.
to learn spanish harlem was founded by puerto ricans,
& despite a young negrita’s wishes, is not about me, but is generous enough
to clear a bit of room in this noisy, limited world for me to be free, too.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017

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Ariana Brown: “In high school, I spent a great deal of time watching old Malcolm X speeches on YouTube. It was incredible to me that someone who, like me, was poor, black, and had access to no institutional resources except language, could find in language and oration a kind of freedom, a kind of power, that enabled other people to be free, too. It was then that I decided to become a poet.” (web)

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