Kansas City police officer Octavio “Chato” Villalobos reached a literary milestone recently when his poem “Brown Eyes in Blues” was read aloud by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.
Herrera and Villalobos bonded during the Herrera’s visit last month to Kansas City. And so, when Herrera spoke to a more than 600 people who gathered for his address, he paid homage to his new friend and fellow poet. He read Villalobos’ poem for the crowd that filled the Kansas City Public Library downtown.
Herrera is the nation’s first Latino poet laureate.
Both men produce their prose from the identity of being Mexican-American. Villalobos’ poem speaks to his feelings of being a police officer of Mexican heritage during an era when so much attention is targeted toward law enforcement’s relationship with African American and Latino communities.
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Villalobos and Herrera will be interviewed at noon today on KKFI’s Artspeak show. Artist/activist Anthony Marcos Rea, educator/writer Natasha Ria El-Scari, and novelist Wayne Courtois will also be guests on the show.
Here is Villalobos’ poem.
Brown Eyes in Blues
By Chato Villalobos
I place this badge on my chest
Tuck a cross into my bullet proof vest
Say a quick prayer before checking my shoes
Perfectly shined of course, well pressed Blues
I hesitate, right before I look in the mirror
That’s when visions of Malenche appear
Because nothing looks out of place,
Until I see the brown skin of my own face
Malenche talks to me, her voice soft like my mother’s chimes
“Don’t worry hombre? You look just fine”
“Don’t worry what people say, it’s beyond your control”
Then why is my heart waging war with my soul?
Brown eyes in Blues. What’s wrong with this picture?
My job is my love, though my soul screams “how could you?”
Why can’t I be appreciated for all that I am giving?
Why am I so proud to get shot at and spit on for a living?
When I wear the badge as I stroll through the barrio
Malenche walks beside me, “don’t worry mijo. I’ll guide you”
On the other side, the spirits of those that came before me,
Cuahtemoc, Zapata, Chavez, have paid the price for me
“Malenche is Right,” they say “you have to march on with this burden”
“It does not matter if they understand that you wear this badge for them”
A Cop at your service, a Chicano with a gun
A product of two immigrants, the Barrio’s son
I bleed for the weak.
Sometimes I cry for the young,
I’m the angel sent for the children of no one.
When duty calls, I protect and serve,
The good the bad,
even those you think do not deserve
I wear the badge with honor and pride
While my soul keeps reminding me, who I am inside
Every now and then I drop to my knees and beg for mercy
As my heart, mind and soul take a beating, it hurts me!!
Then I look in the mirror one more time,
Now Jesus is holding Malenche’s hand and mine
I take a deep breath before I start my patrol.
For a moment there’s peace between my heart and my soul
The Barrio calls for me,
I can not refuse
Cause I know they’ll be safe
When Brown eyes are in Blues.