Las Manos – Karina Varela

Tom Florek, s.j. has long served as a rich source of powerful poetry, primarily from Central American and Mexican poets; he sent this to me over the weekend.   Exquisite, as I read it.  I am inclined to run Tom’s cover paragraph as is.

“Greetings from Chicago where I’ve begun my work with the Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network (CMFN) and Milwaukee’s Casa Romero. –  –  –   “I’ve recently received this poem from a CMFN board member whose parents were migrant farmworkers in Arizona.  The attached poem came from the niece of the president of CMFN, Teresita Kontos, who has given permission to share this great poem.


Tom, we are in your debt one more time.

Best to read the poet out loud,  with pauses.  Have a blest new work week.

john st sj


Today’s Post:  LAS MANOS

I’ll never forget the scent that perfumed Abuelita’s hands
Palmolive dish soap with a hint of Cloro
everything from countertops to toilets and showers
mops to clean up spills of children that were not always her own
onto her faded rosary from several mornings and evenings spent
for the forgiveness of the heavy pecados of the whole world.

Abuelito’s hands were heavy.
Thick and calloused from the years he spent working in the labor picking
anything from
cotton in Tejas to sugar beets in “Meechigan.”
When Abuelita asks him to bring in nopales from the yard so she can make
some nopalitos
con frijolitos for dinner, he’d go out and pick them
with his bare manos,
unable to feel the needles of the nopal pierce his worn russet skin.

These were the manos that raised and fed me,
the manos that helped feed a nation who acknowledged their existence with
words and
phrases like “wetback” or “beaner” and “Speak English, you’re in America,”
with signs on restaurant windows and gasolineras that read “No dogs or
Mexicans allowed.”
A nation who worked them to exhaustion, treating them as a commodity to be

Viewed as cheap, hired extra hands
Estas manos worked tirelessly so my hands
could hold a pencil and write
“important” things
so my back could carry a backpack filled with libros and a head full of sueños
so that I could be seen as worth more than just my hands
so that I could be seen as a person.

So eventually these manos, my manos,
would have the opportunity to hold a diploma with my name on it.

Maybe my hands have never known the sting that comes from repeatedly
sticking my hands
in Cloro or the developed layers of protection needed in order to be numb to
the world
around me unwilling to acknowledge my humanity.

Pero when I look at my hands,

I see all the pain and the sacrificio it took for them to look that way.

Karina Varela

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