May 21, 2004

La Esquina
arte de la comunidad

To a Cholo Dying Young

& to think
I could have been you
in another decade
in another neighborhood
in another bunch of friends
& you who they call yourself cholo
muy cool y muy smooth
con safos y qué
could have been me
could never have known
the joint, your pinto brothers blown
away & the whole pinche enchilada.
but I am you, mano...neither of us escaped
the other, brother, though
we spit contempt with our
eyes like angry frogs because we know this to be true
You are chained to me and I to you
only I never been in prison and you
never been to school
& every needle you took from me
was an insult I took for you
You got high for my sins, ese
you who they call yourself cholo
& you will not die in a warm bed
& I will not die with the warm
brown liquid heaven swimming in my head
& yet we will die together
like our grandfathers might have
died together
in another country
in another century
when they called it revolution
but neither of us will know
if we play this frojolier than thou
bullshit mas joaquin que la chingada
never pretend to never care
never admit that the other one’s there
lurking under clothing and a cut of hair
my reality was never so hard
& my dreams you will never share
we are standing on either side
of midnight the border
between night and day
which is yet so close & only
heartbeats away
but neither of us is running up to the other
shouting pleading demanding
won’t you be my neighbor
instead of won’t you stay a stranger
because a cholo is a person in my neighborhood and
after all aren’t we talking about dignity jack
noone gave it to you and noone can give it back
here’s a little secret I’ve got to tell:
no one goes to heaven and no one goes to hell
it takes more than cool to stay in school
& more than a teardrop to earn respect
sticks and stones and broken holmes
and names designed to keep you down
you who they call yourself cholo
before you leap you better look down
before you come out shooting you better look around
we are not the cowboys in this town
together we swim or together we drown
you are me and I am you
and both of us are brown.

© 1994, Victor Payan

This poem was printed with permission of the poet and La Prensa San Diego holds no copyrights over it.

Victor Payan is a writer, humorist, songwriter, poet and co-creator of the Keep On Crossin’ movement. He has worked as Associate Producer on the PBS documentaries The US-Mexican War: 1846-1848, The Border, and Searching for San Diego: San Ysidro. His news parodies are published on his own website, An original member of the Taco Shop Poets, Mr. Payan has continued to merge his creative disciplines in various projects, including the “Roots Rock Raza” singer/songwriter showcase and the “Everything’s Aloud” open mic series. He is also a member of the Red CalacArts Collective and a co-founder of the Save Our Centro Coalition.

To find out more about Victor Payan and his literary work, you can visit his website at or

Return to the Frontpage