Kenya Burton: “SALAS”
THE NEXT GEN
In my freshman year of college, I was a part of a history research project.
Its goal was to find out the history of Salinas and study its immigration patterns,
Paint a picture of how people immigrate to Salinas.
Discover what led our people here.
The seeds planted into the nation, the blossoming of leaves that tell one story.
Find what made Salas…home
Sounds boring, but this project changed my life.
In books and maps, I was able to discover my own history and the history of the place I call home.
A story where all people of color worked in the fields;
Where dreamers and descendants of slaves worked hand and hand.
Jim Crow South meeting Oaxaca blues.
Chicanos and Filipinos sharing stories of a home they would probably never see again.
People who grew the city that now feeds the nation.
Something that hasn’t changed is how they survived, together.
It didn’t matter where you were from or who you had been, Salinas was a hotspot for hope.
A destination for the first of their family, children who were told
They could seize a better life if they reached out for it.
People who left families behind in hopes that they could get their American Dream.
The people I met all had the same thing to say, the first place they came to when they migrated was Salinas.
That was when I realized there are whispers of our city all over the world.
Like History has shown, we are the lighthouse in the distance calling lost men home.
A chance to restart and renew, never to forget where you come from But to settle somewhere greater.
It is a home to the needy and is all I have ever known.
This city reminds me of my grandmother, Abuelita,
Stories from the fields and the little pink church my family went to as children. Cardboard hill and
My mother, a little girl too afraid to go down. Old lane creek, the running water long-forgotten
And hidden away by concrete castles, Williams to Rider, a shortcut home.
Best friends, neighborhood kids, and one street to call their own.
Vincente Fernandez on the drive-in screen, carloads with secret passengers stowed away.
Waiting for the stars to come out.
Daylight bringing the flea market with vendors with
Churros and tamales, and bootleg mix taps.
Hoping one day they could be a star too.
This is what community looked like, the smell of secret recipes and evening barbecues.
A family that struggled but they struggled together.
Now, they call it progress and we are left to wonder, did we really progress?
Old photographs, the only memento to know we were here.
How strong our foundation is because we live here but also a token of how much we have lost.
Salinas knows sacrifice, a town memorial in the center of our city as a reminder.
From 107 World War II soldiers marching proudly down Main street,
Laying their lives on patriotism.
To having only 47 survivors return home from the March of death in Bataan.
Salinas also knows secrets, a hidden acknowledgment to the time
we stood on the wrong side of history.
North main a silent prison to the Japanese brothers and sisters we kept in bondage.
Our legacy is written, for every war, every harvest, every storm. We have stood as our people did before us.
Because even with sacrifice there is always strength.
Light when the dawn breaks.
When the storms came, we rebuilt, we forgave,
We remembered why our grandparents first settled on this land.
We remember that there have always been hardships and tests.
Whether it was fighting for unions or better pay.
Or the right to settle on the land we founded.
Salinas has never been afraid of battle.
I remember that my ancestors were enslaved and dreamers.
That I am not the bounty taken after the war, I am a dream come true.
That this city, like me, never stops fighting.
That to be from Salinas means blood, it means fighting,
It means beating our feet into the fields like the rhythms of Aztec dancers.
Not forgetting where we come from.
The sacrifices that permitted our feet on this land.
We have sacrificed everything for a country that hasn’t always seen or wanted us.
This past year has taken so much from us,
But even though this pandemic has been hard, we have pushed harder.
In the wake of mourning, we wiped our tears and walked again.
We are city of refugees, taking their final step into freedom.
A story spread over borders.
One that proves that no matter where we are in the world, we always find each other.
When there was no hope in sight.
We relied on blessings, prayers, and a helping hand.
In our worst, we came together and reminded ourselves of what makes Salinas home.
Even after all this loss, we are reminded that we still have each other.
Our streets, our neighborhoods, the person next door that always plays music too loud, and the
Children who use broken pavements as playgrounds.
Hope in the most unlikable places,
Dreamers all around with aspirations so big you can almost touch them.
Our city sings worship songs through the night and the drum beats of war.
Refusing to back down from any fight and I know we will not back down from this one.
Veterans with legacies far longer than life spans.
Kids from violence sitting in the back of the class with fire in their chests.
Soldiers on our streets with no homes to go to.
First-generation students with Spanish-speaking parents
Still holding on to a dream Generations built.
Farmworker parents fighting to make their children’s dreams come to fruition.
Single mothers and honor roll children always beating the odds.
A Blaxxican girl with a big mouth and so much to say hoping someone will hear it.
The kind of people that Salinas has built, all around with stories of Triumph.
David beating Goliath, Dorothy finding her way back home.
Salinas and the people who live here standing strong.
No one can take this from us.
Our Roots, our stories, our dreams.
New people will come with homes to match and
We will watch and remember even through change who we are.
The secrets designated to the people who love and live here.
The settlers to a land that has impacted the world but been forgotten.
We won’t forget, we will rise as we always do, how we always have.
And we will begin again.
In our fields, our homes, our schools, in these streets, and with each other.
From those books, those maps, and stories; the roots that make this home.
I learned that from our history above all else it means,
Salinas will persevere, we always have.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kenya Burton is an award-winning poet, an awardee of the New York Silver Key in Writing and NEA Big Read Award, and an activist from Salinas, California. Through her work, she tackles difficult themes around racism, classism, sexism, and the other “isms” that plague America. She hopes to promote understanding and equality for the next generation.
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