Juan Ortega

Old Man Feeding Birds, Daniel Mrotek

What makes an American?
Is it the men and women who spend days
working under the sun, with nothing but a water bottle,
whose fingers are blistered and hard 
with a pain in their back? 
Their arms growing tired, from carrying
a bucket of chiles that’s worth less than a dollar.

They close their eyes and remember.
Remember their families 
that they left behind.
An abandoned son
and childless parents. 

Un poco mas, 
and the working day is over. 
Un dia mas,
and the week will start over. 
Una vida mas, 
and another one will cross over. 

Each one hoping for a good life. 
Not for them but for their family and kids.
Kids that will grow up in a country 
that does not want them. 
Who will be judged 
for speaking Spanish and English,
and be put down because of their complexion.

“Con orgullo,” their parents tell them,
yet they stand afraid. 
Afraid of deportation.
Afraid of separation. 
Afraid that they’ll leave 
their kids alone in the country. 

One by one they come.
Full of hope and dreams
but will only be faced with 
an endless struggle.

Their voices are loud,
full of life and pride
but they are never heard. 
They pass away
slowly and painfully
yet no one knows.
I ask again, 
with no response.
What makes an American?

About the Author

Juan Ortega · St. Edward’s University

Juan Ortega is a 3rd year social work major at St. Edward’s University. He has a strong interest in social justice and welfare reform. His passion and experiences fuel his creative drive, and encourage him to record his narrative through poetry.

About the Artist

Daniel Mrotek · Columbia College

“Old Man Feeding Birds” first appeared in Hair Trigger.


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