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  • East of Aztlán
  • Cam Rentsch (bio)

Every morning, I use my grandmother's coffeepot.

Wait, no, that doesn't sound quite right.

Let's start this again.

I still own my grandmother's coffeepot pot, a stainless-steel 12-cup electric percolator with no buttons and a cord the diameter of my thumb. I'd say that it shows no signs of slowing down, but I don't want to jinx it.

It was bought for my grandparents as a wedding gift in 1964, and now, in 2017, I use it daily.

These grandparents, my mother's parents, the ones I find myself writing about often, were white. My other grandparents, my father's biological father and mother, I never met. They were Mexicans, probably of mixed Spanish and Indian descent. My father was put up for adoption at the age of three, left as a ward of the state in Southern California.

I own a lot of other things that were my mother's parents once upon a time. These things were all handed down off that top shelf of wisdom that my grandfather was always reaching up to for me through my boyhood. A cast-iron skillet and pocket knives and flannel shirts and even guns, a proper essay topic for a young male American writer if there ever was one. Inherited guns.

I inherited a coffeepot too, from my grandmother, from 1964, that I use daily.


My morning routine usually looks sort of like this: I wake up and roll out of bed, emphasis here on roll, and walk to the kitchen in my underwear, feet stinging on cold tile. I grind coffee beans by hand, in a cheap burr grinder, before filling the pot with water. On some days I'll muster up the motivation to go run, but on most I'll return to my bed with a full cup just before my absence leaves it cold.

I started drinking coffee in college, drinking it black after realizing how [End Page 167] much you had to pay for creamer at a campus market. Anything to save a couple bucks. At the time, my grandparents still owned their coffeepot and I had a little four-cup one from Walmart, and my grandparents were both still alive, and my grandmother would send me care packages of cookies in Pringles cans to keep the post office from breaking them. Those and black coffee were all I lived on for a little while. All I could afford to live on, with no time then outside of class for a job.


It's easy to talk about inheritance in the form of things. I inherited my grandmother's coffeepot, my grandfather's flannel shirts, and his 12-gauge shotgun. From my father I inherited the jersey number that we both wore for the same football team of a rural high school where the son of the man who coached him coached me. You can't make up that shit, rural and American to the core. Football and fathers and inherited jersey numbers.

We talked a lot about inheritance growing up in Appalachia. We inherit shotguns, and we kill the animals that fill our freezers with them. We inherit disdain for big government and the ebt cards in our wallets. If you're lucky, you can inherit a muscle car with faded paint left in the barn, weeds growing around rotted tires. If you're lucky like me, you can inherit otherness.


Let's start with Mexican.

Who do I have to thank for my being Mexican? Well, my father mainly, along with everyone who's ever called me that, among other names and quite a few slurs. That list goes on far too long to write, and all those names come back up like acid in my mouth. I was certainly called Mexican more than I ever felt it. The only thing that's really all that Mexican about me is that I think the word pinche translates to fucking and not dishboy.

For being Mexican, I could also blame the Spanish, or mestizaje, or European gold lust, or Cortez. Smallpox, American one-drop rules, the...