What We Are
Peter Nathaniel Malae
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What We Are follows twenty-eight-year-old Samoan-American Paul Tusifale as he strives to find his place in a culture that barely acknowledges his existence. Within San Jose’s landscape of sprawling freeways and dotcom headquarters, where the plight of migrant workers is ever-present, Paul lives outside society, a drifter who takes a personal interest in defiantly—even violently—defending those in need. As he moves through the lives of sinister old friends, suburban cranksters, and septuagenarian swingers, Paul battles to find the wisdom he desperately needs, whether through adhering to tradition or casting it aside.
A dynamic addition to America’s diverse literature of the outsider, What We Are establishes Peter Nathaniel Malae as an authentic, gifted new writer, whose muscular prose brings to life the pull of a departed father’s homeland, the anger of class divisions, the noise of the evening news, and in the end beautifully renders the pathos of the disengaged.
are you talking about?” “I may be on my last proud legs.” “Well,” I say. “You got a woman?” “Been dating someone.” “Will y’all marry?” “Yes.” “Do you love her?” He just smiles. “You seem like someone who would marry only under the condition of love.” “Listen here.” “I’ve been listening for the length of a glass of Hefe-Weizen.” “I know,” he says. “Thank you. And you’re welcome. Here’s the scaled-down bio of yours truly.” “Another one?” “I’ve been saved my whole life by poles: tied to
index finger to his lips, soothing whisper: “Please, baby.” Each time I witnessed the problems between them, I said to myself, “Don’t do it, don’t say it,” but they did it all right, they said it, as if not just our family but everyone, the whole world, was on a churning riverboat that wouldn’t dock so its passengers could stop and think about the ride they were on. Because there was an alternative outside the paradigm of their bankrupt nuptials. Maybe there was beauty on the ride, maybe the
oatmeal topped with a swirl of honey and sprinkled with fresh blueberries. This morning my muscles feel strong, my flesh tight. I’m like an Olympic athlete. I breathe in deep through the nose and begin to eat. She doesn’t say anything. Watching me with the seriousness of a psych on call at a suicide watch, even squinting, putting an index finger to her beautifully fat Polynesian lips. Deep down, and even though she set the thing up, she deems this new sentiment of mine to be pure scam. The old
VOTAREMOS. Los verbos estan marchar y votarer.” The father nods. Spanish, a good Latinate language. Perhaps he remembers my parochial promise back in the day when I was an educatee of the Jesuit institution that wouldn’t hire him because he didn’t have the scholarly chops. But I always liked his intellectual humility. The goddess is looking back at the paisas, then at me, comparing notes. Am I a Mexican farmer incognito? Too tall, too muscular, no cowboy hat, no accent, too American sassy. No
bitter tang of the underrated Chico, California, brewery when someone says my name in an intonation I haven’t heard in some time, not just my first name but my first and last name both, along with my high school graduation year, and the goddam name of the high school with it. I keep my head tilted back, my eyes focused on the crisscrossing angles of dazzling light. I hear from one side—Chinaski—“You went to St. Cajetan College Preparatory?” and from the other, “How are you doing these days,