| words that get in your teeth

Life Was Better Back Then by Margaret Cantu-Sanchez

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I overheard a conversation today,

it began cordial enough with mostly agreements,

until one speaker replied, “life was better back then.”


I looked at her and thought, for who?

Life was better for who exactly?

Was life better back then for my father, who was pushed to the back of the school lunch line because of his skin color?

Was life better back then for my mother who was told, “women don’t go into business, you should be a teacher?”


Was life better back then for my grandfather who at thirteen gave up school to become a fisherman to feed his siblings?

Was life better back then for my grandmother who woke before the sun rose each morning to pick and haul a 100-pound sack of cotton as a child?

Was life better back then for my grandmother, who left her home, family, and friends in search of the American dream?


Was life better back then for the Mexicano who was laughed at when he tried to join the Border Patrol, and told to go home and grow up a little?

Was life better for the widow who raised two children on her own and worked as a teacher in a time when many people thought it was impossible?


I wonder what exactly she meant by those words,

I wonder who taught her that life was…

easier, simpler, free of social media political strife, free of conflict,

free of racism, discrimination, sexism, classicism, elitism…


I wonder how she would have fared when “life was better back then.”

BIO: Margaret Cantú-Sánchez is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at St. Mary’s University where she teaches composition and literature courses with a focus on Latinx theory and literature. Margaret’s poetry has been featured in the Texas Poetry Calendar 2021, Pecan Grove Review, The San Antonio Review, and Dissident Voices. Her writing often focuses on her childhood experiences growing up and spending time with her maternal grandparents in the Rio Grande Valley.


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