During readings of the poems in Trenzas ~ Braids, I am asked by workshop participants to provide the background stories behind the poems regarding inspiration, context and process. The inspiration is a matter of my journey with identity since birth, the nurturing and mentoring by parents, ancestors, immigration and migrations and living with bi-cultural, bi-lingual mind, heart and soul.
The context is ever present dealing with the social-cutural-political-religious curriculum that touches every segment of our lives as human beings and citizens of a country and the world.
The process is highly personal as to the degree that each of us allows the formal and informal – the conscious and unconscious educational process to influence our cognitive and affective domains. That is, our emotional intelligence and moral courage.
These forces are ever at play on a highly personal basis morphing, authenticating and affirming by way of language. Some of that language flows inward and some outward. Listening, speaking, writing, critically thinking are ways that language lives as part of my being. Therefore, prose and poetry are always options . . . for each of us.
One question often asked is why the poems are in Spanish and English. There was never hesitation to publish them in both languages as both languages are part and parcel of my bilingual and bicultural identities. But this was not always the case. Like many immigrants and their children, my family faced the unforgiving intimidator – English.
As a youngster, only one language was a haven while the other a daunting black hole. English was beyond being foreign. It was illogical and lacked consistency. Spelling was a nightmare and often used to determine whether the speaker was literate. English frightened and silenced. It imprisoned ideas, creativity and imagination. The language was a constant puzzle and maze.
During those years of assimilation and acclimation, to decide to enter the Tower of English Babel was truly to engage in babbling. It was often a matter of guessing – nodding in agreement – unaware of peripheral meanings and nuances. To play with metaphors was not an option.
The norm was to avoid asking questions or answering one, even though I knew the answer inside. Whatever the scenario, don’t raise your hand and avoid eye contact.
To be candid, it was dealing with well disguised” fear.” English became an ever present invisible wall that would abruptly emerge causing thought, feeling and comprehension to stop – the brain paralyzed – followed by silence and as an adult . . . overcompensating.
Both languages remain challenging but for different reasons. Both are now trusted companions. I no longer allow the English language to intimidate nor hold me hostage.
At the same time, I wish I would have taken the necessary English and literature classes in order to learn succinctness, selectivity and transition with more consistency, grace and style. The lack of discipline to avoid digressing to peripheral tugs is ever present. I am in awe of stellar writing and writers. Language, as an art form, is a humbling experience to the core.
As for the bi-lingual style in Trenzas, I wanted Spanish and non-Spanish speakers to be able to process meaning in their own language given my translations and nuances of Spanish into English.
Providing both the Spanish and English allows the readers to avoid the arduous process of translation wondering what was meant in Spanish and/or English. Each word is stated with meaning and intent in both languages. It is up to the reader to paint their own shades of significance.
The writing of Trenzas-Braids was a monumental challenge linguistically, emotionally and psychologically. The same challenges remain navigating the complex, multi-dimensional, dynamic and intertwined layers of Diversity Literacy.
Being bi-lingual and bi-cultural was and continues to be living in two skins. The brain ever code-switching deciphering not only language, but emotions as well as values that at times are diametrically going in different directions.
Critical questions are ever present. What to follow? What to believe? – the nurturing and mentorship of ancestors and parents or the forces to acclimate and assimilate by way of the daily curriculum?
Another question posed is why divide the book into two parts? The first part of the book, En Sus Voces (in their voices), are the voices of Mexican immigrants with children who were enrolled in public schools. The research was part of a doctoral dissertation using Critical Qualitative Research Methods.
The participants provided their history, reasoning, sentiments, feelings and interpretations of ‘parenting’ and ‘schooling’ in contrast to established traditional definitions of ‘parent participation and involvement.’
The poetics emerged by interviewing, collating and validating recurring themes by different participants and using their voices as Carolyn Mears explains, as “gateways to understanding: a model for exploring and discerning meaning from experience.” The Spanish poetics are verbatim compilations translated into English.
The second part, En Mi Voz (in my voice), are original poems built of personal experiences of dual cultural identities born from the blend of my native Argentina and my experiences in the United States.
The use of personal poetry in the book is best said by Martin Espada’s own words . . . “because poetry humanizes, empowers, provides hope.”
The language within the images and stories are the threads that morphed into personal non- conventional poetry – words connecting at times without rhyme or structure – words emerging without constraints with rawness – a direct uninterrupted link from soul to word.
Such poems are personal anecdotes passed on. Others are deeply embedded, indelible heartfelt remembrances of resilient threads of sorrows and joys. The poems are but seeds. Some may fall on concrete, some on fertile soil left to the reader to discern.