“…but i will never let my tongues
I have two tongues
its own value
that only I can determine.”
-Angelica Mercado, “Tongues”
These are the words both written and spoken by Angelica Mercado, a beautiful female writer at the 2015 Streamlines Undergraduate Writing Conference in Dubuque, Iowa. I sit next to her, having just shared my collection of poems. My eyes are closing as I listen to the soft accents of her words, the Spanish dialect, the way the rhythm rolls of her tongue.
The poem is called “Tongues” and it speaks to a young woman’s experience growing up in a bilingual world–having the pull of her culture and language, and also the pull of America and English. There is no correct answer of who she is ‘supposed to be,’ no definition of right.
Her words are strong. She says her tongues, both of them, have value “that only I can determine.”
As I listen to her beautiful words, I am struck by how much they resonate with my current eighth grade unit, House on Mango Street, which tells the story of young Esperanza who is trying to fit in, yet still embrace the beautiful Mexican culture all around her and a part of her. She wrestles with her name, her skin, her identity–much like Mercado does in “Tongues.” The connections between the words and worlds pull at my heartstrings.
I stop to talk to Mercado after her presentation and ask if I can borrow her poem and show it to my eighth graders, want to share another connection between their learning and the real world. To show that this book does have relevance in our everyday lives. That this book and its themes are important.
Two months later, I stumbled across Mercado’s blog, My Hunger Speaks, and am dumbfounded reading “Tongues” for a second time. I reach out to her again, and she shares the video of her reading. Her accent, again, is breathtaking.
Or watch on YouTube: “Tongues”
I read her blog. Her words that are so honest, so beautiful. In another piece, she writes:
“It is true, I am Mexican. It is in my blood. It is in my roots. It’s inscribed on my birth certificate. But I am also more than what is written on paper. I am more than what is noted on my identification card, black hair and brown eyes. I am a woman, an artist, a writer, a sister, a friend. I am a laundry list of “am’s.” I am the muse my brother needs to sing and the inspiration for my sister to draw. I am what pride looks like to my parents because they see how far I’ve gotten on my own. I don’t need to be a Barbie, and I don’t need to have blonde hair and blue eyes to be adequate. I don’t owe this world an explanation as to why I feel content with being different. There’s nothing wrong with being brown, just like chocolate milk. It adds flavor to who I am. Many events in my life have changed the way I see the world, but the world has not changed who I am.”
–Angelica Mercado, “Untamed and Uncut”
Even a month after attending the Streamlines Conference, I am still thinking of her words, of how they can connect to my eighth graders. This is what we teachers live for—the real, gritty, beautiful, and raw aspects of how what we learn in the classroom connects beyond and into our lives.
I have decided to share this poem with my class tomorrow. I want them to hear the words as Mercado reads them. I want them to imagine Esperanza, imagine her life and her words. I want them to feel. And I want them to understand the power of reading and writing, how it connects people and cultures, and makes us all one.