Thursday, April 24, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Between Cultures: Part 2

In September of 2007, the number of Limited English Proficient students receiving services in the state of Virginia numbered 84,344. I see many of these kids in the classrooms I visit, and often wonder how we can help their teachers and classmates develop a bit more empathy for their struggles to adjust to a new language and culture. Reading poetry can be an exellent vehicle for this.
My Name is Jorge On Both Sides of the River, written by Jane Medina and illustrated by Fabricio Vanden Broeck, is a collection of 27 poems written in Spanish and English. They are written from Jorge's point of view and describe his experiences adjusting life in the United States. The poems are sometimes heartbreaking, but they are always honest. The first poem in the book describes the problems he has when others cannot pronounce his name.
My Name Is Jorge
My name is Jorge.
I know that my name is Jorge.
But everyone calls me
            George.

George.
What an ugly sound!
Like a sneeze!
            GEORGE!

And the worst of all
            is that
this morning
            a girl called me
“George”
            and I turned my head.
I don’t want to turn
            into a sneeze!
Many of the poems in this book are set in school and describe how inadequate Jorge feels. Here are excerpts from two especially sad poems.
Why Am I Dumb?
Why am I dumb?
In my country
I was smart.
All tens!
Never even an eight!

Now I'm here.
They give me
C's or D's or F's
--like fives
or fours . . .
or ones.

Sneaky
I hid the paper
      inside a
            big, wavy stack of papers
on my teacher's desk.

I want her to see it
      --but not till after school.

I'm scared
      that it's not good enough.
This is a must-read book in classrooms of all kinds, but especially those with immigrant children. I can't think of a better way to open the door to understanding than with these poems.

A Movie in My Pillow/Una pelicula en mi almohada, written by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Elizabeth Gómez, is a collection of 21 poems written in Spanish and English that describe the author's childhood in El Salvador and his experiences of being an immigrant in San Francisco’s Mission District. Jorge comes from a war torn country and is uprooted for a new home with only his father to accompany him. He describes his leaving in this way.
When We Left El Salvador
When we left El Salvador
to come to the United States
Papá and I left in a hurry
one early morning in December

We left without saying goodbye
to relatives, friends, or neighbors
I didn’t say goodbye to Neto
my best friend

I didn’t say goodbye to Koki
my happy talking parakeet
I didn’t say goodbye to
Miss Sha-Sha-She-Sha
my very dear doggie

When we left El Salvador
in a bus I couldn’t stop crying
because I had left my mama
my little brothers
and my grandma behind.
As Jorge begins to adjust, he describes his life and his new neighborhood, while often making comparisons to home. Here is an excerpt of a poem about the Mission District.
Neighborhood of Sun
I live in San Francisco
in the Mission District
Neighborhood of sun
of colors and flavors

Avocadoes and mangoes
papayas and watermelons
Here my friend Tomás
laughs louder with the sun

Here in my neighborhood
you can taste
a soup of languages
in the wind
The beautiful imagery and stories in the poems is echoed in the vibrant illustrations. The poems in this volume are exuberant and loving, yet still full of the uncertainty that faces many immigrants.

If you are looking for some additional resources to help you expand on the ideas presented here, check out these sites.
  • You can find other book ideas in this thematic book list on contemporary immigration.
  • Here is an elementary lesson plan focused on the poems and art in A Movie in My Pillow.
  • La Bloga is a blog about Chicana Chicano Literature, Chicana Chicano Writers, Children's Literature, News, Views, and reviews. Be sure to check out the children's literature section.
  • Los Bloguitos is a blog for children who speak or are learning Spanish. It contains songs, poems, cuentos, dichos and riddles.
  • Over at La Bloga, author René Colato Laínez wrote a six-part series entitled Living to Tell the Story: The Authentic Latino Immigrant Experience in Picture Books. Be sure to read each post. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
  • The Houston Public Library has a collection of songs, poems and rhymes in Spanish and English.

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