For the past couple of months I had the amazing opportunity to work with third graders at Davis Bilingual Elementary School. As someone who did not grow up speaking Spanish but instead spent years learning it as an adult, I have spent a lot of time thinking about language, translation, and the feelings evoked by words. I have discovered that being able to express myself in more than one language has enabled me to see the world differently not only because of the readings and conversations it has opened up, but also how the ways things are described can spark understanding in new ways. This love of and appreciation for the power of language was something I sought to explore in our time together.
Based off of a lesson shared by Julia Alvarez in Luna, Luna, my teaching assistant and I brought in a poem by Nicolás Guillén, a Cuban poet, journalist, political activist, and writer. Below is an excerpt:
Esta es el hambre. Un animal
todo colmillo y ojo.
Nadie lo engaña ni distrae.
No se harta en una mesa.
No se contenta
con un almuerzo o una cena.
Anuncia siempre sangre.
Ruge como león, aprieta como boa,
piensa como persona.
This is hunger. An animal
all fangs and eyes.
It cannot be distracted or deceived.
It is not satisfied with one meal.
It is not content with a lunch or dinner.
Always threatens blood.
Roars like a lion, squeezes like a boa,
thinks like a person.
We read the original and translation of the poem and then spent time discussing it. What does hunger look like? How does it act? How does it sound? Is it nice? We then brainstormed a list of feelings such as happiness, anger, jealousy, doubt, and sadness and each chose one to describe in detail as either an animal or person. The students agreed that simply stating an emotion didn’t help the reader to feel it in their body, and thus eagerly dove into exploring and describing their chosen feeling. Below are some poems that were created that day.
Anger. A lion with red
Skin and fangs. Walks slowly
Making sure nobody scares him.
Hair standing up and eyes dark
And cold. Fire coming out
Of its head. Has a low growl.
Roars loudly. Stomps
Loudly thinks carefully.
Acts like a snake
Who’s going to bite and a
Burro ready for anything.
Es un animal con ojos verdes y
Tiene una voz baja.
Le gusta hacer ejercicio y
Se ve azul. Se siente estresado.
¡Su pelo esta largo! ¡Ay! ¡Que largo!
Siempre quiere jugar y no le gusta estar
Ignorado ni le gusta que alguien
Sea malo con otros.
This is sadness. A person
Who always has tears. He can’t be happy or
Calm. He’s not like others. He gets sadder
Near happiness. He’s as blue as water and sad
Like you’ve never seen. He sounds like La Llorona.
Sadness made lots of people
Sad. Almost all of his town is sad.
Please don’t be happy near him.
Happiness sometimes you
Don’t know if you are
Happy or sad. But happiness
Thinks like a thousand
Dolls of giggles trying to
Get out of your stomach
And it does. But instead of
Giggling you smile or you
Can giggle too.
Brook Bernini is a teacher and organizer guided by a commitment to working for social justice. She currently teaches GED classes at Pima Community College, where she has had the opportunity to focus on the art of teaching and developing curriculum, and is loving learning from and with the students there. She engages in migrant, racial, and climate justice organizing. Brook holds a Masters in Geography from the University of Minnesota, where she was driven by a desire to learn about how solidarity economic efforts can effectively be fostered as a way to both increase economic security and social equity. She enjoys dancing wherever and whenever possible, writing, growing food, and biking and hiking as ways to experience the world around her.