Living on Islands Not Found on Maps



Written for the Institute for Inquiry and Poetics, University of Arizona Poetry Center

Join us for An Evening with Luis Rodriguez, Luivette Resto, Michael Warr & Peter J. Harris hosted by Literary Director Diana Delgado, on December 10 at 6:00 PM, Arizona Time.

Learn more here. 

I live on an island not found on maps. Growing up in the shadows of one of the most popular surnames: García. I speak Spanish to my abuela on Sundays but rely on Google to help my children with their homework because the accent rules never stuck. Stress or unstress? Penultimate syllable? Took the paradoxical college course: Spanish for Bilinguals where every Tuesday Prof. Cruz de Jesús would shake his head with indignation at my use of the familiar tú versus usted. No me conoce, he said. He was right. He didn’t know me and I didn’t know him or the proper word for bus or orange juice. What I did know is summers in Puerto Rico, eating quenepas as relatives said, ¿No entiendes lo que dijo tu primo? and my abuela defending my tongue. This tongue. Colonized not once but twice. Leaving me isolated at family reunions. Feeling inadequate for my inability to conjugate on command. Sounding out store front signs while riding the #42 bus on the way home from Kindergarten where I concentrated to understand Mrs. Farrell’s lessons about the seasons. But I finally found a home between Bronx bodega aisles, code switching with my homegirls about how many times Juana beepeó that boy we saw standing in front of él building. This became the island where I belonged. Unfettered and absent of red pen corrections. Juana didn’t care if I used the tú or the usted or if my yo was about me or an emphatic reaction to her crazy story. This island didn’t care if I rolled my r’s or ever got the purpose of vosotros. An island where our bodies translated feelings: pursed lips, raised brow, an aggressive eye or neck roll. We were bilingual neologists, inventing new lands we could carry in our Timbs and bubble coats. Here, language, like us, wasn’t disappointing or broken.