I’ve held on to this poem for quite some time, now. It pierced my soul, made me feel some kind of way when I saw it. Mostly the vast differences between the opportunities I had and the ones my mother had, so starkly highlighted in my ability to manipulate this language of global power, holding a degree in english, and her struggles and frustrations with not being able to express herself in a language as foreign to her tongue as it was to her heart.
She spent a great part of her school years working in the agricultural circuit of California, making it very difficult for her to attend school constantly, leaving her with many gaps in her learning process.
My grandmother never learned to speak or write english, and felt some of the same frustrations of not being able to navigate the basic systems of this country. Though in her later years, learning the fundamental cuss words in english, like you know, “beetch, fack you, and estuped uss-ole,” gave her a great sense of empowerment and satisfaction. LOL! And she definitely always knew what we were saying in english.
For my mother, the frustration of struggling with the english language meant a lack of opportunities to lift herself and her children out of the poverty she had met as a child. A few years ago, she joined San Diego Reads, a phenomenal volunteer organization that supports adults in improving and refining their literacy skills. For so long she questioned her intelligence , feeling inferior and insecure, and withheld so much of what she had to offer the world. She now works at the pharmacy at SDSU, has been there for 10 years, and continues to find the courage to express herself in a language that once tried to crush her under its angry syllables and hardened consonants.
The privileges and successes. I enjoy, the opportunities I have to live a vibrant and bold life, and the risks and failures I am able to endure, all are upheld by my mother and my grandmother’s (and all the women that came before them) sacrifices, humiliation, oppression, grit, and love. I am because they were. I thrive because they endured. I overcome because they conquered. I stand because they dug deep enough to give me fierce roots.