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Poems about Bilingualism and Identity 
Poem A - Bilingual / Bilingüe by Rhina P. Espaillat (1998) 
My father liked them separate, one there one here (allá y aquí), as if aware 
that words might cut in two his daughter's heart (el corazón) and lock the alien part 
to what he was--his memory, his name (su nombre)--with a key he could not claim. 
"English outside this door, Spanish inside," he said, "y basta." But who can divide 
the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from any child? I knew how to be dumb 
and stubborn (testaruda); late, in bed, I hoarded secret syllables I read 
until my tongue (mi lengua) learned to run where his stumbled. And still the heart was one. 
I like to think he knew that, even when, proud (orgulloso) of his daughter's pen, 
he stood outside mis versos, half in fear of words he loved but wanted not to hear. 
Poem B - Bilingual Sestina by Julia Alvarez (1996) 
Some things I have to say ain’t getting said in this snowy, blond, blue-eyed, gum-chewing English dawn’s 
early light sifting through persianas closed the night before by dark-skinned girls whose words evoke 
cama, aposento, suenos in nombres from that first world I can’t translate from Spanish. 
Gladys, Rosario, Altagracia—the sounds of Spanish wash over me like warm island waters as I say your 
soothing names: a child again learning the nombres of things you point to in the world before English 
turned sol, tierra, cielo, luna to vocabulary words— sun, earth, sky, moon. Language closed 
like the touch-sensitive morivivi whose leaves closed when we kids poked them, astonished. Even 
Spanish failed us back then when we saw how frail a word is when faced with the thing it names. How 
saying its name won’t always summon up in Spanish or English the full blown genie from the bottled 
Gladys, I summon you back by saying your nombre. Open up again the house of slatted windows closed 
since childhood, where palabras left behind for English stand dusty and awkward in neglected Spanish. 
Rosario, muse of el patio, sing to me and through me say that world again, begin first with those first 
you put in my mouth as you pointed to the world— not Adam, not God, but a country girl numbering the 
stars, the blades of grass, warming the sun by saying, Que calor! As you opened up the morning closed 
inside the night until you sang in Spanish, estas son las mananitas, and listening in bed, no English 
yet in my head to confuse me with translations, no English doubling the world with synonyms, no 
dizzying array of words --the world was simple and intact in Spanish— luna, sol, casa, luz, flor, as if the 
nombres were the outer skin of things, as if the words were so close one left a mist of breath on things by 
their names, an intimacy I now yearn for in English— words so close to what I mean that I almost hear 
my Spanish heart beating, beating inside what I say en ingles. 
Poem C - From “Search For My Tongue” by Sujata Bhatt (1994) From 'Search For My Tongue' 
[Watch animation] 
You ask me what I mean by saying I have lost my tongue. I ask you, what would you do if you had two 
tongues in your mouth, and lost the first one, the mother tongue, and could not really know the other, the 
foreign tongue. You could not use them both together even if you thought that way. And if you lived in a 
place you had to speak a foreign tongue, your mother tongue would rot, rot and die in your mouth until 
you had to spit it out. I thought I spit it out but overnight while I dream, 
મન હત ક આ બી ભ આ બી ભાષા(munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha) 
મ થ ક નાબી છ(may thoonky nakhi chay) 
પરત રા વપનામા માર ભાષા પાછ આવ છ(parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay) 
લની મ માર ભાષા માર ભ(foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh) 
મોઢામા બીલ છ(modhama kheelay chay) 
લની મ માર ભાષા માર ભ(fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh) 
મોઢામા પાક છ(modhama pakay chay) 
it grows back, a stump of a shoot grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins, it ties the other tongue 
in knots, the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth, it pushes the other tongue aside. Everytime I think 
I've forgotten, I think I've lost the mother tongue, it blossoms out of my mouth. 
Read and re-read the poems in order to answer the following questions. 
•  In  'Bilingual'  Espaillat  uses  parenthesis  to  translate  several  words.  What  is  the  effect  of  this  on  the 
audience?  How  does  this  compare  to  how Alvarez mixes language and Bhatt switches from one language 
(English) to the next (Gujarati) and back again (English)? 
•  In  'Bilingual'  the  author  refers  to  her  father's  wish  to  keep  Spanish  and  English  separate,  in  different 
places  and  times.  How  do  all  three  authors  view  this  idea  of  separating  their  languages?  How  does  this 
make them feel as individuals? 
• In 'Bilingual Sestina', how does the author describe the importance of childhood memory and playing 
with 'things' to the experience of learning a language? 
• Explain the irony of the final words of 'Bilingual Sestina', 'en Inglais'. 
•  In  'Search  for  my  tongue',  how  does  Bhatt  play  with  the  both  the  literal  and  figurative  meaning  of  the 
word 'tongue'? How does she use imagery to illustrate her point? 
•  There  are  many  ways  to  discuss the nature of bilingualism and identity. Why do you think these authors 
chose to write poems rather than articles, memoirs or journals?