When my mother was going to school in the panhandle of Texas, she and her friends were punished if they spoke Spanish in school. When my brothers and I were growing up, my parents spoke English to us in the home so we would be successful in school.
Juan Felipe Herrera, the 2015 U.S. Poet Laureate and son of migrant farm workers wrote of this same experience in the forward of his book Jabberwalking.
We stopped in ranchitos to work picking grapes, lettuce, and corn. The trailer was called la trailita. Trailita. This word was not allowed at school. Or any word in Spanish…until I did not want to speak in Spanish anymore or even call hello to my mamá in Spanish as she waited for me outside of class. (3).
We might not officially punish students for speaking Spanish in school anymore, but it still happens. It happens when we don’t honor the home language of our ELL students. It happens when we don’t celebrate the richness of the cultural heritage of our students. It happens when the students in our classes don’t see books, poems, plays, essays, art, texts, words from writers, artists, poets, people who share their names, their cultural heritage.
Jabberwalking is a collection of ramblings, scribbles, and meandering splashes of creativity that gives writers permission to explore and express. It gives students and teachers the opportunity to look at poetry differently, to see themselves and the minutiae of their lives as fodder and fertile field for their own form of jabberwalking, and Herrera tells his readers exactly how to do that.
You do not have to know where you are going!
Or what you are saying!
(I know, yes, yes, I know—yep. This sounds ridiculous and blue-cheesy.
However, this may be better since the Poem, the burble, does not want to know
where it is going or even what it is saying. I learned this from my poetry burble,
incandescent professor, Marvin Bell, at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, University
of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. More or less. Seriously!) (10)
And when our students see poets who share their cultural heritage and maybe even their names doing fun and different things with poetry, they are emboldened to do the same thing.
This is what José Olivarez does in his poem “I Walk Into Every Room and Yell Where the Mexicans At.” In the poem, he upends conventions: “i know we exist because of what we make.” He throws in the ordinary: “all my people fold into a $2 crunchwrap supreme.” And he infuses his poem with Spanish: “my dad sings por tu maldito amor & i’m sure he sings to america. y yo caí en tu trampa ilusionado.”
Olivarez employs these same techniques in the poem “Ode to Tortillas,” which appeared in The Atlantic. He upends convention: there’s two ways to be a Mexican writer / that we’ve discovered so far. He throws in the ordinary: you can eat them with a fork and knife / like my bougie cousins do. (what bougie cousins?) / (i made them up for the purpose of this poem.) And he infuses his poem with Spanish: it’s the wound / of too many dolores and not enough dollars. it can be argued / that these are all chanclazos. even death is a chanclazo.
Celebrate the Hispanic heritage of your students by offering them the opportunity to do this same thing. You can find a sample lesson here. And Herrera offers this simple way to do practice.
SCRIBBLE your burbles, your words of things—that you see and think and feel but it’s really
not thinking or even feeling. It is plain old bonified, fuzzy, puffy, blue-cheesy, incandescent, brave
Download the below lesson for an activity on stream of consciousness writing and poetry.
Michael Mendez Guevara is a former high school journalism and English teacher who spent his time in the classroom helping students see themselves as writers and fall in love with reading through the world of young adult literature. As an educational sales consultant with Perfection Learning®, Michael works with teachers and schools on improving their literacy instruction and providing resources to help students achieve academic success. He has taught elementary school, middle school, and high school and has worked as a district level leader and served on the Texas state standards revision committee that developed the state’s current literacy standards. He is the father of three adult sons, the youngest a student at the University of Kansas—Rock Chalk! Michael is working on a professional development book for literacy educators and currently has agents reading the manuscript of his young adult novel, The Closest Thing to a Normal Life. When he's not reading, writing, or running, Michael is fully committed to watching as much Law & Order as possible.