An Abecedarian Lesson for My Bilingual Students in Houston

At the beginning of each school year as a
bilingual creative writing teacher in Texas, I have to stand in front of a
classroom lined with Spanish speaking students &
defend my Dominican Spanish because their
eager Spanish speaking tongues from other Spanish speaking countries
forget that not all Spanish speaking
gente living en el Norte, or America, or Texas or
Houston are from Mexico, or Guatemala, or El Salvador or Puerto Rico.
I try to inspire them with visions of hammocks hanging between palmas &
Jacaranda trees blooming all year long. We practice words like guagua &
Kiskeya. I tell them my avocado island is ripe with chinola and cacao & in the streets
language bounces buoyant from our tongues to the trumpets in our
merengue. There is no slow talk, slow down, or slow Spanish. Somos
“negritos come coco” & there is always somewhere else to be, even in our mouths.
Often, I explain, my tongue will roll out of breath, a
pilón pressing plátanos for mofongo before the meat gets tough.
Quizás, you won’t understand me, I say. But Quisqueya is bold
red, a mocking hibiscus flower growing abundant, blue mouth waves
surrendering molasses for Yemayå, where the sun opens una flor de mantequilla as
Tainos & tambores mark the beginning & end of time. It is
un chin de habichuelas con dulce, un poquito de arroz con leche and a
¡vamono’ pa’ la playa! primo wave after a ¡que lo que! tiguere smile. Every year
when I begin to speak my Spanish to little boys & girls named Joaquin, Guadalupe, &
Xochitl they stop, turn their ears towards the distant country of my Spanish & ask
¿Y maestra, porque hablas así? & I always begin the lesson by saying, because my
zapatos are covered in sea salt sand & sometimes the grains get stuck between my teeth.

Jasminne Mendez is a performer, educator, and award winning author. Her first multi-genre memoir Island of Dreams (Floricanto Press, 2013) was awarded Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book by the International Latino Book Awards in 2015. Her second book Night-Blooming Jasmin(n)e: Personal Essays & Poems (Arte Publico Press) will be out in Spring 2018.

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