20 pages 40 minutes read

Elizabeth Acevedo


Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2015

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Language and Identity

“Afro-Latina” is a bilingual poem in which the speaker’s understanding of cultural difference through language causes shifts in her self-understanding. As a child growing up in the tight, comforting circle of home and family, Spanish was the language of “lullabies” (Line 32), songs that soothe babies who cannot bear to be separate from their loving parents.

The speaker’s recollections show that she reconceptualized the Spanish language when she began to establish an identity outside a familial context. Spanish is behind her mother’s “eh brokee inglee” (Line 32), with “eh” representing the Spanish article el, and “inglee” (Line 32) denoting “English” but with the “i” of the Spanish inglés. Such language shows her mother’s roots rather than obscuring them behind language that is strictly Spanish or strictly English. This is the language of a recent immigrant. However, it isn’t just a marker of the family’s history of migration. It is a marker of the first moment the speaker conceived of her difference from both her family and her peers, who were presumably Americans whose first language was English. As a child, the speaker allied herself with those outside of her family, laughing alongside them as they ridiculed her mother. She believed that this was the toll for claiming her identity as an “American, / a citizen / of this nation” (Lines 40-42).

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By Elizabeth Acevedo