Bilingual poetry fosters discussion

Published 8:08 am Friday, January 14, 2011

Maria Martinez spent Thursday night watching her son, Emmanuel Hernandez, perform poetry. Hernandez, a fifth grader, was one of eight students who read poems from the book, “My Name is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River,” at Southgate Elementary School. What was more important than the poetry was the conversation it fostered, however.

The Southgate poetry reading brought a crowd of 30 to 40 parents, teachers and community members together in the Interactive Media Center. After each poem was read, the audience discussed its meaning and how the poems reflect what some parents and students go through in Austin.

“It was definitely a success,” said Nicole Winter, an English as a Second Language teacher at Southgate. “We had really good discussion. Parents from different backgrounds communicated here when they don’t communicate on a normal basis.”

Email newsletter signup

The poems, about a boy named Jorge and his experiences in school, reflect how difficult it is for Spanish-speaking students to start school where everyone speaks English. Some kids are bothered by students and teachers mispronouncing their name, as one of the poems about Jorge points out.

“Learning how to say kids’ names from other countries shows we respect them and care about them,” said David Wolff, a third grade teacher at Southgate during a discussion. “As a teacher, I find it important to learn those differences and respect them.”

It’s important to have the chance to talk openly about these issues, according to Martinez.

“You can be just walking down the street and somebody could yell at you, ‘Taco Bell!’” Martinez said. “Just because you have another skin color.”

Some Southgate parents could relate to cultural issues Spanish-speaking students face. Jodie Marsh, whose daughter Sydney also performed, told the audience about her niece, who started kindergarten at a Spanish Immersion school in Minneapolis.

“She came home after the first day and said, ‘I think my teacher was nice, but I’m not sure because I didn’t know what she said all day,’” Marsh said.

Southgate’s poetry event wasn’t the first time parents had a chance to come together. Last night’s reading was similar to last year’s bilingual book club event, where students, staff and parents read books in English and Spanish and discussed their meanings and how differing cultures impact the Austin community. Winter and the rest of Southgate’s equity team hopes to continue putting on events that bring different cultures within the community together.

“It was perfect,” Martinez said.