From The Block To The Classroom

Yosimar April 4, 2013 0
From The Block To The Classroom

I grew up in small, two-bedroom apartment in the East Side of San Jose. My block was the one that kids would make fun of when they talked about bad neighborhoods. But as a kid I saw everything with innocence. I never asked my grandmother why we had to wake up so early to go into people’s trashcans collecting bottles and cans. Abuela never sat me down and explained to me that we were undocumented. Our situation wasn’t easily explainable. And to Abuela this was life. Everyone we knew lived like this. So instead of her dwelling on the things that we did not have, through her example, she made me see that people, who were able, should be grateful for their hands and their ability to work and laugh while doing it.

For the longest time, I slept on the living room floor next to Abuela. Every night we shared the hard floor and she would talk to me until I fell asleep. She was one of the first poets I knew. In the crowded apartment with white stained walls, mismatched furniture, and cucarachas, I started locking myself in the bathroom to write poetry.

In my neighborhood, filled with immigrants, raza, corridos y borracheras, I learned about stories from Mexico in the language that the storytellers used to tell them. Every family was from a different place in Mexico, but we all had that commonality and we knew we had to help each other. The woman in Apartment 37 would baby-sit kids from the neighborhood and the woman in the next building over would help people get green cards. Abuela would feed the neighborhood jornaleros that came to the U.S. to work seasonally. During work season, I hated being in the house from 6pm-9pm because about twelve men would come into our small apartment to have dinner. Between the noise the men made and the television, I did not have the comfortable space that I needed to write, but their conversations would seep into my thoughts and I began to hear the message in their stories. These men talked about their families back home and how difficult it was to find a job in the U.S. They would even ask me to teach them basic sentences in English so they could communicate with their bosses. Now that I am older and no longer that fat boy running around barefoot, playing cops and robbers, I have learned to define who I am by words that sometimes feel heavy on my tongue and even heavier on my spirit. I am a poet and a storyteller and Abuela believes it is a blessing that people want to hear about our lives. I tell her that she is a poet too, and that she is the reason why I write, but she does not think much about writing. For her the only thing that matters is that I am a good person and do my part to help others.

More and more I find myself caught between the access my poetry has provided for me and the reality of my situation. Without a doubt, I feel blessed that people see their lives reflected in my words, but it is hard to believe that as praised and celebrated as I am, when I come home, I see my neighborhood is unchanged.

In classrooms that I sit in, I see brown students like me, from neighborhoods similar to mine, torn between representing their neighborhood and trying not to have our neighborhoods disconnected from us because we are not seen as being products of our neighborhoods. It is these classrooms, located far from our neighborhoods, that I think so many of us brown students come to fully understand how different we are. But we have to learn how to represent our neighborhoods and ourselves, especially brown writers.

If you come to my neighborhood, and ask anyone about their lives, they will be honest with you; they might cry with you, but also they will manage to get you to laugh. The greatest lesson I have learned from the community where I grew up, and where I still live, is that you have to make peace with your pain.

Read more of Yosimar’s work at Silicon Valley Debug.

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