Javier Huerta's excellent post on privilege and the bilingual pun (above) prompts me to share this note. On Monday, I received an email from KL, someone I know who teaches at a detention facility in Virginia, asking me to translate something that a girl in her class had written in Spanish. KL teaches high school-age children who are waiting for a court hearing or sentencing; they are usually incarcerated at the facility for just a few days or a few weeks. Obviously, it’s a difficult environment for learning.
Collage/Painting by Lisa Abbott-Canfield

KL noticed that one of the new girls was very depressed. Although the girl spoke Spanish, she didn’t mingle with the other Spanish-speaking children. She didn’t speak English at all. From what KL could determine, the girl had been in living with relatives who made her sleep outside when she developed a cough. (They probably were worried she might be infectious). KL asked her to write something about her life. This is a direct translation.
My life has not been the best, maybe even
worse I would say because things have happened
to me that I don’t want to even think about them.
When I was sixteen years old someone
called my family asking for 3,000 dollars
or else they would be receiving my head and I
would be dead and my family did not have the money
and we moved to another place and when
that happened my sisters decided to send for me
and bring me to the United States.
When I was coming in immigration picked
me up and they held me for a month and 5 days my aunt
came and got me and I started living with my aunt.
She would only say mean things to me and scold me
constantly until one day she told me she was going
to make me sleep outside. In my family there are
12 altogether. What I like to do is
chat, to have friends, I like to play,
what I do not like is to be here where
I’m not allowed to speak to my sisters
I don’t like to be scolded, that is all,
thank you

Originally Published: September 23rd, 2008

Born in California’s Mojave Desert, poet Forrest Gander grew up in Virginia and attended the College of William & Mary, where he majored in geology. After earning an MA in literature from San Francisco State University, Gander moved to Mexico, then to Arkansas, where his poetry—informed by his knowledge of...

  1. September 25, 2008
     Javier Huerta

    Thank you for posting this.
    The poem (and her life) reads like an unfinished fairy tale.

  2. September 29, 2008
     Andy Nicholson