hello, my name is…

January 16, 2013

names have power.

i was named, Sarahí. (try it in your best Spanish. the “h” is silent and the “í” sounds like “ee”).
my mother’s older sisters named me. her name was Sara (again, read that in Spanish).
she thought Sara was too plain.

recently, i went to an open house (i am in the process of applying to nursing school) and the young man who gave the opening presentation introduced himself as Jose Villa (read, Ho-say Vi-la). my heart ached. i cringe when we do this (i was guilty of it years ago). hell, i didn’t even try to say my name in “English,” i simply changed it to Sarah.

lots of us are guilty of this. some of us do it ’cause we just don’t want to deal. others because, “whatever.” pero i stopped doing this about eleven years ago.

what changed?

i realized a few things,

1. i had to learn an entire language, the other person just needs to learn how to pronounce a name.
2. i was dishonoring my name by butchering it both written and verbal. i slaughtered the texture of it, to please foreign tongues.
3. my name is BEAUTIFUL.

we spend so much time trying to assimilate, to fit in; while honoring the traditions of our culture. we sacrifice parts of our culture that can bleed out for a lifetime. but i couldn’t do that anymore. i grew up in the states. but i wasn’t born here. neither were my parents. neither was my name. and i have to work at holding on to these cultural parts of me because this place tries so hard to change the parts of you that are most powerful.

so we get here and they drop our mother’s last name. reserved for security questions at banks. then they call you something else. they ask the question, “what does your name translate to?”

if your name is Juan, now you are John.


you cannot translate a name. by definition names have no translation.
when you were named, you were given power.
you are to carry that name and make it yours while honoring your last names.

and when you migrate to this country they want to change it -pa’ que se le haga mas facíl en su boca.

i invite you to start saying your name, the way your abuela would say it if she were calling you back in the house. or the way your parent says it when you’re in trouble (you know, when you get that first and middle name). give people your name the way it is supposed to be pronounced.

i told my nephew this just a few weeks ago.
tell them there is no translation for Se-bas-tián.
it’s not sa-bash-chin. it’s not even close.

my name is Sarahí. anything less is disrespectful.

i speak in spanglish tongues.
it is the sound of two cultures
that burst in my mouf’
like pop rocks.


like, take a baf’.
like, do your maf’ homework.
’cause the “th” sound
was too soft for the strength
in abuela’s tongue.

guen’ you are raised here
(en los estados unidos),
your tongue splits
and you find yourself
between “correct english”
and the sound of your cultura.

“mamita, que no se te olvide tu idioma,”
your Titi reminds you.

pero the english teacher tells you
to slide the tongue below your top teeth
so that ju’ can enunciate correctly .

sounds harsh.

so we created spanglish.
a place where they bof’ dance
comfortably. without judgement.
or correction.

sounds like,
caserio and projects.
barrio and town.
ciudad and suburbs.

it is the last romance language!

you can speak it. whisper it. shout it.
you can woe someone to Love in it.
you can awaken the social justice conscious
of sleeping giant with it.
you can put it in the lyrics of a song
and watch music play a cuatro
while an electric guitar falls
en clave.

ta. ta. ta. tata.
ta. ta. ta. tata.

la boila’ is broken
we have no heat.

code switch.

parkea’ el carro
then meet me
en el rufo’,
a few of us are gonna’
janguear’ and have a few drinks.

spoken word poets
have brought spanglish
to open mics
closing lyrical lines
with coños and “y tu abuela aonde’ ‘ta?”

abuela, i could never olvidar mi lengua
she dances in my mouf’
like celia cruz on stage
with a tumbao’
“my english ees’ no’ bery gu’ lukin’!”

pero i grew up here. in the land
of gringos. ’cause you wanted something
mejor for mamí.

so i had to learn this idioma
to fit in and assimilate,
while you continued to make rinconcitos
of Puerto Rico on tenement fire escapes.
palm and avocado trees fought with
taller buildings for a little bit of that sol.
a small clothesline had tio’s pantaloncillos
dancing salsa in the wind.
and a flag that waved hello
to transplanted seedlings
that played a combo of
la rueda mas hermosa
and red-light-green-light.

we stop. we go.
in and out.

we wrote a new idioma.
something the oxford dictionary
couldn’t add to their collection
of borrowed tongues.

something that was ours.
it honored our history
and accepted our new reality.

our tongue
debated and deliberated
a new sound.

a funny-often-times-hysterical-combination