Where do broken tongues go? (by John Wayne N. dela Cruz)

This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

Song credit: “Scrapes” by Bing and Ruth (2017)

2020 marks a decade since I’ve moved to Canada, and what seems like 10 long years on paper feels very much like a blink of an eye behind the screen. This realization has rendered me pensive about my journey thus far to belong in this country­­­–a journey of belonging through the matrices of culture, language, and identity. The journey hasn’t always been easy; it has been a grueling rite of passage that seems to never reach its destination. I write here and ask myself, where does it all lead? Where have I been and where am I trying to go now? Where will I, my languages and identities, end up? Where­–and when–can I finally be home?

For this week’s blog, I wanted to write a poem about ‘broken tongues’ in an attempt to ask aloud, if not answer my own questions. That is, I wanted to share and reflect about the linguistic experiences of people like me: immigrants of colour whose mother tongue is neither English nor French, yet whose life’s circumstance had them resettle in an officially English-French bilingual new ‘home’ where they, and their broken tongues, have been (and perhaps still are) viewed as linguistically deficient. After having written it, I find that this poem has been a cathartic exercise, and I hope that it could be for you, too. This poem is an amalgamation of narratives of belonging, equal in triumphs and sorrows. Some of which I have experienced personally, some I have lived vicariously.

 All of which are true.

Where do broken tongues go?

Today, broken tongues speak their own eulogy,

Words of high praises and goodbyes to their history:

Stories that they lived and held on their own;

Stories that they inherited from ancestors unknown.

            And where do broken tongues go thereafter?

            Where land their ships, captained by another?

Some broken tongues go where their new peers say so:

Away! Say they. “This language you will never fully know.”

“Your English’s accent, fresh off the boat, you will never lose,

And give up on your French, learning it is not for you to choose.”

            Enfin, tels amis, ils n’ont pas raison.

            For the broken tongues can speak their own truth.

            “In this maison, only sooth.”

Some broken tongues go where their new teachers say so:

Off to remedial English, you go!

But sir, miss, I know French, I know Greek,

I know Italian, Tagalog, and I know Arabic!

Who cares? i and ɪ, in English, are phonemic!

            Now off you go write in a new genre you don’t know,

            Write me, don’t sing, of a new song,

            Then I could tell you that you’re doing it all wrong.

Some broken tongues go where their new masters say so:

Don’t speak your kumusta in front of everyone—go

hide in the back or in the locker room you should go!

Better yet, keep outside of the work place your hi and hello.

            We don’t want our light skinned clients to think

            That they’re your rumours’ topic. Beware! Beware!

            These things can a broken tongue’s boat sink.

Some broken tongues go where their new words say so:

For others to admire, in a museum’s glass window.

For others to question, in every social gathering.

            But where are you really from?

            Here? That can’t be! Hmm, something’s missing…

For others to tokenize, in a team about diversity.

            For others to listen to, refute, disbelieve, doubt, or clap to

            in an annual meeting in a host university.

And where do broken tongues go all thereafter?

Where land their ships, captained by another?

The many tongues of a broken tongue,

            Yet what counts is that which they don’t know.

Broken tongues with broken words unsung:

             Still they speak and write of a better tomorrow.

In this colonized world they roam and roam,

Do tell, where do broken tongues go­?

And will we ever find our way home?

Kapangyarihan ang kapayapaan. Peace is power. Museum of Modern Art, New York

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