Notes On Juan Felipe Herrera's Assemblage: Why Bilingual Poetry Matters
Start writing a post
Politics and Activism

Notes On Juan Felipe Herrera's Assemblage: Why Bilingual Poetry Matters

On the effect of bilingual poetry for the non-Spanish speaker and why this matters for those who embody more than one cultural reality.

1167
Notes On Juan Felipe Herrera's Assemblage: Why Bilingual Poetry Matters
Los Angeles Times

"The fact that I am writing to you in English already falsifies what I wanted to tell you. My subject: how to explain to you that I don’t belong to English though I belong nowhere else."

--Gustavo Pérez Firmat, "Bilingual Blues"

In Juan Felipe Herrera’s latest collection of poetry "Notes on the Assemblage" (2015), English becomes subservient to the variations and the complexities of the Latino experience. The line between English and Spanish is blurred in a manner that undermines the English language: core tenants such as punctuation and capitalization are demolished in favor of something much more nuanced and evocative. Some poems are entirely in Spanish; some are entirely in English; some are a mélange of the two languages; some are provided in both their Spanish and English counterparts. All of this only serves to broaden the possible interpretations of each poem. Even more noticeably than the grammar is the usage of Spanish, which adds a layer of cultural complexity that truly speaks only to those who identify with the community Herrera represents and serves to remind the reader of the visceral reality of the Latino experience.

An example of this unique complexity is the poem “Borderbus” which is written partly in Spanish and partly in English. The poem is similarly visceral and powerful in its usage of English and Spanish and as a result, the reader understands that the struggle of the Honduran people being explored goes beyond poetic refrains and cannot possibly be conveyed solely through English. If a non-Spanish speaking reader were to read this poem, he or she would be able to sense the urgency and the fear that Herrera is communicating but again, the Spanish is lost on the reader, and as a result, the reader is—again—left with nothing but the language he or she already knows. The pain, the trials, and the tribulations of the undocumented worker are conveyed, but the truths of Spanish are lost on the reader. One finishes the poem having understood that this struggle is one that transcends the need to be understood by readers; it is one that is so crucial that it can be conveyed only in the language of the speaker—precisely because it is so personal. There are concepts that are entirely out of reach to the non-Spanish speaking reader, and as a result, are not accessible.

This is Herrera's precise point: not everything has to be catered to the Western or the non-Spanish speaking reader.

The bilingualism in this collection is representative of the reality of code switching for those who embody more that one culture. Herrera’s usage of both Spanish and English highlights the repercussions of bilingualism, and by addition, biculturalism, in the States: one who identifies with more than one culture lives one’s whole life building a bridge between them by dancing back and forth between two or more languages depending on the situation. When a bilingual person speaks two languages, they embody two cultures, and so representing him or herself in only English becomes a denial of their other identity because some things are only conveyed in the other language the person is accustomed to.

As a non-Spanish speaking reader myself, I thrived as I read this collection, for there sat before me the work of a man who did not have to compromise or lob off any aspect of his truth in order to cater to any specific reader. Everything about English in this collection is overthrown for something characteristic of and inherent to Herrera and the Latino community he represents. He creates a land between English and Spanish and treads it in an unprecedented manner. Herrera decides that if neither English nor Spanish can be his true home, then he will show the reader in as many ways as possible this gray area that every person of color who embodies two cultural realities lives in, thereby allowing those who live their whole lives amidst the grayness of bilingualism to finally thrive in the face of self-recognition through poetry.


You can always watch Herrera read "Borderbus."

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Health and Wellness

Exposing Kids To Nature Is The Best Way To Get Their Creative Juices Flowing

Constantly introducing young children to the magical works of nature will further increase the willingness to engage in playful activities as well as broaden their interactions with their peers

145826

Whenever you are feeling low and anxious, just simply GO OUTSIDE and embrace nature! According to a new research study published in Frontiers in Psychology, being connected to nature and physically touching animals and flowers enable children to be happier and altruistic in nature. Not only does nature exert a bountiful force on adults, but it also serves as a therapeutic antidote to children, especially during their developmental years.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

5 Simple Ways To Give Yourself Grace, Especially When Life Gets Hard

Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we are becoming.

152102
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

If there's one thing I'm absolutely terrible at, it's giving myself grace. I'm easily my own worst critic in almost everything that I do. I'm a raging perfectionist, and I have unrealistic expectations for myself at times. I can remember simple errors I made years ago, and I still hold on to them. The biggest thing I'm trying to work on is giving myself grace. I've realized that when I don't give myself grace, I miss out on being human. Even more so, I've realized that in order to give grace to others, I need to learn how to give grace to myself, too. So often, we let perfection dominate our lives without even realizing it. I've decided to change that in my own life, and I hope you'll consider doing that, too. Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we're becoming. As you read through these five affirmations and ways to give yourself grace, I hope you'll take them in. Read them. Write them down. Think about them. Most of all, I hope you'll use them to encourage yourself and realize that you are never alone and you always have the power to change your story.

Keep Reading... Show less
Entertainment

Breaking Down The Beginning, Middle, And End of Netflix's Newest 'To All The Boys' Movie

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor are back with the third and final installment of the "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" series

394960
Netflix

Were all teenagers and twenty-somethings bingeing the latest "To All The Boys: Always and Forever" last night with all of their friends on their basement TV? Nope? Just me? Oh, how I doubt that.

I have been excited for this movie ever since I saw the NYC skyline in the trailer that was released earlier this year. I'm a sucker for any movie or TV show that takes place in the Big Apple.

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

4 Ways To Own Your Story, Because Every Bit Of It Is Worth Celebrating

I hope that you don't let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.

248150
Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash

Every single one of us has a story.

I don't say that to be cliché. I don't say that to give you a false sense of encouragement. I say that to be honest. I say that to be real.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

How Young Feminists Can Understand And Subvert The Internalized Male Gaze

Women's self-commodification, applied through oppression and permission, is an elusive yet sexist characteristic of a laissez-faire society, where women solely exist to be consumed. (P.S. justice for Megan Fox)

131980
Paramount Pictures

Within various theories of social science and visual media, academics present the male gaze as a nebulous idea during their headache-inducing meta-discussions. However, the internalized male gaze is a reality, which is present to most people who identify as women. As we mature, we experience realizations of the perpetual male gaze.

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

It's Important To Remind Yourself To Be Open-Minded And Embrace All Life Has To Offer

Why should you be open-minded when it is so easy to be close-minded?

314740

Open-mindedness. It is something we all need a reminder of some days. Whether it's in regards to politics, religion, everyday life, or rarities in life, it is crucial to be open-minded. I want to encourage everyone to look at something with an unbiased and unfazed point of view. I oftentimes struggle with this myself.

Keep Reading... Show less
Swoon

14 Last Minute Valentine's Day Gifts Your S.O. Will Love

If they love you, they're not going to care if you didn't get them some expensive diamond necklace or Rolex watch; they just want you.

194585

Let me preface this by saying I am not a bad girlfriend.

I am simply a forgetful one.

Keep Reading... Show less
Student Life

10 Helpful Tips For College Students Taking Online Courses This Semester

Here are several ways to easily pass an online course.

131806
Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels

With spring semester starting, many college students are looking to take courses for the semester. With the pandemic still ongoing, many students are likely looking for the option to take online courses.

Online courses at one time may have seemed like a last minute option for many students, but with the pandemic, they have become more necessary. Online courses can be very different from taking an on-campus course. You may be wondering what the best way to successfully complete an online course is. So, here are 10 helpful tips for any student who is planning on taking online courses this semester!

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments