Cover Image: My Broken Language

My Broken Language

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This nonfiction memoir tells the story of how the author, now a 40-year-old playwright and  growing up in a rich stew of cultural influences, learned to find her own language and identity.  Her mother’s side, the Perez family, was Puerto Rican; they lived almost in an enclave in a suburb of Philadelphia.

Her father was white, and after he remarried, although he lived only an hour away, his middle class suburban white world seemed like another universe to Quiara, far away from the raucous world of her extended family in Philly.  

Dad and his new wife Sharon lectured Quiara about “inner-city problems,”  seemingly wanting her to make a choice to identify with what they considered to be a superior expression of her whiter color.  They had plenty of judgment about her other world, but no real clue what it meant to live with little money, inferior health care, prejudice, underfunded schools, and the constant negative expectations of others.  She thought to herself:  “Who were dad and Sharon anyway? King and queen of Shit-Don’t Stink Land?”  Emotionally, she preferred the Perezes, even though life was hard, and even though, intellectually, she wanted to explore the languages of the white world.

For a while, she inhabited the spaces in between.

At first Quiara thought she found a way to express herself and the pain, confusion, but also joy she felt, through music, which she studied at Yale.   But what she found was alienating.  She wrote:  “Many dictionaries live in this world, and at Yale, ‘music’ came from a different Webster, with a different definition.  The word meant a particular type - Western classical - without even having to specify.  ‘Music’ was a synonym for ‘white.’”

She knew she didn’t want to be part of a world that blindfolded itself to her other culture, and that “didn’t other entire hemispheres of art.”

Then she turned to literature in a creative writing workshop at Brown University, and especially books by others occupying borderlands:  Ralph Ellison, Sandra Cisneros, Toni Morrison.  She learned that she didn’t have to be “loyal” to English.  Language that aims toward perfection, her instructor told her, is a lie, reminding her that  Shakespeare knew this, and broke English until its dictionaries grew by a thousand entries.

She began to write plays that combined her facility with language with the stories of the matriarchal world of the Perez women:   “My pantheon, my Perez women, my biblical ribs and mud.  Out of their rough, mortal flesh was fashioned my tempo and taste.”

She wanted to share their history, and incorporate *their* language - “Spanglish’s ever-shifting syntax and double-rich sonority” into the mainstream.  

As of this writing, she has experienced a great deal of success.  Her play “Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue,” was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. She won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play "Water by the Spoonful."

Evaluation:  So many children now grow up on the borders, between two cultures, and they struggle with which world  will claim their identities.  This revealing memoir will help readers understand the conflicts that often threaten to tear apart the children of diverse unions.
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"My Broken Language" by Quiara Alegria Hudes is a memoir about her home and family and how she makes sense of it all. Wow. This book is so beautiful that I found myself re-reading passages and savoring each page. This book is definitely in a league of its own, but I found a lot of parallels between this book and the themes and language that characterize Richard Blanco's work. I loved reading about Hudes' family and how she channels everything that surrounds her in her life - love, music, art, books, spirituality, and language - into her own work. I really hope everyone enjoys this book as much as I did.
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