April 24th is annually honored as a day of recognition for the Armenian genocide - the date on which Armenian leaders, writers, and intellectuals were taken from their homes in a meticulously organized beginning to what would become the genocide itself.
In our resource book, Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization: the Genocide of the Armenians, we include several poems written by Diana Der-Hovanessian, which explore the diasporan identity that resulted - the pull of belonging to both Armenia and the United States and the legacy of the genocide on her own identity. "Two Voices" is one of those poems and includes this series of questions:
...do I think of my grandmother
at Ellis Island,
or as an orphan in an Armenian village?
Or at a black stove in Worcester...
This year, we honor the commemoration by sharing student poetry written in response to Diana's poem which highlights the connections students made to that pull of multiple identities. These come to us from Sasha Guzman at Social Justice Humanitas Academy. In respect for student identities, we present both without the author names.
We hope this reminder to find common experiences in the human condition can both build compassion and curiosity in honoring and learning about the histories of others.
Student poem #1
In what language do I remember things in?
In what language do I tell jokes in?
In what language do I think in?
Do I awake from my dreams in Spanish thinking I’m American?
I might be born here but my roots go deeper
than the Mexican American war.
Do I believe deep inside that I'm both American and Mexican?
Do I awake thinking of my family’s struggle for a dollar
or do I awake thinking of the struggle
of a man
to carry their whole family?
I am always aware of my skin color also
how to be a “man” to help my family.
When I hear wind ringing though walls do
I hear my grandparents pushing their walls to keep their house up
From falling apart
or do I hear the strong stucco walls of my home?
When I see fire do I see something that kept my grandparents and dad and his family
warm through freezing cold nights
or do I see fires that burn in me of anger
of the racism of the white men
that don’t know what struggle is
that they discriminate immigrants
when their whole nation are immigrants?
When I see food do I see myself eating it
or do I see my family suffering for a
piece of bread?
I simply wake up thinking that I am Mexican American
I might be born in America
but my family roots are from Mexico
I simply wake up thinking that
I’m a fallen apple that fell from its tree
and rolled on?
Do I see 1964, 65, 66 impalas
with Aztec and general Zapata and Pancho Villa painted onto them
or do I see
Trucks full of people ready to work at 4am.
Do I awake ready for the world
or do I cowardly hide in my anger?
Do I awake and pray in Spanish
just to go on my whole day speaking in English
Student poem #2
What does my language sound like to others?
Is it just a bunch of gibberish?
Or do the words break through the barriers
and continue to shine their same significance?
My parents would be stepping foot on the
damp foreign land right now.
Sure they got to school differently,
but did they go to school with the same worries
on their mind?
Were they worrying about if they were eating
instead of what they were eating?
As a teenage student,
do I worry about the possibilities of the future and
the difficulty of navigating
through unfair systems,
or simply what I will wear tomorrow?
When I think of the people in power in the Philippines,
do I think of the stories my mother told me about Emilio Osmena,
who provided clean water to his people in Cebu?
Or do I think of my father telling me about the person in power of Manila,
Imelda Marcos, who illegally amassed billions of US dollars?
Maybe I think of the Philippine’s current president, Rodrigo Duterte,
who used death squads to eliminate criminals and strike fear in others.
Was execution the right way?
Were my parents happier
without social media in the back of their heads?
Or were they miserable
without the ability to contact their friends and family at any time?
Would it make any difference because they couldn’t have afforded it either way?
our language can be absurd and indecipherable sometimes,
like the word pinakanakapagpapabagabag-damdamin.
And our food could sometimes be seen as weird,
like dinuguan (blood stew) and balut (don’t look at the images).
But I am, and will always be,
proud of being Filipino.