Elizabeth Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam champion and her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Poetry, Puerto Del Sol, Callaloo, The Notre Dame Review and others.
Elizabeth Acevedo
Grade Level


Camina conmigo.

Salsa swagger

anywhere she go


'¡la negra tiene tumbao!


Dance to the rhythm.

Beat the drums of my skin.


the rhythms within.

The first language

I spoke was Spanish.

Learned from lullabies

whispered in my ear.

My parents’ tongue

was a gift

which I quickly forgot

after realizing

my peers did not understand it. 

They did not understand me.

So I rejected

habichuela y mangú,

much preferring Happy Meals

and Big Macs.

Straightening my hair

in imitation of Barbie.

I was embarrassed

by my grandmother’s

colorful skirts

and my mother’s

eh brokee inglee

which cracked my pride

when she spoke.

So, shit, I would poke fun

at her myself,

hoping to lessen

the humiliation.

Proud to call myself


a citizen

of this nation,

I hated

Caramel-color skin.

Cursed God

I’d been born

the color of cinnamon.

How quickly we forget

where we come from.

So remind me,

remind me

that I come from

the Taínos of the río

the Aztec,

the Mayan,

Los Incas,

los Españoles

con sus fincas

buscando oro,

and the Yoruba Africanos

que con sus manos

built a mundo

nunca imaginado.

I know I come

from stolen gold.

From cocoa,

from sugarcane,

the children

of slaves

and slave masters.

A beautifully tragic mixture,

a sancocho

of a race history.

And my memory

can't seem to escape

the thought

of lost lives

and indigenous rape.

Of bittersweet bitterness,

of feeling innate,

the soul of a people,

past, present and fate,

our stories cannot

be checked into boxes.

They are in the forgotten.

The undocumented,

the passed-down spoonfuls

of arroz con dulce

a la abuela's knee.

They're the way our hips


to the beat of cumbia,


y salsa.

They're in the bending

and blending

of backbones.

We are deformed

and reformed


It's in the sway

of our song,

the landscapes

of our skirts,

the azúcar

beneath our tongues.

We are

the unforeseen children.

We're not a cultural wedlock,

hair too kinky for Spain,

too wavy for dreadlocks.

So our palms

tell the cuentos

of many tierras.

Read our lifeline,

birth of intertwine,


and starshine.

We are every

ocean crossed.

North Star navigates

our waters.

Our bodies

have been bridges.

We are the sons

and daughters,

el destino de mi gente,




Viviremos para siempre


hasta la muerte.

Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    What does the speaker mean when she says, "My parents' tongue was a gift."
    She means that their Spanish language was something special and something to be proud of, not something to be embarrassed by.
  2. Question
    What caused the speaker to feel humiliated? How would she "lessen the humiliation"?
    She was embarrassed by her grandmother's colorful clothing and her mother's poor English. To lessen the humiliation, she would make fun of her mother herself, so it didn't hurt as bad when others made fun of her.
  3. Question
    What is the effect of intertwining Spanish with the English in this piece?
    It emphasizes the layered identity of the speaker. She is able to switch back and forth effortlessly, because she thinks/feels/exists in both of these realms effortlessly. It's who she is.
  4. Question
    Reread from "Our stories cannot be checked into boxes" to the end of the piece. Does the speaker's history and cultural identity persist?
    It persists through food, dance, music, clothing and physical features such as hair.
Reveal Answers
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