Oscar Mireles

Lost And Found Language - Poem by Oscar Mireles

It started in 1949, when my oldest brother
came home from school
in Racine, Wisconsin
after flunking kindergarten
because he 'spoke no English'
and declared to my parents
that 'the rest of the kids have to learn to speak English
if we planned on staying here in the United States.'

so my parents lined up
the rest of the seven younger children
had us straighten up
tilt our heads back
reached in our mouth with their hands
and took turns
slicing our tongues in half

making a simple, but unspoken contract
that from then on
the parents would speak Spanish
and the children would respond
back only in English

how do you lose a native language?
does it get misplaced
in the recesses of your brain?
or does it never quite stick to the sides
of your mind?

for me it would always start
with the question
from a brown faced stranger
'hables espanol? '
which means
'do you speak Spanish? '

which meant
if they had to ask me
if I spoke Spanish
this was not going to be a good start for
at having a conversation...

my face would start to get flushed
with redness and before
I had a chance to stammer
the words
'I don't'

I could see it in their eyes
looking at my embarrassed face
searching for an answer
that they already knew

as I walked away
I know they were thinking
'Who is this guy? '
'How can he not speak his mother's tongue? '
'Where did he grow up anyways? '
'Doesn't he have any pride
in knowing who he is? '
or 'Where he came from? '

I tried to reply,
but as the words in Spanish
floated down from my brain
they caught in my teeth,
the rocks of shame.
I spoke in half-tongue.

my future wife
taught me how
to speak Spanish
by being Colombian
and not speaking English

and I had already known
the language of hands and love
which got me confident enough
to reach deep inside
to find the beautiful sounds and latin rhythms
that laid deep within me

and although
I still feel my heart jump a beat
when someone asks 'hables espanol? '
now the Spanish resonates within me
and echos back 'si, y usted tambien? '

and today as I talk with the Spanish speaking students
in our school
they can not only feel my words
they can feel my warm heart
splash ancient Spanish sounds off
my native tongue
that has finally grown whole again.

Comments about Lost And Found Language by Oscar Mireles

  • Patricia Grantham (6/10/2015 1:33:00 PM)

    One must learn their own language first before they
    go own to learn others. Nice.

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  • Patricia Grantham (6/10/2015 1:32:00 PM)

    A very nice narration of language in your own tongue.
    One must first learn their own before they proceed
    to be taught some others language. Nice.

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  • (7/2/2008 11:15:00 AM)

    O I loved reading this, i can relate to it well- one's 1st language is a gift, it's part of ones inner soul; .....Ole! ! ! (Report)Reply

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  • (12/29/2006 1:19:00 PM)

    I couldn't relate to this poem more. I stopped speaking spanish when I was a kid too, but it was my own choice that I soon regretted. I began speaking spanish again in middle shcool when I became best friends with my new neighbors from Mexico. I used this poem for one of my forensics peices, and the judges loved it.
    Rene Espinoza Kissell

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  • (5/17/2005 11:49:00 PM)

    Me gusto much, Oscar. I am thrilled when children who have English as a second language can be fluent in both languages. Teachers made so many mistakes long ago...and still do, but it is important to be fluent in the language used at school and then to feel good about speaking both languages. Your poem broke my heart.


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  • (5/17/2005 5:23:00 PM)

    lovely poem..my sons' kindergarten teachers tore strips off me for speaking english in the home..my darling italian husband told me to ignore them..kids can learn up to 5 languages as 'mother tongue' if they are exposed to them consistently..and of course now my 20 year old lads are completely bilingual and enjoy both brit and italian cultures (Report)Reply

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Read poems about / on: school, children, brother, future, pride, today, beautiful, lost, mother, home, child

Poem Submitted: Sunday, May 15, 2005

Poem Edited: Friday, September 8, 2006

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