Richard Blanco, the poet chosen to compose and deliver a poem at Barack Obama’s second inauguration, often writes about his complex identity. “Translation for Mamá” is a poem for his mother, who came to the United States from Cuba to create a new life for herself and her family. In both English and Spanish translation, Blanco honors the bridge between his mother’s new identity and the losses she faced.
“Translation for Mamá” is not only a bridge between two lives; it is also a bridge between two languages. Students whose native language is Spanish and who are English language learners will be able to experience the languages together in one poem. Students whose native language is not Spanish, but is other than English, will experience a model for writing from their own complex identities in two languages.
The following sequence of activities is designed to level the playing field among diverse learners by including multiple ways to enter, experience, and explore the meaning of the poem. Feel free to adjust them to meet the particular learning styles and needs of your students.
A Note About Vocabulary
Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board of the words they read and hear, but do not understand. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson about these words during which students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections, or review the vocabulary as you progress through the other activities.
- Students will identify vivid language in a poem that show how the author feels.
- Students will compare the experience of reading a poem on a page to hearing and seeing a poet read a poem on video.
- Students will distinguish between what a poem is telling us literally and figuratively.
- Students will explore poetry as lens through which we can reconcile complex personal identities.