Immigration, Poetry, and Identities Intertwined: “En La Frontera”

On Thursday, November 21, President Obama addressed the nation and confronted congress with his initiative to reform immigration through executive order. Though the announcement sparked a wildfire of debate through Congress, Mr. Obama’s speech forced everyone to face an undeniable truth: immigrants are inextricably intertwined with American life. “Most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard often in tough, low paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of the kids are American born or spent most of their lives here. And their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours” (read the full speech here).

Orfa Torres Fermín, senior English Major, addresses the skewed perception of this mixture of identities in her poem, “En La Frontera.” Find the mixed language poem below, followed by an insightful explication and exploration of “code-switching.”

En La Frontera

Orfa Torres Fermín

Your love feels like an autumn’s night—
Crispy, chilly, insensitive, and dark.
Your touch feels like ceniza en mi garganta—
Your kisses are secos y tu aliento muerto.

Tu amor feels like a walk along the cemetery—
Whose steeply and mellow roads are anything but merry.
Your love feels like un trago de ácido—
Tus caricias, como una punalada en el seno.

More than an artistic choice, the use of Spanish and English in combination is a conscious and political decision that encourages the legitimacy of the Spanish language. Through language, Latina writers achieve a sense of identity and communicate with—or for—their culture. Using Spanish text in an English-only text is a political statement and a critique against the United States’ acknowledged linguistics since it serves to legitimize the practice of mixing codes in vernacular discourse. The fact that the United States is a country with a prevalent presence of Latino communities, Latino immigrants, and a border (US/Mexico border), means that the use of Spanglish, academically recognized as Code-switching, in literature, is not a metaphorical method but rather a representation of realities in which segments of populations live in a liminal state, not only between languages, but also between cultures. The use of bilingualism helps actualize the ongoing discourse of the border and bicultural communities.

-Orfa Torres Fermín


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