Namaste and buenas tardes! On November 18, in recognition of International Education Week, faculty members Pia Walawalkar and Rob Williams initiated Skyline College Library’s first ever Poetry Corner virtual session of non-English poetry by inviting all participants to greet one another in their “mother tongue.” What followed was an emotional experience for many as poets and readers courageously shared personal struggles, recollections, and dreams for the future through original, contemporary and historical poetry.

World Languages professor Luciana Castro began, expressing her sincere gratitude for the event, which “pretty much represents everything I’m about professionally and on a personal level as well.” First in Portuguese and then English, she read her mother Abigail Castro’s first prize winning poem “Magnet,” one that landed her on Brazilian radio in 1954 and launched her career as Brazil’s first female radio poet. Professor Castro recited the poem in her late mother’s memory.

Sociology professor Rika Yonemura Fabian read next, explaining that in Japan, because there is not a public culture of reading poetry aloud, this was an entirely new experience for her. She chose a poem by Japanese poet Murou Saisei about being away from home, reflecting her own experiences on being an immigrant not once, but twice. She explained the poem’s significance, that one may sing about their hometown with sadness, feeling marginalized between two countries.

Skyline College returning alumna Hilary Cruz Mejia next treated the audience to readings in Spanish and English of her recently published poem, “Virtual Hands of a Country that is not Heard,” in reference to her experiences growing up in a small fishing town in Guatemala, of her Mayan roots, her grandmother’s wisdom to her daughter to heal her childrens’ hearts with tea, and the often unspoken tragedies of her native country’s colonial past.

Next, Pia Walawalkar and professor Sujatha (Suji) Venkataraman co-read a poem in Tamil and English by celebrated poet Subramania Bharati called “Cats.” In this work of social criticism, Bharati denounces Brahmin discrimination against lower castes using the analogy of a litter of kittens: “Would it be right to say that one color is higher and another of lower stature? Difference in color does not mean difference in people when thoughts and actions are similar.”

Skyline College student Manisha read an original free verse poem in Fiji-Hindi, “What will people say?” about her own struggles as a young woman experiencing a game of tug-of-war between her American and Indian-Fijian identities.

San Mateo County’s own poet laureate Aileen Cassinetto followed, reading a love poem by her friend, the anthropologist Albert Alejo that she had translated from Tagalog to English.

Readings continued by Professor Emilie Hein and her bright young sons Tristan and Elliot in both French and English. In honor of veteran’s day read, they read the poem “Freedom” by “poet of freedom” Paul Éluard whose poems were dropped from parachutes on occupied France during the Resistance of World War 2.

They were followed by inspired readings by Professor Susanne Schubert, students Michael France Sagum and Oliver Tinoco, and others.

Throughout the hour and a quarter, the virtual audience listened carefully and supported one another with chat messages and emojis. With this multilingual event, it felt as if a new tradition was born! We look forward to having everyone back for Poetry Corner in Spring 2022.

Article by Jessica Silver-Sharp

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