Latino Americans Blog
Because the Dream Knows More than You: Chronicles from a Bilingual Citizen of the Hemispheric Americas
August 30, 2013 11:48 AM by Jose Torres-Tama
Dedicatoria al inmigrante/Ode to the immigrant
I often feel like a man without a country. While I have lived in my adopted home of the United States since the age of seven, I am continuously reminded that I am the “alien other”, that I am an invited and tolerated guest with a questionable right to claim this soil as my own. In addition, I have chosen not to give up my original birth language of Spanish and have adopted a hyphenated identity as a Latino-American.
I have willingly and politically chosen to strike a balance between the two distinct worlds which inform my personal perspectives, and which I navigate in a bilingual reality not uncommon to many of my Latino hermanos y hermanas, brothers and sisters, and all other immigrants who find themselves in similar dualities in a country that professes equality, but still indiscriminately practices the distribution of its ideals.
I open with a spoken word performance poem because I hope it effectively illustrates the form that I have gravitated to in an effort to transform my social and aesthetic concerns into art, and to comment on the “American Dream” mythology, which is the thematic core of all my work.
This performance poem is a bilingual work, but sometimes I offer no direct translation. Then, it is best to surrender to the unknown sounds of another language, like the immigrants who surrender to their goals of crossing to the other side, of making the leap into the void for an elusive dream that may become a nightmare.
I invite you to become a conceptual tourist in my loaded performance landscape the same way I accepted the challenges of an epic migration, a new language, and a new country when I crossed into the unknown as a child.
I arrived in the United States at the age of seven with my mother. She was brave enough to make the leap from Ecuador, South America to New York City with a suitcase full of hope, her only child, and few English words to negotiate our passage to the cold gringolandia of El Norte.
It was September 1968 when we first made our legal entry through the Port of Miami, and as we were held for customs inspection at the airport, we were transformed at the altar of the First World because sacrifices had to be made in order to enter the kingdom.
El primer choque cultural fue cuando me cortaron mi nombre natural de nacimiento, mis dos apellidos de mis raíces Latina y Ecuatoriana.
The first cultural car crash and new reality jolt came when my two last names, which are part of my Latino familial identity, were severed from each other because of a rather incomprehensible appetite for abbreviation in this Anglican world dominated with monosyllabic name combinations such as John Smith, Bill King, and Tom Jones.
My full and more melodic birth name of José Eduardo Torres-Tama was reduced to José Torres, and for that there was no solution at the time.
I witnessed the indifferent scalping of my heritage, and the butchering of a metaphoric umbilical chord connecting me to the ghosts of all my dead relatives. My ties to South America were abruptly and unexpectedly cut by the pen of U.S. border officials, and without much warning, this dream quest began with a name change, simplifying my new official ID into a combination as common as Joe Brown. In traditional Latin culture, it is our two last names that help to distinguish our family ties and archive our ancestry. It would take me another eleven years to begin undoing that unnecessary act perpetrated by those customs officers in Miami, and a lifetime of creative endeavors to challenge the dominant cultural matrix with its own language for the imperial posture it chooses, as it marginalizes all others outside of its Eurocentric and Anglican paradigms.
On that day as I passed the Miami U.S. customs inspection, I emerged another immigrant child along the yellow brick road with only mi madre querida to offer the necessary love and protection to combat the many racial confrontations that were just beginning.
My mother was witness to the slashing of our names, but like many immigrants who arrive on these shores, she did not have much of a vocabulary to protest these actions. Perhaps, it was best to accept this dramatic imposition upon our identities for entry into the land of opportunity.
Having been born in South America and raised in North America, I consider myself a genuine bilingual citizen of the Hemispheric Americas.
José Torres-Tama is an NEA award recipient and a Louisiana Theater Fellow. As a writer, performance, and visual artist, he explores the American Dream mythology, the Latino immigrant experience, and New Orleans Creole culture. Since 1995, he has toured his genre-bending solos nationally and internationally. In the academy, Duke, Cornell, Vanderbilt, Tulane, the University of Maryland, and others have presented his shows and lectures on art for social change. Commissioned by the National Performance Network, Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers is his latest touring solo that chronicles the current U.S. persecution of Latino immigrants. In the fall of 2013, Lavender Ink in New Orleans will publish his first collection of verse titled Immigrant Dreams & Alien Nightmares: Bilingual Poems for Open Wounds. He teaches visual arts through the Ogden Museum in New Orleans, and his national Youth Performance Projects empower marginalized African American and Latino teens through experimental theater. www.torrestama.com