“Translation for Mamá” by Richard Blanco
Richard Blanco, the poet chosen to compose and deliver a poem at Barack Obama’s second inauguration, often writes about his own complex identity. “Translation for Mamá” is a poem he wrote for his mother, who came to the United States from Cuba to create a new life for herself and her family. Using both English and Spanish language translation, Blanco honors the bridge between his mother’s new identity and the losses she faced in emigration.
“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.
This lesson plan provides a sequence of activities that you can use with your students before, during, and after reading “Translation for Mamá.” Use the whole sequence, or any of the activities, to help your diverse learners enter, experience, and explore the meaning of the poem. Feel free to adjust each activity to meet the needs of your particular students. This lesson can be adapted for secondary students in grades 6–12.
This lesson is an adaptation of an original lesson by the Academy of American Poet’s Educator in Residence, Madeleine Fuchs Holzer.
What do we lose and gain when we move?
How are we connected to the past?
Students will identify vivid language in a poem that shows 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 a lens through which we can reconcile complex personal identities.