Bilingual/Bilinguë

Author

Espaillat, Rhina

Genre

Article/Essay

Overview

Rhina Espaillat was born in the Dominican Republic in 1932, but her family was exiled in 1939 by the dictatorship there and emigrated to the United States. "Bilingual/Bilingüe" explores her experience growing up speaking both Spanish and English. Her father, she says, wanted her to speak English outside the house and Spanish inside, but she, wanting badly to comprehend the world in both tongues, stubbornly opposed that separation. The poem centers on themes of identity and association. How does language itself define our world view? To what extent does being bilingual really makes us bi-cultural?

Full Text*

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Type

Reading

Themes

Diversity and DifferenceIdentity and CommunityRace, Ethnicity and CultureRoles and BoundariesSpeech and Expression

Big Questions

Is it important to set boundaries? Why?How does language define our worldview?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What does the narrator's father like to be separate, and why?
  2. Why does the narrator's father set the rule about English outside and Spanish inside?
  3. What does the narrator mean, “And still the heart was one”?
  4. How does the narrator feel about her father?
  5. How does the narrator's father feel about the narrator?
  6. At the end of the poem, the daughter says that her father lived “half in fear of words he loved but wanted not to hear.” What is he afraid of? Why does he love them?
  7. How would you describe the speaker's relation to language?
  8. What has the narrator learned—about her father, her language, her life?
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