Thursday, 6 February 2020

Laura Purdie Salas is hosting Poetry Friday this week! You’ll find links to poetry posts from around the world at Writing the World for Kids.

This week, I’d like to thank Margarita Engle for her activism and advocacy during her term as Young People’s Poets Laureate and beyond.

I recently read her sweeping history of Latin Americans in what is now the United States, Dreams from Many Rivers: A Hispanic History of the United States Told in Poems. I shared the ARC with my #BookExpedition group.



Dreams from Many Rivers reminds me of Silver People, Margarita’s verse history about the building of the Panama Canal — one of my favorite books by her. Like that novel, Margarita’s new book is narrated in poems by a series of voices, some historical, some invented. But Dreams from Many Rivers is larger and more powerful in scope, covering several hundred years. Margarita turns a poet’s eye on genocide, discrimination, and assimilation, while also giving voice to heroes and pioneers of Hispanic culture.

Thanks to Margarita for giving me permission to share this poem from the book today.

Isabel González
New Jersey, 1935

After the court case
that denied my citizenship
back at the turn of the century,
I decided to fight for the rights
of puertorriqueños
with heartfelt letters
to the New York Times,
writing over and over,
always defending justice,
with words as my only weapons.
Now, when I open the newspaper to read
my own protests, I see shocking articles
about events in California, where children
born American are being deported to Mexico.
What does it take to be fully accepted?
We know the truth — we belong here.
We’re citizens.

By Margarita Engle
Shared with permission of the author.

This poem speaks to me on many levels. It echoes my profound disappointment in the policies of our country’s current leadership. It mirrors conversations and experiences I’ve had as co-author of a book about two families going through the citizenship process (A Place at the Table). And it reminds me to believe in the power of words — of poetry — to make a difference, to change people’s minds and hearts.

Thank you, Margarita.

Read more about civil rights activist Isabel González at History Comes Alive.

Margarita and I talked about Silver People at my old blog, Author Amok. You can read that post here.

19 responses to “Poetry Friday: Words of Protest”

  1. Thanks for posting about this. I loved this book and the idea of history told in poems. Her poems are uncluttered, so clear, and really sing.

  2. Oh, must add this to my to-read list. And thank your for your post, too, not just the poem. “And it reminds me to believe in the power of words — of poetry — to make a difference, to change people’s minds and hearts.” Yes, yes, yes.

  3. Appreciations for sharing this voice from Isabel Gonzalez via the phenomenal Margarita Engle, dear Laura.

    Her history belongs everyhere, but especially across every county of Florida, where, after the indegenous languages were kicked down the path, Spanish was the first European language. Whenever there are huffs and puffs about bi-lingualism (English/Spanish) available in public buildings here, a good citizen always reminds the politics that islands Spanish, or Castilian Spanish or other Spanish was spoken in Florida (La Florida, a Spanish term) before that hard-crunching ingles. I look forward to reading more of these poems.

  4. Linda Baie says:

    I loved Silver People, and have Dreams from Many Rivers, still not read. My bookstack is rather big! But I’m sure I’ll get to it, love the poems & the learning from Margarita! Thanks for this part, Laura. I’m looking forward to your new book, too!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Linda. I loved the way history stretches out across the book. Reading it, you can feel the way one action or decision ripples out into the future.

  5. Kay Jernigan McGriff says:

    Thank you for sharing the poem and the book from Margarita Engle. This is one I want.

  6. Ruth says:

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s so sad that these battles keep having to be fought!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks for reading, Ruth. This poem in particular felt as if it could have been written about what’s going on in our country right now.

  7. I have read many of Margarita’s novels, though not this one… yet. (Seems I need to remedy that!) Her writing sings with truth, beauty and honesty.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I hesitate to call this one a novel, as the timeline is so broad — more like a history in poetic voices. It is beautiful.

  8. Kathryn Apel says:

    I loved ‘Silver People’. UQP published it in Australia – so maybe they’ll pick up this one, too. Poetry is such a powerful voice and so is Margarita. Thank-you for sharing this. xx

  9. A timely and important book–I hope it will make it onto many school book lists–I’m big fan of Margarita Engle’s books, and her voice. Thanks for sharing this with us Laura! xo

  10. Linda Mitchell says:

    A wonderful poem…a foundation poem. I share so many disappointments with what’s going on. I just finished Michelle Obama’s audiobook of Becoming. She encourages us to continue in dignity. Gosh, it’s tough. I look forward to getting my hands on this book. I have a whole crew of verse novel lovers at my school. And, I loved Bravo as a mentor text for my own writing. Someday, I just want to hang out with Margarita!

  11. So many people highlighting so many voices, all saying the same thing: We ALL belong here on this earth, we ALL arrive with inherent worth and deserve dignity, we ALL crave compassion and justice. Why do we fear to hear each other?

  12. I just finished reading this one–lots of lovely poems in it. Have you read Ink Knows No Borders? It’s the perfect book to read after Dreams from Many Rivers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

Learn More