Our Broken Tongue

She had never felt such a cacophony of anger and hopelessness than when she heard her grandmother’s laugh. There are seven thousand and one hundred languages that live in this world and for every word she couldn’t spit out one that matched the etch in her tongue.

Steam rose from scattered dinner platters. From one end of the table to another, recipes were rolled out in italics and bold. She moved the food around on her plate, fork in hand, not able to stomach the stench.

They told her it was not her food to eat.

She was unable to remember when there wasn’t food on the table. She did not know how it tasted when the great-grandmother she couldn’t meet made it.

Separated by miles upon miles, the land across the land. She tried to call both “home.”

Her grandmother sat at the head of the table. Her uncle was across from her, her mother by her side. Unknown cousins, nieces, and nephews filled the seats in the middle.

They all shared a broken tongue.

There were translations between bites of hot food. Some silence between sentences and whispers for clarification. A joke could not be shared.

She wanted to think it wasn’t only her. Except it was.

The wind made its way through the open French doors, a certain mangled movement that picked up hair and awoke a dance from the curtains.

The ocean and its waves did move freely but, as everything is, stuck to its yearning for the moon. But what was so wrong with that? Shall we blame those who yearn? Yearning even when it is hurtful?

She heard her name spoken from down the table. It left her grandmother’s lips. She thought she heard wrong, she told herself she heard wrong, but there were side glances and muffled laughs. She couldn’t laugh with them because maybe the joke was about her. She couldn’t understand.

She tugged on her mother’s sleeve. Once. Twice. The third time she received a hard look. I just want to understand, she yearned.

Shall we blame those who yearn for something they cannot have?

She moved the food around her plate once more with her fork, and then she took a bite. It might have been the heat or spice but her tongue ached. The taste slid down her throat with itching and denial. Her tongue ached from the touch. And all she wanted was to bite her tongue, til it hurt more than any other feeling. Til it split into two.

She thought for a brief moment hands passed food before her eyes if she should scream. If she should take out a lung, present it on the silver platter, rip every vocal cord into thin strings until her breath gave no more and blood poured over the main course.

It would be the words only hopelessness wish it could forget, that she would scream. It would be the words, “I don’t understand.”

She wouldn’t mean the language and broken tongue. She didn’t understand when she was born. A generation too early, a generation too late. The sore spot for regret and hope. A desire to leave tradition but yearn for home. She existed in the brief moment of chance, a new attempt. A child that is not tied to one culture, family, blood, or tongue. But born to a family with memories, heavy shoulders, and hopes for future generations. She breaks tradition because she cannot uphold it.

And she cannot hear what you say.

It’s our broken tongue that makes for new opportunities. Signifies the beginning. But, and I must add, what if she wants tradition? What if she wants to taste your food and hear your stories without damaged translations and forgotten recipes for the sake of adaptation?

This is a mangled confession indeed, but shall we blame those who yearn for something they cannot have?



A first-generation American.

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