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Breaking the earth: A new perspective on the English language

By Caroline Gordon

Arts & Ideas and the Center for Inclusive Excellence hosted Pulitzer prize winner, Quiara Hudes, who presented her memoir, “My Broken Language,” via Zoom April 26.

Hudes won the Pulitzer Prize for her play, “Water by the Spoonful.” She is a screenwriter for the soon-to-be-released animated musical “Vivo” and wrote the book, “In the Heights” on which the Broadway musical of the same title is based. The music was written by Tony award-winning artist Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Additionally, she is the author of essays, “High Tide of Heartbreak,” featured in American Theater Magazine and “Cory Couldn’t Take it Anymore,” featured in the magazine, The Cut.

Aside from her writing career, Hudes is an entrepreneur. She and her cousin created Emancipated Stories, a program where incarcerated people can share their stories. Hudes and her sister, Gabriela Sanchez, created the Latinx Casting Manifesto, a public speaking group, which offers conversations about wellness and womanhood.

She began by touching upon her writing journey, noting she started writing professionally in 2004.

“It’s [‘My Broken Language’] my journey with my earliest memories as to why I decided to be a storyteller and how those stories get digested through my spirit and body,” she said.

Hudes discussed how “My Broken Language” details her and her mother’s Zrst languages – Hudes is English, her mother’s is Spanish.

She explained her name, Quiara, as the “made up conjugation” of the Spanish verb, Querer, meaning to love. Hudes said her mother named her Quiara to mean “beloved.”

Hudes said she has experienced issues with language during her life as people pronounce her name incorrectly.

She discussed an earlier chapter in “My Broken Language,” which is about her moving from a diverse block in Philadelphia to a predominantly white suburb at 5 years old.

Hudes explained she had never been in a mainly white environment before and that her name caused confusion.

She described how in her kindergarten class, she was taunted for her middle name, Alegria, because it sounded like the African country, Algeria.

“They said this really tauntingly and meanly, implying that if it were an African country, that was something to be quite ashamed of. I said, ‘No, it’s a Spanish word that means happiness,’” Hudes said.

She said her mother came into her kindergarten classroom with a cake for her birthday.

Hudes described how her mother’s skin color varies from hers as her mother is darker.

She said the differing skin tones amongst family members was normal to her as lots of kids in her family look differently than their parents. However, kids in her kindergarten class were unfamiliar with families who did not all share the same skin color.

Hudes touched upon “a language moment” she had with her mom.

Hudes said when she was a young girl, prank callers would call her house and say her mother is a whore. Her mother usually worked at night, so she missed the calls. However, one night her mother was home and answered the phone.

She described how her mother became eager to pick up the phone – she thanked the kids who called her a whore.

Hudes said her mother explained whore meant hoe, which is a gardening tool. Her mother then described what a hoe is used for.

“You break the earth. You break the tired soil so that it can be reborn and you plant new seeds in it. They think they are insulting me, but if someone calls you a hoe, what they don’t know, they are saying you are going to plant seeds for the next generation. You are rejuvenating the earth!” she said.

“My mom taught me to hear the English language in a new and different way,” Hudes said.


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