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Isabella Ramirez, a finalist for the National Youth Poet Laureate, on her poem 'Mama'


To honor Poetry Month, we're hearing from the four finalists to become the 2022 National Youth Poet Laureate. Today, we meet the south regional ambassador.

ISABELLA RAMIREZ: My name is Isabella Ramirez. I am a queer Latinx poet from Lake Worth, Fla., but I'm currently studying at Columbia University in New York City.

ESTRIN: Ramirez found her love for poetry attending slam poetry competitions in South Florida.

RAMIREZ: It was really seeing other people perform that really inspired me the most to start my own journey as a poet. I think there's just nothing more powerful than youth poetry and youth voices. And really, it's just, like, us coming together and listening and having this really punchy, powerful moments together and snaps and hollers and whoops and, like, all of these emotions coming together.

ESTRIN: Her poem "Mama" pays homage to her mother for supporting her. It also shares how she supported her mother when she attended graduate school in her 40s.

RAMIREZ: (Reading) I'm sitting on my mama's bed, and she's on the brink of breaking down over her homework. I can see the glint of a blinking cursor and the tears glossing over her eyes as her hands search for words in a language all too foreign to her.

Being an immigrant and having English as your second language, you don't realize how difficult it is to be in the same spaces as your peers who speak English as a first language and be expected to do the same workload when your brain thinks and is bilingual. Your brain is thinking in two languages. So that's sort of where in my junior year I really became that support for my mother. And I saw her grow in such a tremendous way. And it felt like a paying back. I know I can never truly pay back my mother for the years that she has spent being there for me. But I think to some extent, I was able to do that for her.

(Reading) My mama's English gets told it's pretty good for being an immigrant, to which she replies, you've got some nerve for being a gringa because my mama wasn't a stay-at-home mom for 15 years to be told that her English still has cleaning to do.

Her Spanish, to me, is why I speak Spanish. It's why, you know, I'm able to celebrate my culture and even write in a way that is in both English and Spanish. So I think there, it's - I'm not just exploring her English. I'm exploring all of the language that we share together and she has imparted to me.

(Reading) My mama's English is the reason I can tell her in two ways that she is my everything, mi todo, because her love knows no language.

ESTRIN: Isabella Ramirez is a finalist for this year's National Youth Poet Laureate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Megan Lim
Justine Kenin