‘A migrant in my own life’: A playwright looks deep within.

In “My Broken Language,” Tony award-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes explores Latino identity in a raw, honest, and loving memoir. 

Penguin Random House
"My Broken Language" by Quiara Alegría Hudes, One World, 336 pp.

Far too often, there’s a stopping point for Latinos attempting to uncover family history. There are blank spots and questions not easily answered, spaces filled with wounds and lost stories. Quiara Alegría Hudes embarks on a pilgrimage to discover more about her family’s roots in her memoir, “My Broken Language.”

Hudes rose to prominence as the book writer for the Tony-winning musical “In the Heights” and won a Pulitzer Prize for her play “Water by the Spoonful.” Her writing in these two shows highlights her precision, clarity, and candor. That same energy is found in “My Broken Language,” a raw and eloquent memoir that follows Hudes’ childhood in Philadelphia to her adulthood as an undergraduate at Yale and later to Brown University where she took playwriting workshops under the guidance of award-winning playwright Paula Vogel. Throughout, she describes making her way through life lessons communicated in English, Spanish, and Spanglish. “My Broken Language” is at once nuanced, loving, empowering, and melancholic. 

The memoir opens with Hudes’ family – her mother is from Puerto Rico and her father’s background is Jewish – moving out of their multilingual West Philadelphia neighborhood to largely white, suburban Malvern, Pennsylvania. It was Hudes’ first realization that not all neighborhoods had residents who spoke multiple languages. 

Once she arrives in Malvern, the children in school taunt her. “What are you?” they want to know. “‘I’m half English, half Spanish,’ I ventured, as if made not of flesh and blood but language,” Hudes writes. From an early age, Hudes grasps the ways that language reflects, distorts, and makes demands. The only Spanish she hears is spoken by her mother, never in her father’s presence, during forays to the hilltop near their home where her mother tells her about the spirit world. Despite the dislocation Hudes feels from being separated from Philly friends and her extended family, she is exhilarated by the chance to bond with her mother. 

Readers feel the tension of Hudes’ adolescent and college years as she’s trying to figure out how to be; she doesn’t allow for easy binaries, nor does she attack who or what makes her question herself as she explores what it’s like to be a Latina girl, and later a Latina woman, in contemporary U.S. society.

For Hudes, language remains the main point of tension: “I was a migrant in my own life,” she writes. She feels inadequate on several fronts: She is neither Puerto Rican enough nor white enough and she doesn’t know enough about composer Stephen Sondheim. 

She also inherits the matrilineal teachings of Santería and the language attached to it, along with knotty, unresolved situations. At one point, she questions if her Spanish is strong enough to continue studying Santería. The ceremonies call out to the spiritual world and are seen as a decolonization effort by many people in the diaspora, Puerto Rican and otherwise. Hudes supplements the information she acquired at home by reading books like “Four New World Yoruba Rituals.” 

Hudes intentionally resists tying together her experiences into neat narrative bows. “My Broken Language” prompts rethinking of the representation narrative, who it is designed for and who it liberates – if anyone – which will undoubtedly create roadblocks for some readers. Even though we exist in an increasingly globalized landscape, we’re still consumed by feel-good narratives of cross-cultural exchange. The success of Latino artists like Hudes can be considered an antidote to political and social oppression, but it doesn’t mean the trauma is gone or that she has found all the answers. 

But there’s an undeniable catharsis in seeing such an excellent writer communicate what many Latinos struggle to express about language. It encourages a reevaluation of the relationship with language – no matter how fraught the inheritance. There is a brutal honesty that Hudes brings to Latina girls and women’s experiences, which is vital to understand as women strive to have their voices heard and believed. It’s the key to repairing the broken systems that have long defined the United States.


You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to ‘A migrant in my own life’: A playwright looks deep within.
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today