My Name Is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River

A collection of 27 insightful poems that illuminates the migrant experience from the point of view of a grade school child from Mexico. Jorge doesn’t want to be called George. He thinks the name sounds strange. “What an ugly sound!/Like a sneeze!” His struggles to fit in result in a friendship with a boy named Tim; a tentative coming to terms with American society; and some degree of sadness when, upon his grandmother’s death, his family must cross the river again.

This book has been included in WOW’s Language and Learning: Children’s and Young Adult Fiction Booklist. For our current list, visit our Booklist page under Resources in the green navigation bar.

2 thoughts on “My Name Is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River

  1. Gail Pritchard says:

    I remember when I first got this book. I could hardly wait to share it with my children’s literature students. I was teaching at the University of Alabama at the time. I vividly remember one student asking, “Why in the world would we have this book in our classroom?” The very fact that she asked this question was all the reason we needed….

  2. Crawford & Freedman says:

    Kathleen: This is a book of twenty seven poems that tells the story of the difficult daily life of an immigrant boy from Mexico who illegally crosses the river with his family. The poems portray how Jorge handles a new language and cultural experiences in a biased English dominate society.
    Lauren: What makes this book so significant is that each poem is written in both Spanish and English in the first person voice of Jorge. It wouldn’t be as powerful if it were only in English, with a sprinkling of Spanish vocabulary. Issues of dialect and diversity are two of the major themes running through the poems.
    Kathleen: What I saw as the major theme throughout is the notion of how does understanding occur when there is a second language? Multilingualism and globalization of languages bring to forefront issues of language and cultural preservation. The poems in this book exemplify that we need to honor these languages, and promote more than one language in everyday life.
    Lauren: Not only that, but the critical importance of cultural preservation is inherent in Jorge’s narrative. It is not the job of teachers to teach to the norm or expect all learners to become the norm (i.e., white, middleclass, able-bodied, standard English speaking, heterosexual, Christian, male). A poem that clearly illustrates this point is La tarjeta de la biblioteca/The Library Card. The librarian’s expectation that Jorge’s Mama cannot sign her name is what makes Jorge say, “Vamonos, Mama, No Quiero esto libros.” (“Vamonos, Mama. I don’t want these books.”) Even though when they entered the library, he had remembered his teacher’s words that “…con una tarjeta de la biblioteca se puede usar los libros de gratis.” (“…with a library card you can use them for free.”)
    He was excited, “Libros gratis, Paraditos, Derechitos, Quienquiera puede abrirlos, Y pasear alli, por sus corredores de suenos.” (“Free books, Standing still, Straight and tall, So anybody can grab them, Anybody can open them and wander inside, Their hall of dreams.”) The librarian crushed his access to these”dreams.”

    Kathleen: It’s hard to see a different perspective on your view of that poem, Lauren, When you don’t know the language well, and you are communicating with people of that language, you have to think carefully about the “the offensive language and habits.” The librarian in that poem did not think of his offensive ways. As teachers, we need to be careful of what we are conveying to the 2nd language learner, but more importantly how they may interpret it.
    Lauren: Teachers, administrators, other school personnel, and community members should ask for assistance when their language is offensive by saying something like: “Please tell me when I’ve said something offensive. I know you’re doing your best, but if I step on your toes, you need to let me know.” In the poem T-Shirt, Jorge tries to help his teacher understand.


      George, por favor, llamame “Mrs. Roberts.”
      George, please call me “Mrs. Roberts.”
      Si, Teacher
      Yes, Teacher
      George, Por fav or, no me llames, “teacher.”
      George, Please don’t call me “teacher.”
      Si, T__, Digo, Mrs. Roberts
      Yes, T__, I mean, Mrs. Roberts
      Entiendes, George, Llamarme por, Mi apellido, Indica respeto.
      You see, George, it’s a sign of respect to call me by my last name.
      Si….Mrs. Roberts.
      Yes,….Mrs. Roberts.
      Ademas, Cuando lo dices tu, Suena a “t-shirt.” No quiero Convertirme en Una playera!
      Besides, when you say it, It sounds like “t-shirt.” I don’t want to turn into a t-shirt!
      Mrs. Roberts?
      Mrs. Roberts?
      Si, George.
      Yes, George?

      Por favor, llameme Jorge.
      Please, call me Jorge.

    In the teacher’s defense, she does begin to learn a bit as the book goes on.

    Kathleen: It’s interesting that the people, who offended Jorge by cultural and linguistic ignorance toward him, might be in need of cultural awareness. For example, the teacher could create a curriculum that privileged the non-dominant language so that each group would experience the notion of privilege. If that occurs, Jorge wouldn’t feel like his language was “Dirty Words” (p. 20):

      Groserías (Dirty Words)

      Quisiera que mi lenguaje
      No sonora a gorcerías en inglés.
      Los adultos
      Se enojan
      Cuando hablo español.
      Y los niños
      se ríen

      Dirty Words
      I wish my language didn’t
      Sound like dirty English words
      The grown-ups
      when I speak Spanish,
      and the kids

    Lauren: Every time I use one of these poems in my teaching, I make sure I practice reading them aloud so I don’t cry. It’s saddens me and makes me angry to see what Jorge deals with in his everyday life especially at school. The one bright spot is Jorge’s developing relationship with Tim. The poems, Buenos dias/Good Morning; Tim/Tim; Lapelota de beisbol/The baseball, all speak to the possibility of friendship across cultural lines.
    Kathleen: The poems are presented as one lives life, aspects of Jorge’s life are dispersed throughout so you don’t read all of the “school poems” together and so forth. There are even poems that demonstrate that Jorge and his friends Chucho and Miguelito can be as thoughtlessly cruel as their American counterparts. An example is “Marcelina, la fea/Ugly Marcelina” in which he tells of a time he and his friends taunted a girl in their class.
    Lauren: The poems about his family are poignant from several perspectives, but the irony in Los hombres no lloran/Men Don’t Cry is doubly so as it foreshadows Jorge’s return to Mexico.

      Los hombres no lloran (Men Don’t Cry)

      Era muy pequeno
      Cuando Papa me dijo,
      __Un hombre solamente llora
      cuanda se muere su mama.__
      I was real little
      when Papa told me,
      “The only time
      a man can cry
      is when his mother dies.”

      Entre por la puerta,
      Hoy, de regreso de la escuela.
      I walked in the door
      after school today.

      Mi papa hablaba por el telefono
      Papa was on the phone.
      susurro al telefono.
      Colgaba lentamente.
      He whispered to the phone.
      then he slowly hung up.

      Papa?__ dije.
      “Papa?” I said.
      El se soplo la nariz,
      Se limpio la cara,
      Y me miro.
      He blew his nose,
      He wiped his face,
      and he looked up at me.

      Sus ojos estaban rojos.
      His eyes were red.

    Kathleen: It is our hope that teachers, administrators, other school personnel, and community members will listen to Jorge’s story and promote the kind of cultural competence he is requesting and that we need to become the inclusive country we claim we are.

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