Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies, Vol 4 (2013)

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Teaching Race and Space Through Asian American and Latino Performance Poetry: I Was Born with Two Tongues’ Broken Speak and Sonido Ink(quieto)’s Chicano, Illnoize

Jane Hseu


I Was Born with Two Tongues and Sonido (Ink)quieto, two Chicago-based spoken word and musical groups, both released CDs around the turn of the millennium: Two Tongues’ Broken Speak in 1999 and Sonido’s Chicano, Illnoize in 2001.  Both CDs centrally wrestle with issues of racial and ethnic identity:  the title of the CD, Chicano, Illnoize, indicates the pronounced effort to map a Chicano identity onto Chicago, and Two Tongues’ title Broken Speak expresses the four main poets’ struggle with hyphenated Asian American identities.  Yet these two groups, who share much in common from their roots in the Chicago slam and performance poetry scenes to their focus on ethnoracial identities, demonstrate dramatic divergences in their work.  While Chicano, Illnoize remains rooted in, celebrates, and derives sustenance from the heart of Chicago’s Chicano/a community in Pilsen, Little Village, and the south side, Broken Speak’s emphasis on the US nation’s rending of hyphenated Asian American identities and racialized bodies expresses the fragmentation and invisibility of Chicago’s Asian American communities.  Both groups also borrow from African American aesthetics in their musical mixes of jazz and hip hop and their use of rap and spoken word as inflected by African American oral traditions.  The heterogeneous musical and poetic forms of the two CDs allow us to trace the construction and representation of resistant Chicano/a and Asian American identities in a city historically defined by black/white binaries of race.  

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