A Bilingual Poem for #WriteMyCommunity

When I was eight, I remember staring out the car window and thinking about the disconnect between my world and the world of my Spanish-speaking neighbors who lived only a freeway exit away. No one in my family spoke Spanish, but I wanted to.  In California, Spanish is the song of street signs and city names.  It’s the voice of a history I wanted to hear, and neighbors I wanted to understand.

This was the beginning of what has become my life-long commitment to crossing borders of expectation and history, and the core of my work ensuring ELL students excel in schools. At the root of what drives me is humble curiosity, and the belief that stepping beyond our comfort zones is essential for creating a better world.

In honor of the National Day on Writing, I’m posting a poem on this year’s theme: community. I wrote this in my second language, Spanish, then translated it into English. It was first published on Sonoma County Transit Buses as part of a bilingual “Poetry on the Bus” campaign.


Por Tonya Ward Singer

Viajamos solos en un autobús atestado
guardando el silencio de la piel que nos divide,
lado a lado evitando la conexión visual.

Por los colores borrosos de la ventana,
busco el valor de expresarme en su idioma
y cruzar la frontera de nuestra historia y expectación.

Entre los árboles islados las raíces se entrelazan
nutriendo lo que no podemos ver.
Blancos. Latinos. Negros. Asianos. Somos inmigrantes todos
atravesando los límites para una California mejor.


On a crowded bus, we travel alone
guarding the silence of our separate skin
side-by-side avoiding each others’ eyes.

In the blurred window colors,
I seek courage to speak your language
to cross the borders of expectation and history.

Between isolated trees, roots entwine
nourishing what we don’t look to see.
Caucasians. Latinos. Blacks. Asians. We are all immigrants
crossing boundaries to make California home.

* * * *

What connections do you want to build in your community?

How will you begin?

Photo Credit: City of Sausalito by Jorge from Brazil (2013) (CC-BY 2.0)

I am a keynote speaker, author and educational leader helping educators teach and lead for equitable schools. My books include EL Excellence Every Day, Breaking Down the Wall & Opening Doors to Equity. I'm a descendant of colonizers and enslavers deeply committed to transforming my family legacy for healing.


  • Cathy Townsley

    October 21, 2014, 8:04 am

    Thanks for sharing your poem and for letting us all know more about the roots of your passion for English Learners. Your poem is really profound for an 8 year old expressed in crisp and vivid language.

    • Tonya Singer

      November 12, 2014, 10:06 am

      Thank you, Cathy. I’m learning as much by looking forward, and by reflecting back into my experience as a child. May we inspire kids to find what they are most passionate about, and empower them with the literacy, courage and confidence to pursue it!

  • Catherine Paine

    October 16, 2015, 7:29 am

    Tonya- I hope you don’t mind me using your poem in my ESL-computer class. ( Just wish I had it in several languages) although most of my students speak Spanish as a first Language.- Fun and always interesting to see what you are up too!
    Happy Friday

    • Tonya Singer

      October 19, 2015, 9:20 am

      You and all readers are welcome to use my poem for instruction with students. I also have a bilingual spoken word poem in Mandarin that may be relevant to your students’ experiences. http://tonyasinger.com/outsider-a-call-for-connection/ Enjoy!

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