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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

‘Jumping between languages’: Common Read depicts navigating different cultures, changing careers


Rocio del Aguila said she thought the depiction of adapting to different languages and cultures in Quiara Alegría Hudes’ memoir, “My Broken Language,” will resonate with incoming Latino students.

“I think our students have to learn how to speak to our professors and how to speak to a new crowd,” del Aguila, chair and associate professor of Spanish, said. “For me reading this, I love it because I was jumping between languages, and that’s what I do every day of my life … You don’t only code-switch language; you code-switch other cultural items as well.”

Faculty and staff gathered to discuss Hudes’ “My Broken Language” on Thursday, which was Wichita State’s Common Read selection this year. The book is often featured in first-year seminars, and the program intends to “spark conversation between students across majors” and provide meaningful connections with the book’s topics outside the classroom. 

In “My Broken Language,” Hudes discusses navigating her identity as the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and Jewish father and finding her voice. The Philadelphia native later wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Water by the Spoonful” and the script for the musical “In the Heights.”

Rebecca Martins, homeland security program coordinator, said Hudes’s “brokenness” of language comes from Hudes experiencing different cultures, communication styles, and division between her divorced parents and their families, with Hudes trying to adapt to her father’s new life “in the white world.”

“That’s the super brokenness between (Hudes’) life. (It’s) figuring out, ‘Where do I belong, because I don’t really belong in either one,’” Martins said. “She’s communicating through different languages, be it cooking, be it dancing or some type of religious service.”

Del Aguila said that Hudes’ portrayal of communication also extends to expressive body language, which she views as part of Latino culture.

“Because we don’t talk — my body talks first,” del Aguila said. “I really liked how (Hudes) talks about sensory things: your body, your dancing, your smells. 

“All these (details) that brings these traditions, these memories,” she said. “The language of the mother is not the language of the father…. It’s broken in so many (areas) because that’s what we do with our lives. We broke ourselves not only in language but in cultures.”

“My Broken Language” also features Santería, Hubes’s mother’s religious practices, which sometimes include animals in sacrificial rituals. Del Aguila said that in Latin America, different traditions are often blended with Catholicism.

Sirana Jamkartanian, a French and Arabic lecturer at WSU, said she thought discussions of the memoir’s religious themes would promote greater tolerance among students.

“Not everybody is us,” Jamkartanian said. “There are other gods; there are other religions; there are other cultures that we should tolerate as we are asking others to tolerate us.”

Hudes studied music composition at Yale. Carolyn Shaw, professor of political science at WSU, said that unlike some of her classmates, Hubes worked hard to pay for her education — an experience Shaw believes Wichita State students will relate to.

After studying at Yale, Hudes attended graduate school at Brown University for playwriting. Less familiar with plays than her peers, she asked a mentor for help, receiving a reading list of plays.

“I hope that when students reach that point, ‘I’m in over my head,’ that they can see that somebody else has had that same thing,” Shaw said.

Angela Paul, outreach librarian and part of the Common Read selection committee, said Hubes’ memoir was chosen for featuring many topics, like fine arts and health, but Hudes’ change of careers from music to playwriting specifically stood out to her.

“I liked that (Hudes) had a change of heart … she didn’t snap fingers and quit music,” Paul said. “She just kind of changed how she approached music.”

Shaw said that Hudes’ memoir also touches on her family’s struggles with AIDS, which was left “unspoken” until she met others with similar experiences.

“There’s that sense of ‘I’m isolated; I’m finding my people,’” Shaw said. “We all have these things where we think we’re in this all by ourselves, but we realize that other people are struggling.”

The annual Academic Convocation, which combines the Common Read program with other “engagement opportunities,” takes place at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 28 at the Wilner Auditorium. According to Paul, Hubes will be present.

For more information on “My Broken Language,” Paul has curated a guide on the university libraries’ website.

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About the Contributors
Courtney Brown
Courtney Brown, News Editor
Courtney Brown is one of the news editors for The Sunflower. She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. Brown uses she/her pronouns.
Nithin Reddy Nagapur
Nithin Reddy Nagapur, Former photographer
Nithin Reddy Nagapur was a photographer for The Sunflower. Nagapur graduated in Fall 2023.

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