‘I was so ashamed’ to speak Spanish, poetry winner shares

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

RESERVE — Original poetry recitations, musical performances and cheers from a lively crowd of students were the hallmarks of East St. John High’s inaugural poetry slam, hosted Friday by the debate team.

The event marked the first time Carina Sequeira took to the stage to address a crowd through poetry.

Daniel Edwards performs an original called “Tick,” which is about dealing with procrastination and anxiety resulting from the passage of time.

Sequeira’s original piece about the trials of growing up Hispanic in America, “My Reality,” won over a panel of judges with its authenticity. By the end of the hour, her oratorical performance led to a $100 first place prize.

Sequeira was one of four competitors during the event, which also featured original poetry from Kerrell Sanders, Derrineka Smith and Adriene Elbert.

Smith received second place for her performance of “Unnoticed Girl,” and Sanders took home third with his poem “Defeated.”

The following debate team members took their own original performances to the stage but did not compete for the cash prize: Javohn Washington, JaCora Collins, Daniel Edwards, Derrionne Walker, Gonzalo Martinez and Myal Pettigrew.

Myal Pettigrew performs her poem, “Scares to the New Boyfriend.”

With poems speaking on anxiety, self-esteem and police brutality, a dance number by Destinee Mena and renditions of popular songs by Crysten Newhouse and band “Circle of Fists,” the variety of performances effectively captured the audience’s attention, according to debate team director Juanea Butler.

Butler said the debate team, reestablished at ESJH last year after remaining dormant for several years, typically does a spring showcase. This year, members chose to shake it up and let students express their creativity with a purpose.

“We wanted to do a poetry slam to bring poetry alive,” Butler said. “Even though it’s academic, we wanted to teach students how to bring out a performance using what they’re feeling or what they’re going through in life.”

Butler said debate, poetry or any other oratorical practice helps students become better communicators, which aids them in all avenues of life.

The event was successful, according to Butler, since it allowed students to practice their oratorical skills in a meaningful way and generated a lot of excitement.
Offering $100 for first place, $50 for second place and $25 for third place was another incentive, Butler said.

Judge Shalinda Austin said she was looking for memorization, whether the poem meant something to the performer and relevancy to contemporary social topics.

She was impressed by Sequeira’s performance, which addressed the immigration debate and the attitude toward diversity in society.

The poem reflected on hurtful stereotypes that led Sequeira to regard her heritage with shame and discount the contributions of her hardworking mother.

“I told my mom I didn’t want to speak Spanish anymore because I was so ashamed,” Sequeira said, referencing the line in her poem that impacts her most.

“I saw her holding back tears, and she told me, ‘Please don’t ever say that again. These are your people. This is your race.’ I shook if off, but now, I’m so glad she made me speak Spanish because I wouldn’t be the same person without it.”

Austin said the poem held clear personal significance for Sequeira.

“She started crying when she figured out she won at the end,” Austin said. “That meant a lot because she put her heart into it.”

Judge Amayia Butler said she was impressed by projection, clarity of tone and stage presence during student performances.