IN THE ARTS: MY GRANDMOTHER’S TONGUE
By Jasmin Topacio Calderon Shadlow
Haitian American spoken word artist Melissa Lalin Briye Beauvery grew up in Brooklyn. All 9 tracks on her cd, My Grandmother’s Tongue, are dedicated to her grandmother. Melissa grew up surrounded by the lilt of Creole. Boldly, she incorporates this “forbidden language” into her art. Creole was expected to be spoken only in the home, if at all. Yet, many elderly women spoke Creole freely in the streets of Melissa’s childhood community, keeping their culture (and later Melissa) alive.
In My Grandmother’s Tongue, Melissa conjures her grandmother’s life. She writes about the lack of luxuries like “the wedding dress she [her grandmother] never had” and her working mother’s presence. Melissa recounts that when mother wasn’t around “grann” was there in her absence to breastfeed, shelter, and love on her. Melissa recalls how her pride in her grandmother trumped being ridiculed in school. “Even as I am ridiculed in school, ‘oh you are Haitian? She’s Haitian! Haitian Booty scratcher! She Has HBO, Haitian Body Odor!’ In admiration and honor of her grann, Melissa craved and later carried the smell of “jasmine, basil, and that strong underarm odor.” “You smelled like a hard-working woman, your stench perhaps wasn’t acceptable here. But I only cared to be accepted by you.” Even after her grandmother passed, Melissa clung to their memories like a child to a skirt, whose life depends on it.