Student Profile #2: Kajuan
Every couple of months we have a pizza party in Writing Club. They remain as holiday-unaffiliated as possible so as not to exclude the array of religious affiliations at Hart. (Jehovah’s Witnesses are unable to attend any kind of holiday celebration.) So the October party was precisely an October Party. There was pizza. There were obscene amounts of Cheetos.
Via mysterious channels news of the party spreads through the school, so by 3:30 we always have a dozen or so party-goers whom we’ve never met before. Junk food is the best recruitment tool. Most of the newcomers leave with the last slice of pizza, but a few stay. A few become dedicated poets. A few were poets all along.
Kajuan was one of these few. Every time I think we have encountered every talented writer in the school, someone like him shows up to remind me how many unique voices are whirling around the hallways outside of our classroom. And Hart is just one school. Imagine all the other schools in the city, in the country. How many voices are being heard and how many are not.
Kajuan’s family is Peruvian; he’s part of the 2% of the school that doesn’t identify as African American. The other kids don’t always know what to make of this. Too often he gets told, “You’re not black, you’re Mexican!” We try to explain the diversity of Latin America. It would be helpful to have a map of the world on a wall. Frightening cracks in their knowledge get exposed, in this school with no required Social Studies classes. They do not mean to be insensitive, though. In this childhood of extremes there is very little malice. They are straightforwardly kind with the resources given to them. Last week Kayla wrote in a poem: “My yes day / is Kajuan’s Spanish accent”
I didn’t notice for several days that English is his second language, because 90% of his communication is through laughter. He moves like an entertainer, his mouth is always open, his feet are a blur. At least once a week some kid ends up wounded from one of Kajuan’s miscalculated jokes. But he apologizes as exuberantly as he teases.
The poem he wrote on his third day here begins: “Oh; kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas! You’re really beautiful! Pearls, harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins, all the stuff they’ve always talked about.” He has only spent three years in an English-speaking country. It is always a mistake to pigeonhole our kids based on their experiences. I wish we had a time machine and a recorder, to go back through his life and find the places and people from which his mind collected all that startling language.
We asked him, “Why are aspirins beautiful, Kajuan?”
He shrugged. “Because they’re round.”
“And what about kangaroos?”
He rolled his eyes. “They jump. And they carry their babies.”
Here’s Kajuan reading his poem “I Triumph.”
I am the ruler of victory
I am the ghost you can’t see
the one that everybody looks for
but I am always winning
so they can’t find me.
The president, the ruler of victory
I decide who wins and who loses
I am the one that the football teams thank
when they score a touchdown.
Other rulers try to overthrow me
like the ruler of childhood,
the ruler of language;
what they didn’t know
I was the one who wins every time.
In that fight I had some friends
the ruler of emptiness
and the ruler of mountains.
One day I was in Vegas
I was winning so much
I was not paying attention
and the ruler of the forgotten
made me forget my power.
After days, I felt something was happening
First I won the mayor
then I won governor
then I was the president.
I had awoken my power.
I had finally realized
that my allies were me
and I was them.
I was living two or more lives.
The original draft: