Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices Texts Adapted for Songs

The Big Deception
Text by Irene Da Silva and Ivete Souza, adapted by Cerise Jacobs
Music by Oliver Caplan

The letter said, “You are approved
For a green card
Go back to Rio for your interview
And get your green card.”

I bought my mother a round trip ticket
To Rio and back to Boston
I put her on the plane to Brazil
To get her green card

The American embassy man in Rio said,
“You overstayed your visitor’s visa
You can’t go back to America for ten years.”

But she was approved for a green card
We didn’t know she had to renew
Her visitor’s visa

But the letter said
I was to come to get my green card
I’m seventy-nine
My family is in America
How will I survive by myself?

We believed what the letter said
We believed what the government said

“We don’t care about you,” he said.
“Don’t care, don’t care, don’t care”

I am guilty
I bought my mother that ticket
I put her on that plane
I sent her into exile

I waited it out
Year after year after year
Alone in one room
With a small fan
Sometimes the temperatures
Reached over 100 degrees
Sometimes we had no running water

I sent money every month
For a girl to help my mother
To buy her medicines
And her food

I gave up hope
My heart cracked open
I would die
Without seeing my children
Or grandchildren whom I raised

The grandchildren she raised
Had children of their own
Who grew up never knowing
Their great grandmother, their Biza

I told my neighbors
“Don’t tell my daughter I’m sick
Sick with grief, sick for the baby smell
Of great grandchildren I’ve never met
When I die, call my daughter
Ask her for money to bury me”

I gave her an iPad
To help her live
I Facetimed her every night
For ten years, we never missed a night
I had to keep her alive!

I/She returned to America
When I/she was 89 years old
My name is Irene Da Silva/Ivete Souza

I hope to make up for lost time
The cracks in my heart
A forever reminder of separation
And the importance of family

We are survivors

Ellis II
Text by Ewa Chrusciel, adapted by Katherine Pukinskis
Music by Katherine Pukinskis

They carried boxes and bibles,
blue barrels of sadness,
and pins and buttons.

They carried bed spreads and pillows,
And “beygals” and barrels of pickles,
And the Book of Common Prayer.

They carried voids and maps.

They carried comforters, candlesticks and crucifixes.
They carried goose feathers, rolling pins, vowels and consonants.
We carried our children.

We carried hand-painted Easter eggs, luminous dark duende,
A honeymoon dress and sewing machines.

They carry accordions and fears,
And spices and mangled boards,
And donkey shoes for luck.
And tears, and intersections:
They carry the distance from what they love the most.

They carry their grief into one hundred folds of grief.
They carry their hopes into one hundred folds of hope.

I Can’t Understand a Word You’re Saying
Text by Helen Zhibing Huang, adapted by Cerise Jacobs
Music by Michele Cheng

Twelve years old, three days from China
First day at Pocahontas Middle School

Home room teacher showed me my locker
Blah blah blahblah**#@@!
What is this?
Blah blah blahblah**#@@!
I can’t understand a word you’re saying
Blah -–blah- -blahblah- – **-#- @@!
Blah -–blah- -blahblah- **-#- @@!

Class time! It’s Fa la la la la la la la Chorus time
I’ll be good at this, I know
I started singing and playing the piano at three
Blah blah blahblah**#@@!
I can’t understand a word you’re saying
Blah -–blah- -blahblah- – **-#- @@!
Blah -–blah- -blahblah- **-#- @@!

Reading, science, math!
Blah blah blahblah**#@@!
I can’t understand a word you’re saying
Blah -–blah- -blahblah- – **-#- @@! [slower]
Blah -–blah- -blahblah- **-#- @@! [And louder]

You’re swinging your arms
Shall I swing my arms too?
You’re trying to tell me something with your arms?
I can’t understand a word you’re saying
Can’t understand, don’t understand
I will never understand

Lunch time! The worst time
Got my food
Tried to find a place to sit down
I sat silently, alone
And ate my tasteless food
My classmates laughed and chatted

Life Changes
Text by Joel Louis
Music by Jorge Sosa

I was in Haiti
I got a high school diploma
A certificate in construction and electricity

My life changed when I came to the United States of America
I had to learn English
I got a job at WAHLBURGER
I leave early to take the bus and a train
To get to work on time
Monday though Sunday, from morning to night
I don’t have time to go to church

In the end, I live my life and realize my goals.

A Life of Honor
Text by Rute Pires
Music by Shuying Li

I am going to tell the whole world my story
It is also my grandmother’s story
Vovo was eleven when she sold fruits, wood and peanuts
On the streets of Cape Verde
She was forty-six when she went to school

Vovo helped me decide to move to America
To leave my family
The brightness of my beautiful colorful country
And the smell of the fantastic Djagacida and Cachupa
Coming from our kitchen’s chimney

“Nha neta, my grandchild
Each stone you meet on your way
Take it with you.
At the end you will build a castle
With those stones that you carried on your back.
Un dia bu ta vence.”

Now That Love is Extinguished / Abuelita
Text by Jonathan Figueroa / Melody Maduro
Music by Avik Sarkar

Now That Love is Extinguished
Now that love is extinguished because there was no trust in me,
All I want is someone who accepts me
With a hug that makes me feel like a superman overcoming all obstacles.
And if I do not find that someone, I hope that someone finds me
In this new country I now call home . . .

I remember when we went to church
I made a braid in your hair
A soft mix of gray and white
With canas I pinned into it
I remember . . .

I know you are in a beautiful place
Where you don’t feel pain anymore
You see that I’m trying to do the right things
To be a strong woman like you
I will always love you, Abuelita
My grandmother

A Spoonful of Hate
Text by Jorge Sosa, adapted by Marina Lopez
Music By Marina Lopez

Let me feed you a spoonful
You look thirsty, you look hungry
How will you sleep in the cold night?
Let me swathe you in a shroud of ignorance
to comfort you.
Let me feed you a spoonful of hate
You look thirsty
Let me quench your thirst with a fresh drink of fear
You look sweet
You look thirsty
You look cold
You look hungry
How will you sleep through the cold night?
Let me swathe you in a shroud of ignorance
to comfort you.

Listen to the song of the siren
Listen to those long sweet tones
Let yourself get lost in its sweet embrace
As he drowns you.

Three English Songs
Texts by Daniela Sanchez, Fiorella Valle, and Huiqing Shao
Music by George Tsz-Kwan Lam

Daniela Sanchez
I tried to find a job in this country without any English
People looked at me as if I came from Mars
I went to a fast food store
The manager told me I could start in the kitchen
He spoke to me with a little Spanish he learned
From his Employee of the Month

Fiorella Valle
I was so happy I could take the Cosmetology exam in Spanish!
I worked at Edgardo’s Salon
But couldn’t pay all the bills
So I worked part time as a janitor in Santander’s office
Now that I have more clients in the Salon
I quit my janitor job.

Sometimes I feel sad and nervous
I can’t understand clients who speak only English
Some people told me, “Go to school.”

Huiqing Shao
When I first worked as a waitress
I didn’t speak English
I only understand the menus
Now I can understand English
Some of my old customers taught me English

Three Steps Forward
Text by Chun Yan Lin
Music by Sheela Ramesh

I did not love to learn English
Whenever I had difficulties
I chose to try to escape
It was always three steps forward
Two steps back

Now I use English
As the second language of my life!

Tracing Connections
Text by Heloiza Barbosa
Music by Anais Azul

I remember Logan Airport in 1994:
its corridors like an elongated centipede and the air outside chillingly cold.

I remember I remember
So many things
I remember I remember
Too many things

So I am tracing connections
Between who I was
And who I am today

I remember my first snow.
I opened my mouth and let it melt inside me.
I too was transforming into something else.

I remember I remember
So many things
I remember I remember
Too many things

On May 14th, 2018, I stood with one hundred and eighty-seven other immigrants from fifty-seven countries to be naturalized as U.S. citizens. The journey had been long. Looking around me, I remembered that it was in Boston that I first tasted food from: Afghanistan, Armenia, Barbados, CapeVerde, Cambodia, Guatemala, Greece, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Korea, Malaysia, Mexica, Russia, Spain, Tibet, Vietnam. There, I remembered that there is no life that is not constructed inside a system of constant interconnections and differences. Viruses, bacteria, cells, animals, us all: we are all connecting. Transformation is a migration within.