Using Willie Perdomo’s poem “Where I’m From” as a creative prompt, have students write poems that express where they come from and how they view the world: their neighborhoods, homes, and experiences.
A great example of this type of poem is “I Am From” by DM, a WritersCorps youth at juvenile hall, who took inspiration from Willie Perdomo’s poem. Read or listen to both poems. Ask students what they like about each piece.
Before writing, have students make a list of sensory details of their neighborhood. Come up with various categories and have students write at least three to five things under each category. These can include: neighborhood sounds and textures, people/things you see, backyard or kitchen smells, etc.
1. Stanzas should have a time continuum (morning to night or sundown to sunup, etc.)
2. Students can repeat the phrase “Where I’m From” or ”I Am From” or make up their own.
3. Students should use the categories and sensory imagery to help them describe their surroundings.
4. Be as specific as possible. Use similes or metaphors, if you can.
5. Have students write for 10-15 minutes and encourage them to fill the entire page. Share out.
“I Am From” (inspired by Willie Perdomo’s poem “Where I’m From”)
I am from the hood where growing up is hard
Where kids have fun by throwing rocks at cars
If you ain’t good in my hood, then I suggest you don’t come around
If you claim somewhere and don’t carry a gun
You labeled a clown
I am from basketball hoops with no nets
To foil in my bike rims and riding dirt bikes up and down steps
I am from the hood where we don’t play about our guapo
Fiends is washing cars and candy houses
Selling everything, including nachos
Wake up in the morning and ain’t nothing to eat
So I grab a pack of Top Ramen noodles, crunch ‘em up
And that’s a meal for me
I am from cars riding on 24’s and dubs blasting through 415’s
Girls walking around with knives, mace, hammers and getting pregnant by fifteen
Pop Warner was the thang, it’s either that or you gon’ slang
Birthdays was cool
No cakes or presents but we got bottles
Turn up, turn up—all gas, all throttle
I am from police sirens and gun shots every night
Selling drugs to feed our family, in our head we doing what’s right
I’m just chilling with my friends, having fun, going on about my day
Trying to do right, avoid getting shot, so every night I pray
We ain’t even doing nothing, but police harassing us, trying to label us a gang
I’m just trying to protect my family and live my life
But the system
Sees it another way.
–”I’m From” was published in the chapbook Free Me Fast: Voices From Inside San Francisco’s Juvenile Justice Center, Volumes i & II (2015), edited by teaching artist Maddy Clifford. Click here for more information about this three-part publication project.
“Where I’m From” by Willie Perdomo
Because she liked the “kind of music” that I listened to and she liked the way I walked as well as the way I talked, she always wanted to know where I was from.
If I said that I was from 110th Street and Lexington Avenue, right in the heart of a transported Puerto Rican town, where the hodedores live and night turns to day without sleep, do you think then she might know where I was from?
Where I’m from, Puerto Rico stays on our minds when the fresh breeze of café con leche y pan con mantequilla comes through our half-open windows and under our doors while the sun starts to rise.
Where I’m from, babies fall asleep to the bark of a German shepherd named Tarzan. We hear his wandering footsteps under a midnight sun. Tarzan has learned quickly to ignore the woman who begs her man to stop slapping her with his fist. “Please, baby! Por favor! I swear it wasn’t me. I swear to my mother! Mameeee!!” (Her dead mother told her that this would happen one day.)
Where I’m from, Independence Day is celebrated every day. The final gunshot from last night’s murder is followed by the officious knock of a warrant squad coming to take your bread, coffee and freedom away.
Where I’m from, the police come into your house without knocking. They throw us off rooftops and say we slipped. They shoot my father and say he was crazy. They put a bullet in my head and say they found me that way.
Where I’m from, you run to the hospital emergency room because some little boy spit a razor out of his mouth and carved a crescent into your face. But you have to understand, where I’m from even the dead have to wait until their number is called.
Where I’m from, you can listen to Big Daddy retelling stories on his corner. He passes a pint of light Bacardi, pouring the dead’s tributary swig unto the street. “I’m God when I put a gun to your head. I’m the judge and you in my courtroom.”
Where I’m from, it’s the late night scratch of rats’ feet that explains what my mother means when she says slowly, “Bueno, mijo, eso es la vida del pobre.” (Well, son, that is the life of the poor.)
Where I’m from, it’s sweet like my grandmother reciting a quick prayer over a pot of hot rice and beans. Where I’m from, it’s pretty like my niece stopping me in the middle of the street and telling me to notice all the stars in the sky.