Tanya Nixon-Silberg

Mother Tongue

We carry the words of our mothers through time and generations. For most women of color, our mother’s tongue is both uplifting, affirming and wise and simultaneously heavily burdened with colonialism. In Mother Tongue, 14 BIPOC mothers listed two phrases – in English and in their mother’s tongue- what they heard as a kid and their antidote to the phrases they say to their own children. Taking notes from the reparenting movement and my own liberation as a mother, Mother Tongue is a hand embroidered tapestry of decolonized parenting. As a participant in this piece, you are invited to think of your own mother’s tongue and -whether you are a mother or not-, say out loud what phrases you would use today in the spirit of decolonization. This piece is an invitation for all of us to extend grace for mothers noting that they did the best they can with the material and emotional resources available.Thank you to the mothers who participated: Vernée Wilkinson, Roselynn, Rodriguez, Yawa Degboe, Annika Sarin, Kim Parker, Ashley Herring, Elizabeth Ann-Jackson Gilliam, Alison Croney Moses, Zahirah Nur Truth, Miki-Sophia Cloud, Ruby Velez, Anna-Maria D’Cruz and Nupur. 

Phrases

  • I am not one of your little friends…I am your friend
  • You are hard to raise. You are a difficult child…I am so lucky to be your Mama
  • Log Kya Kahenge (Hindi: What will people say)…
  • Ta maîtresse a raison. (French: The teacher is right)…Tell me what’s happened.
  • Kuch toh sharam kar (Hindi: Have some shame)… You should be so proud of yourself
  • Stop crying before I give you something to cry aboutIt’s ok to cry, somethings I cry too.
  • Cámbiate la ropa because there are men. (Spanglish: Change your clothes because there are men)…. Be comfortable 
  • I brought you into this world, I’ll take you outLet’s communicate 
  • You are so sensitiveFeel your feelings 
  • Sers ton oncle d’abord (French: Serve your uncle first)… Apportes toutes les assiettes sur la table. (French: Bring all the plates on the table
  • I’m not Boo Boo the FoolNo fools just human beings 
  • No me hagas pasar vergüenza (Spanish: Do not embarrass me)… It’s not about me, I’m here for you
  • Chaboko (Japanese: Little Chub)…. All bodies are good 
  • You can do anything you set your mind toYou will do amazing things and you need to celebrate them, even if no one else will.
  • Why did you fall? You are going to scar your knees and you cannot wear skirtsThe scar will remind you of the fun you had today.


Tanya Nixon-Silberg (she/her) is a Black mother, puppeteer, multi-modal artist, native Bostonian and educator.  Her primary artistic identities are made by weaving storytelling and Craft together and her work moves through the lens of liberation in Black identities. You will mostly find her playing with and learning from her 11 year old kid, being in community with other artists and radically imagining how we all get free together.

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