“Language is Belonging”: A Review of Ariana Brown’s, Sana, Sana

What does it mean to heal? To reach full realization of one’s self? To honor ancestral legacies? Passed down from generation to generation through language and culture? Or does it require the pursuit of one’s true purpose? A purpose not bound by the expectations and standards imposed by others- but through the radical act of self love and acceptance? Is healing ever truly obtainable for Black girls? Is love? Or is there more to unlearn? More beyond the surface?

Sana, Sana uncovers modes of healing through poems that express gratitude despite hardship, understanding despite prejudice, and acceptance despite rejection. These poems hold space for Black and Brown girls who are often denied their youth- who are not afforded innocence and joy, who must defend their right to exist in spaces not deemed for them- whether that is in the classroom or in the public eye. Sana, Sana is a proclamation of self love & belonging- an act of resistance “in the land that refuses to love us the way our grandmothers do.”

Ariana Brown establishes a poetic voice that is warm, tender, and unapologetically Black- affirming one’s identity without asking for permission, recognizing the power of voice & narrative to honor the legacy of family- to liberate the mind, body, and soul from all oppressive forces. These poems represent an exchange- but the exchange is not exclusively between Ariana and the reader- the larger audience here can include the ancestral spirits- the histories of Black, Latinx, & Indigenous peoples. For their presence is felt within each verse. Call it a prayer, a blessing, or even a haunting- rest assured, it is powerful.

To read, listen, and engage with the poems of Sana, Sana, is to experience the desire, longing, reaching, healing, and hoping, of a Black & Mexican-American “daughter”, “student”, and “artist”. Each poem contributes to a narrative of self acceptance and understanding as the speaker affirms her “Superpower” of love:

“I couldn’t leave my love if I wanted to. It’s the truest thing I’ve ever learned to do.”

Though the speaker is hurt and tested time and time again, she does not ever doubt the power of her love. She does not yield to the hurt or the pain that comes with “unrequited” love, because she is “carrying a love” that is “bigger than you”. In that it is bigger than what we could ever imagine. It is bigger than any person. Or any heartache. And that is the kind of love that we need to instill in Black & Brown youth. A love that is not deterred. A love that is not feared. Or threatened. That is not dependent on the approval or acceptance of others. Here we can see the ways in which Brown extends the lesson of love to her audience.

Lessons of love are also explored in the poem “Myself, First” which grants the speaker agency- freedom to love who she wants, without explanation or second thought. “Myself, First” offers a profound realization of queer identity:

“The first time I loved a Black girl, I learned to love myself”.

While these poems focus on the intimate moments shared between the speaker and her lover, they also expose the dangers of the male gaze and how the bodies and identities of black women are fetishized. Still the reader is reminded of the ways in which the speaker must “choose” herself “first”.

“Sunday Morning” portrays love and desire as declarations of womanhood:


“I imagine holding a girl named Sam & this makes me a woman who defies logic, gives in to herself & what kind of daughter remembers to want?”

In these poems, Brown, invites the reader to reconsider the ways in which they give and receive love.

Love becomes a testament of survival, a beam of hope and light, that is disrupted by the cruelty of the poems, “Supremacy” & “Dear White Girls in My Spanish Class”. Each poem critiques white supremacy, colonization, and European standards of beauty while cataloguing the brutalities and injustice that is forced upon Black & Latinx communities:

“What is it like to be a tourist in the halls of my silence?”

When we consider these histories and the manner in which these standards of beauty have become weaponized, it becomes all the more clear, that to be a Black girl who loves herself, who loves her family, who embraces all the intricacies of who she is, who she was, and who she will become– is indeed a revolutionary act.

In the poem, “For the Black Kids in My 8th Grade Spanish Class”, Brown celebrates Blackness, “the gift my father gave me”. Here, children embody Black Girl Magic & Black Boy Joy while also teaching the speaker to embrace her Blackness:

“For the group of people who helped me find my natural rhythm, who taught me to trust it, to be Black and laugh with my whole body”.

“For the Black Kids in My 8th Grade Spanish Class”, can be read as a love letter, as readers revisit the ways in which adolescence shapes adulthood–how the healing must first begin with remembering the child we all once were- knowing that even if we fall, wounds and all, we too can get back up again.

Ya’ll. Read this book. For your younger self. For your familia. For your future self.

Read Sana, Sana and become a witness to the power of word. Find rest here. Find joy. Find love. Find hope. Find belonging.

Find healing.

From the Author’s Website:

Ariana Brown is a queer Black Mexican American poet from the Southside of San Antonio, Texas. Ariana holds a B.A. in African Diaspora Studies and Mexican American Studies from UT Austin as well as an MFA in Poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. She is the recipient of two Academy of American Poets Prizes and a 2014 national collegiate poetry slam champion. An alum of Brave New Voices, Ariana’ is the author of Sana Sana, a chapbook from Game Over Books. She has also recorded a digital EP titled LET US BE ENOUGH, available on Bandcamp.

​Ariana, who has been dubbed a “part-time curandera,” has performed across the U.S. at venues such as the San Antonio Guadalupe Theater, Harvard University, Tucson Poetry Festival, and the San Francisco Opera Theatre. When she is not onstage, she is probably eating an avocado, listening to Ozuna, or validating Black girl rage in all its miraculous forms. Her work is published in NepantlaMuzzle, African Voices and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. Follow Ariana on Twitter and Instagram @arianathepoet.

To purchase Sana, Sana visit Game Over Books.