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Orphan Tongue

Issue 2: Self-Determination

Quarter: Summer 2021

Issue 2 of Orphan Tongue houses the original artwork of nine former and current foster youth from across California. The theme, self-determination, was chosen by our editing team of foster youth, for its ability to capture our goal of fighting for, advocating with, and working to empower all oppressed foster youth across the US.


Our working definition of self-determination is built on the scholarly work of Audre Lorde, who wrote that Self-Determination is the ability to define, name, and speak for oneself.


As a team we worked to offer an answer to a giant question: In what ways does the child welfare system impact our communities? Our discussions focused on a wide range of topics, from gender, to race, sexuality, and many others, which we will engage in future issues. Self-determination seeks to address a larger oppressive theme in our experiences: loss of autonomy, or being controlled by another person and/or system.


Our community understands the emotions that come with losing one's autonomy. Being silenced. Not having comfort. Restricted to the paperwork of social workers. Control of ourselves is handed over to courts.


Orphan Tongue will never credit the child welfare system for our work, Orphan Tongue is bigger than a response to an oppressive system. It's OUR community space that is founded on our voices, imaginations, and self-determined futures. Does this mean that one day we will shed  the label "foster youth"? Will we find out who assigned us this label? Will we create our own definitions? Orphan Tongue is where our community shares our answers to these questions.


In this issue, filled with color, joy, smiling teeth, and healing, our community has taken a step closer to defining, naming, and speaking for ourselves.


We want to once again thank each of our contributing artists for their amazing work and trust in Orphan Tongue handling their art. Keep scrolling to hear directly from our featured artists on their process, inspiration, and how they navigate their intersectional identities.

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Issue 2 has been limited to a 20 print first run, with future re-prints opening up to donors and interested parties

Artist Bio's:

Marie Branes

Poem, Where I am From, 2019

San Diego, CA

I wrote Where I am From to show where I am from. I am not the best at talking but when I write it comes out just right. This is to show where I am from does not define who I am as a person, but I have the power to choose where I go despite what life has, and does throw my way. I am determined to create my path and reach my goals.


I am a foster alumni who is currently working on earning her Masters at San Diego State University (SDSU). I am passionate about supporting underrepresented populations in their journey towards reaching their career, academic and personal goals. I have found poetry as a way of expressing my emotions, even when I myself don't always understand them.

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Cameron Harrison

Painting, Welcome To Big Data World, 2021

Riverside, CA

I made this piece in order to grow my abilities exponentially as well as to prove to myself that I could take on such a large obstacle. It was for my Advanced Painting class that I painted this piece after doing a series of four other pretty good sized paintings, all out of my comfort zone in size. This work's theme is just a basis but the effort and thought process and time I put into this piece was what I was after. I not only proved to myself that I was fully capable of completing a monster of a piece but completing it to my full potential.


I am a person who draws monsters and wants to use my art to spread the joy I feel in making it to others viewing and taking it in


The piece is 4’x6’. It’s oil paint on canvas. It took 50hours to create..Check out more of my work on Instagram: @cfharrisonart


Poem, Fallen Petals, 2016

San Diego, CA

I wrote this poem when I was about 4 months pregnant with my first child. I was tired of feeling like I was too damaged to experience love and healing. I thought of the beauty of a rose - and how each second slowly picks away at the rose, causing the petals to fall and inevitably it’s decay. But I felt with the right nourishment and care, that the rose could be restored and bloom once more. The same goes for me, and any other young adult who has been left to feel like a stranger to society after being in “the system”. This poem asks if we can see beyond the pain and trauma, and look into our potential. Our vulnerability. And our healing.


I am a former Foster youth who was in the system ages 13-18. I have survived and overcame homelessness, abuse, and incarceration. Very few people I encountered in my life had faith in me to break the cycle. Now, I have made it tremendously far from my past traumas. I know these things were a part of my journey, but they do not define who I am. I am Brianna - a wife, mother, student, career woman, poet, and creative. I no longer wish to hide parts of me away from the world. I am breaking generational curses at this very moment, and that is something to be celebrated.

Tasha Matthews

Poem, Guts and Cheese

San Diego, CA

I made this piece because I received advice while I was having a schizophrenic episode that I need to take a lacidant (as I mentioned in the poem, I was having gut health struggles because of my weight). I went for a walk and the whole time, I was trying not to fall. I was under 90 pounds and really struggling with my appetite which is one of the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. I have high myopia (extremely nearsighted) and this is the story of me trying to accomplish an extremely simple task, which has been made extremely difficult with my diagnosis. It was early in the morning, still dark, and I couldn't see very well as I was walking to the store.


I am from San Diego and was in foster care for 21 years. I went to UC Berkeley for a couple of weeks, and then got diagnosed with my illness and decided to come back to San Diego. I went to UC San Diego and graduated with an Ethnic Studies degree, Literature/Writing minor! I now work at Just in Time for Foster Youth in San Diego.

Belen (aka Beelo)

Song, I Don’t Need Nobody, 2021

Panorama City, CA

Hello! I am the songwriter of I Don’t Need Nobody. I wrote this song in dedication to current and former foster youth with hopes that it can help motivate youth to go to college, remain independent, and to also follow their dreams without letting people's judgment get in their way of them being themselves. My song is on Apple Music, Spotify and basically everywhere else, you can find me as Beeloo. 


My name is Belen Lopez Curiel and I am a full-time student at UC Riverside and a songwriter with a part-time job. I was in foster from 14-18 years old. Unfortunately, I aged out of foster care and was forced to make my ends meet somehow. Because of my resiliency I am proud to be the woman I am today. I feel that the struggles I've experienced have molded me into the artist I am becoming, but at the same time I feel very humbled to be a voice for those who are going through difficult battles.


I would appreciate it if folks can play this song when there is an advocacy event, or for foster care awareness month.


Thank you!

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Poem, Chasing Dragons III

San Diego, CA

This piece is a step toward affirming my complex identity formed in a transethnic foster placement. After being permanently abandoned by my mother as an infant, and placed in the care of an abusive foster family, this piece thinks about the cause of my separation from my mom--her demons/addictions. The loss of mother, and being raised by an abusive antiblack latine family that had no faith in my mothers humanity, created weird wounds. In this piece, I write through a lens of self consciousness. I determine for myself how much room I am capable of making for my biological mother, despite my foster families attempts to determine that for me. As I wrote this piece, I pondered on how alone I am in this world as a foster child, and how much freedom and autonomy there is in that fact. Toward building my chosen and found family, I stand up to the prejudices against/fears of my mother that my foster family implanted in me. "Chasing the Dragon" does this, to find forgiveness and understand my mother as a woman of color trying to cope with living under systems of oppression in the U.S., just like me.


I am a former foster youth from San Diego, California, lover of Plátanos, soul music, and all things horror. As an implant in an Afro Panameña foster family, my understanding of identity was made complicated by the fact that I was racially African American. From early on, navigating belonging and the lines between race-ethnicity-nationality taught me about the fluidity of belonging. Themes of innocence, beauty, anti-blackness within the black diaspora, and belonging, continue to be frameworks for my work. I seek to articulate original stories, in which other foster kids/alumni with experiences in transracial/transethnic placements, can see themselves.

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