A Youth Poetry Star of Our Own

Alexandra Huynh headshot against backdrop of SAYS logo
Alexandra Huynh: Sacramento Youth Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Laureate Western Regional Ambassador.

Amanda Gorman impressed the nation with her poem at last week’s inauguration and put the spotlight on youth literary arts organizations across the country, including UC Davis’ own Sacramento Area Youth Speaks, or SAYS.

One day after the inauguration, SAYS Director Patrice Hill announced that “our very own Alexandra Huynh has been named the Youth Poet Laureate Western Regional Ambassador and will advance as a finalist in the National Youth Poet Laureate competition ... the same prestigious title that the amazing Amanda Gorman previously held.”



“This is monumental and exciting news for Alex, SAYS, the Sacramento arts community and the young people of Sacramento,” Hill said. “Alex now stands among the top youth poets in the nation and SAYS is honored to stand alongside this journey with her.”

Sacramento Area Youth Speaks, based at the Greater Sacramento Urban League and co-managed by UC Davis Enrollment Management and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, is working this year with some 500 youths in more than a dozen junior high schools and high schools. Four UC Davis undergraduates and two community-based artists serve as mentors.

According to the program’s mission statement: “SAYS breaks the barriers of underachievement by elevating the voices of students as the authors of their own lives and agents of change.”

“You never know when the next Amanda Gorman might be sitting in your classroom,” Hill said. “But are you giving them the tools to express themselves in a safe space, to speak their truths?”

This is where SAYS comes in, Hill said, giving students a platform with a curriculum based on their own lives, a curriculum based on cultural relevancy.

Huynh participated in SAYS at Mira Loma High School in Sacramento. She graduated last year and is taking a year off before enrolling at Stanford University in the fall, where she aims to combine her passions for chemistry, creative writing and civic engagement.

She advanced to the western regional competition as one of two Sacramento Youth Poet Laureates for 2020, a competition for which she submitted five poems.

As a second-generation, Vietnamese American woman, Huynh employs poetry as a tool of self-realization and social justice for marginalized communities, according to Hill.

Autumn Prayer

By Alexandra Huynh

it is here I receive all news,
old news of the world,
not my own
but with a passable scent

from an old man
with passable pity

he tells me about
unit title lesson number
& I swallow

until he mentions Vietnam
(the war)
that is
when I really start to listen

if I can’t be heroine
call me ornament immigrant

o the boats &
the people on those boats
so brave         so different from
the refugees now we owed them

I moisten my tongue
at the sound of
almost home as the name

Duong Thu Huong loses
its river in the teacher’s mouth
and no one asks why
my face is wet.

& remembering my one sad desk,
in the desolation of that classroom
I write a prayer
for the children who fill it next:

let the children speak their names as their mothers do.
let the chorus sing it back or try & try.
let the stories have no accent.
& some sounds stay untranslated.
let the children fill the space with memory.

          yes the coriander. yes the silk. yes the stomp. the duplex. the honey.
          the beads. yes the asphalt. the drum. the sneakers. the curls. yes the
          incense. yes the white bread. yes the chainlink. the copper. yes the
          stars. the ballads. the cable buzz. the river. yes the multiple. the
          many. yes the love. yes the love.

let the memories be told by the hearts they tumored.
let the children know the name of their melancholy.
let them shape the vowels into hope.
& draw from ancestral hymn.
let honor make no hostages of them.
let their bloodlines become primary text.
let what they’ve seen become their language.

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