Legal Alien by Pat Mora is a poem about people, who find themselves trapped between two different worlds. It is written from the perspective of Mexican immigrants, who live in America. The author shows the feelings of people, who have lost their motherland but were not accepted by the new country they have arrived.
Pat Mora knows very well what she talks about because she is descendant of Mexicans, who emigrated to America in the beginning of the twentieth century. She knows very well about the state of “border people”, who live in-between two cultures and two societies but belong to non of them.The poem illustrates the state of people, who are both – Mexican and Americans ,but non of them at the same time. In the beginning of the poem we see rather optimistic perspective, described by the author.
She centers on positive side of border people, underlining their ability to talk two languages and their rich cultural prophesy. “Bi-lingual, Bi-cultural, … able to sit in a paneled office drafting memos in smooth English, able to order in fluent Spanish at a Mexican restaurant”, these people belong to two countries and become a unique combination of two cultures and two ways of life. (Mora, p.10) These people have a unique experience to live on the border, where two cultures, two countries and two different worlds meet and overlap.
In the beginning of the poem we can see advantages of this life in-between. We find out about the ability to quickly switch between the cultures and languages, peculiar to this people.The tone is changed in the second part of the poem. Now the readers can see bitterness in author’s words and discover difficult situation immigrants find themselves in.
Mexicans, who live in America are not treated like equals by Anglos, who consider them “perhaps exotic, perhaps inferior, definitely different.” (Mora, p. 10) Mora plays with the meanings of the word alien. Originally it was used in the meaning of a foreign person but later it got negative connotation.
Alien can be used in the meaning of “strange” and even “hostile” and this is the meaning put in this word by Mora. Mexicans perceive their ex-compatriots as strangers. This estrangement is felt stronger because Americans also treat them as strangers and aliens. People, who arrive to America hope to join multinational community and enjoy rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution but meet and invisible wall, which separate them from Anglos.
They have to prove their right to live in this country and be treated like all the rest of the population. Finally Mexicans come to the realization that despite they possess same rights as other citizens of the country, they still remain aliens, despite their legal status. That is how they turn to legal aliens, rejected by both, Mexicans and Americans. These people fail in their attempts to join any group.
They are trapped between two cultures and two ways of life. They can not return to their native culture, which is left behind. Mexicans can not forgive their “escape” and do not regard them as a part of community. As Mora describes silent reproach of their ex-compatriots, “ their eyes say, “You may speak Spanish but you’re not like me.
” (Mora, p.10) At the same time America turns to be not as friendly as they have expected and they have to prove their right to be treated like equals again and again. Deprived of their roots ,they have to wander between two worlds, none of which feels like home. Mora gives us insight into the difficulties people meet when adapting to new culture and coming in terms with their cultural identities in the new place.
Unfortunately, people very quickly reject those, who have left their native places. At the same time Americans are not very friendly to the newcomers, especially those, who differ from them. Here Mexicans meet a kind of dilemma s they have to assimilate with the new way of life and save their identity at the same time. Not everybody is so lucky, as the author of the poem, who manages to express her origin in her works and struggle for the rights of Mexican Americans.
As she states in one of the interviews, “for a variety of complex reasons, anthologized American literature does not reflect the ethnic diversity of the United States. I write in part because Hispanic perspectives need to be part of our literary heritage; I want to be part of the validation process.” (Welch) In many cases Mexicans have to sacrifice their identity for the sake of decent place in the American society but even this sacrifices not always guarantees them good attitude and appreciation. People still look down at them only because of their origin.
The poem touches the problem of immigrants, who are confused with the desire to enter American society like equals and save their national origins. The smile Mora mentions in her poem is a sad smile of people, who can not find their place in the society, and, what is more important, can not find their place in life. These people use a smile as a mask, in order to hide their fear, discomfort and uneasiness. Instead of support from their native land and help in the United States, they get in trouble of “ being pre-judged, Bi-laterally.
” (Mora, p. 10) The first part of the poem is opposed to the second one. While the first one give optimistic perspective and uses prefix “bi” in order to underline a universal abilities of Mexican immigrants, the second part of the poem attracts the readers’ attention to the problems these people meet every day and obstacles they have to overcome in order to get nothing but things they deserve. Here prefix “bi” gets another connotation and underlines estrangement these people feel from both sides.
SourcesMora, Pat, (1984) Chants, Arte Publico Press Welch, James, Interview with Pat Mora, retrieved 02/20/2007 fromhttp://www.learner.org/channel/workshops/hslit/session1/aw/work1.htmlMurphy, Patrick D.
(1996) “Conserving Natural and Cultural Diversity: The Prose and Poetry of Pat Mora.” MELUS.Barrera, Rosalinda B. 1998.
‘ “Profile:’ Pat Mora, fiction/nonfiction writer and poet.”‘ Language Arts . Urbana,Ryan, Bryan, (1991)ed. Hispanic Writers.
Detroit: Gale Research,Trosky, Susan M, ed (1990). Contemporary Authors. Vol. 29.
Detroit: Gale Research.Torres, Joseph Montalvo. Daniela, NAHJ Urges News Media to Stop Using Dehumanizing Terms When Covering Immigration retrieved 02/20/2007 from http://www.nahj.org/nahjnews/articles/2006/March/immigrationcoverage.shtml;;;;;;;