Type: Literary Analysis
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‘Legal Alien’ Poem Analysis and Comparison

People usually migrate to other areas for various reasons, however, many moves in search of greener pastures. This means that one has to leave the comfort of being home (culture and traditions) and embrace a new culture and environment. While in these new countries, one would feel alienated and far away from home. There is also a clash of cultures when one has to balance between their own and the new one as well. This mixed feeling makes people feel like they do not belong anywhere.

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This paper takes a look at Legal Alien by Pat Mora, Queens, 1963 by Julia Alvarez, and Indian Movie, New Jersey by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The three poems display the human need for being home. A home can be described as a place where there are familiarity and comfort, a place where one’s cultural needs are practiced to the fullest. They also describe the satisfaction and joy found when an individual experiences the feeling of being home.

Legal Alien by Pat Mora

The poem Legal Alien by Pat Mora examines the issue of cultural tension that can exist in the lives of immigrants; in the lives of Mexican Americans. In my view, the speaker in Legal Alien is a young Mexican American woman who expresses the feeling of a bicultural individual. She can speak fluently in English and Spanish. Notably, she uses the two languages in her daily life. She uses English while at work in a standard office job, and she uses Spanish while frequenting Mexican restaurants.

However, it is evident that the speaker is not yet fully accepted by her community. While Mexicans see her as being an outsider or some sort of alien, Americans perceive her as an inferior and exotic person. This results in being viewed as someone who sits on the margins of two cultural worlds, Mexican and American. As a matter of fact, she is forced to present an outer front so as to preserve the self, which is meant to hide the soreness of being prejudged. The kind of life experienced by the speaker makes her legal alien, someone who belongs to society but has not been fully accepted.

The poem represents the collective experiences of Mexican Americans. It is written in free verse. There are twenty-two lines of varying meter and no rhyme. The poet has used both English and Spanish to bring out the tension present in the legal alien’s life. As a good example, when asked “How’s life?”, the individual responds, “Me’stan volviendo loca”- Spanish for “They are making me crazy”. The poem has a few words that rhyme, for example, Mexicans (14) and Americans (15). However, it has a low steady beat that creates a rhythm.

While she is an American citizen by law, the communities feel she does not belong to them and start treating her suspiciously. They make the speaker feel illegal. The Americans see her as being inferior while Mexicans feel she does not belong to their community. It is a mixed feeling that makes the speaker feel like she doesn’t belong anywhere.

It is clear that the speaker is affected by her border experience. She yearns for a sense of belonging, which she does not get. She is resented and looked down upon by the two cultures.

Queens, 1963 by Julia Alvarez

Queens, 1963 talks about the racial conflict that was common during the civil rights movement. The poem has a rhyme scheme whose rhythm makes it poetic. The speaker is a young woman who is busy observing her surroundings. This gives the reader an opportunity to have a look at what goes on in her mind. The “sprinkler waving” shows what the speaker has accomplished, her family, and the way she is optimistic for continuity in success. However, things change towards the end of the poem, the poet talks of “the houses sinking into the lawns”. It is important to note that in the United States, wealth and happiness are represented by an individual’s home and yard.

The speaker also talks about the change in the real estate market while relating it to the racial tensions eminent at the time. On the other hand, it is notable that the music stops when the tone shifts. In my view, the poem also reflects the way people can develop and see life. The speaker struggles with the issue of discrimination. She longs for freedom having moved to Queens from another foreign country. In essence, the speaker has a hard time finding her own self when everyone doubts her feeling of belonging.

The speaker in this poem is also affected by the cross-border experience. While she wants to be integrated into society as quickly as possible, things change. She faces discrimination, and as a result, yearns for her home where everyone is equal.

Indian Movie, New Jersey by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The poet compares the value systems, cultural expectations and traditions in the United States to those in India. In essence, the poem describes the satisfaction and joy found when an individual experiences the feeling of being at home when one came from. This can be described as a yearning for a home.

In Indian Movie, New Jersey, the poet brings out the feeling that can be seen in a group of Indian immigrants longing for their home, true home for that matter. The tone and feeling of nostalgia can be seen in many of the stanzas. For example, in the first two lines, there is an imagery of the Indian movie star “satisfying-solid”, which is then contrasted to the mean description of American icons, “all rib / and gaunt cheekbone” (Meyer 534-552). The movie theater is seen as a place where one can escape and find comfort.

It is a place of comfort for everyone, both immigrants and natives. The immigrants “need not be embarrassed by words dropping like lead pellets into foreign ears.” The theater is a place where “the flickering movie-light wipes from our faces years of America”. The main theme depicts a situation where home becomes real, and the immigrants are more comfortable with that feeling than when being in the one they are physically in.

The poem displays the need for being home. A home is a place where there are familiarity and comfort. This is a place where one’s cultural needs are practiced to the fullest. In a family of three children, the son is seen as being completely Americanized, however, his sister decides to completely honor her family customs. As a matter of fact, she wants her marriage to be arranged (common in Indian customs).

Moreover, the family is put first in the Indian culture. This is clearly seen in the lines 21-24, “sons who want Mohawks and refuse to run the family store, daughters who date on the sly.” Indians have to keep their hair natural and long while girls have to wait for their spouses to be approved by the parents. The speaker of the poem is clearly affected by the cross-border experience.

Example of Conclusion to Poem Comparison

The speaker in the three poems is affected by border experience. In all of the three poems, the speaker yearns for a sense of belonging. It is evident that he or she is resented and looked down upon in the new country of residence and hence misses his or her home. I do not think that the speaker’s discomfort has been resolved towards the end of the poem.

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