Working Under a New Sun
|Norma Cantú: “Se me enchina el cuerpo al oír tu cuento”
Written in the second person, this short story’s length and vibrant language could arguably classify it as a poem. The narrator claims to get goose bumps when hearing the tale of how the “you” graduates as a valedictorian yet is forced to take menial jobs in order to support his family. The irony is that the narrator provides details with such sensitivity and passion, that the reader can’t help but be compassionate or “get goose bumps.”
1) Who is the “you” in the story?
2) Which part of the tale is most touching? Why?
3) Why doesn’t the father stop the son from taking control?
4) Do you know people who succeeded academically but work in menial jobs? If so, how are their circumstances different than or similar to the father’s in this story?
|Cristina Garcia: “Tito’s Goodbye”
This story is as much about an attorney and his death as it is about the people whom he exploits. To many Latinos in the U.S. who are faced with the daunting task of seeking legal advice from someone who speaks Spanish, this story is all too familiar. This story reflects upon the desperation that forces Spanish-speaking immigrants from Latin America with no choice but to trust the likes of Agustin “Tito” Ureňa.
1) The word “coňo” (translated as “damn”) is mentioned twice in the story, near the beginning and toward the end. Why is it an appropriate word?
2) What has Tito done with the earnings?
3) What overlying quality do you think guides Tito’s behavior?
4) Why don’t Tito’s clients file complaints against him?
|Dagoberto Gilb: “Al in Phoenix”
At times, the main character in this story appears neurotic, but at other times his behavior appears justified. The questions he asks of the mechanic, Al, are valid, but then again, to a certain extent so is Al’s reaction. To the main character, the questions seem simple enough. After all, he needs to have an idea of how long it will take for his car to be fixed. But repairing cars is not an exact science. Ultimately, the frustrating cycle can only end with the car being repaired, and only Al has the power to do this. To a certain extent, the main character’s ethnicity is secondary, since the story points to a concern that is common to anyone who has ever had a car repaired, be they of Latino descent or not.
1) How would you react to Al if you were the narrator?
2) How would you react to the narrator if you were Al?
3) The narrator claims to like Al (par. 80). Why?
4) In what ways are Al and the narrator similar?
|Ray Gonzalez: “Invisible Country”
The title of this short story is very telling, since indeed there are parts of the U.S.-Mexico border region where immigrants cross the border and are never seen again. While this statement isn’t meant to suggest that this is the act of anyone or any groups of people in particular, it is intended to point out a very real problem that doesn’t get its due attention. The tragic deaths of immigrants trying to cross the border take place on a regular basis in the border region, yet notice how the U.S. media make virtually no mention of this. As might be expected, the tension in the border region is intense, and in this story, this can be seen in the actions of all the characters. Mario is witness to an underground crime that places him in a dangerous situation in which he does not know whom to trust.
1) What is the role of Mario’s father in the story?
2) As someone who is not in the country illegally, what do you think life was like for Mario in the border region before he witnessed the Border Patrol officers’ crimes?
3) How do others view Mario? Why?
4) What do you think the future holds for Mario? Why?
|Alberto Riós: “The Child”
One of the reasons that this story is so powerful is because at first glance the descriptions of the two old ladies are so vivid that the character of the child seems secondary. The two women are polite, one might say, to a fault. Mrs. Garcia, especially, tries to be so helpful that even to the reader she might appear as being overly friendly. Their mode of transportation, the bus, is a common way to travel in Mexico and the characters traveling in such buses are just as varied as they are in the story.
1) How would you have reacted to Mrs. Garcia’s questions and advice?
2) What roles does the memory of Agustín play in the story?
3) What is your impression of the man with the child as they ride in the bus?
4) If you’ve ever ridden on a bus, did you find that people talked to each other in the way that they do in this story? Why or why not?
National Book Award and Pushcart Prize Award Winner: Books by Alberto Rios
|Helena Maria Viramontes: “The Cariboo Café”
This story is told by three narrators: Sonya, a young girl whose job is to pick up her brother, Macky from Mrs. Avila; the crude and judgmental owner of the Cariboo Cafe; and a woman who has lost her child and has fled from Latin American to the U.S. in search of a safer world. Each of the characters has been greatly affected by political instability. Sonya’s family is described as “displaced” and she is forced to be fully aware of her surroundings at all times. Although she is only a child, she has the responsibilities of an adult, be they taking care of her younger brother or keeping herself and her family out of the grasp of immigration officials. The owner of the Cariboo Cafe constantly looks around him, examining every person who walks into his restaurant. He gives readers a hint that the story takes place in the 1960s as he mentions that he has just seen a match between BoBo Brazil and the Crusher (par. 162). The memory of his son, JoJo, who was killed in Vietnam, still haunts him. While the first two parts of the story are told in past tense, the last section is told in the present and shifts between first and third person. The last narrator tells her story in a fragmented, complex way that reinforces the debilitating effects of the experiences she, the cook, and Sonya have. Her desperation is so strong that she becomes a sort of variation of La Llorona (par. 163), a mythical figure who roams the streets looking for her own children, and looking for any children to take her place.
1) What is your impression of the cook? Why?
2) If you were the mother of a child who was to be taken away, to what extent would you go in order to keep the child?
3) Have you ever had to hide or run away from others? If so, how did it make you feel?
4) In real life, BoBo Brazil, an African-American wrestler became a symbolic hero in times of segregation. Do you think the owner of the cafe was a fan of his? Why or why not?
|Julia Alvarez: “Woman’s Work”
During her childhood, the daughter’s view of “woman’s work” differs from her mother’s and she is forced to work on chores. Despite this difference, however, the daughter learns something from her mother. When she is older, the daughter understands that while she still is not enthusiastic about chores, she knows the value of putting her heart into her work.
1) What is the difference between ordinary art and high art?
2) As a child, were you assigned chores that were based on your gender?
3) How would you characterize the mother?
|Jimmy Santiago Baca: “Work We Hate and Dreams We Love”
Isleta Pueblo is located in New Mexico where, as suggested by the presence of adobe houses, this poem is set. The adobe house, with its natural beauty is contrasted with the wood Meiyo has to cut and the modern tools he uses.
1) Why does Meiyo hate his job so much?
2) What in the poem suggests Meiyo’s financial status?
3) Why wouldn’t “we” understand the sound mentioned in the last line?
Blood In, Blood Out: screenplay by Jimmy Santiago Baca
|Martín Espada: “Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper”
Throughout his lifetime, Espada has held various jobs, from being a bouncer, an attorney, and a professor. He writes about many of these experiences and the important lessons he learned from them. The job at the printing plant taught him a perspective that would resonate through him years later, even when he was in law school.
1) Based on what is described in this work, what type of attorney do you think he might have become?
2) If you have had any jobs involving physical labor, what did they teach you?
3) Do you think that getting cut just came with the job’s territory, or do you think that the plant could have done more to physically protect its employees?
American Book Award Winner: Books by Martin Espada
North Carolina Dept. of Correction: description of program in which inmates are assigned to work at printing plant
|Martín Espada: “Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits”
This is one of the most anthologized of all of Espada’s poems. The Honduran janitor has lived in anonymity, as no one gets to know him. The poem pays homage to the numerous immigrants who take menial jobs in the U.S., quite often jobs that no one else wants.
1) Would you work as a janitor? Why or why not?
2) At what point do you think others will discover that Jorge has quit and what does that say?
3) The poem points out that others may not even know that he is Honduran. Other than the fact that they don’t get to know him, is there another reason why that’s the case?
Dr. Dario A. Euraque’s Site: this Trinity College History professor’s site provides great resources on Honduras and Honduran immigrants.
|Martín Espada: “Federico’s Ghost”
The use of pesticides to protect fruits is an indication of how corporate interests have valued profit over people. Here, the plane may have sprayed these pesticides because the pilot was drunk, yet he is sober enough to be offended by the boy’s gesture. The boy’s revenge means that the boy destroys what the pilot values most—the tomatoes. To too many migrant workers and farmers, situations such as this one have been all too real.
1) Other than the fact that he is being sprayed, why else might Federico react by making an obscene gesture?
2) What is the significance of the colors that Espada uses in this poem?
3) Who do you think is vandalizing the tomatoes? In what other ways can the death of Federico be protested?
|Diana Garcia: “When Living was a Labor Camp Called Montgomery”
The experience of working in a labor camp is romanticized throughout most of the poem, but in the end the reader discovers how unpleasant it really was. The contrast between Lauren Bacall and Dolores del Rio is striking in that the “you” in the poem (presumably, the mother) prefers “Lauren Bacall’s whistle,” which suggests that she prefers to live a different lifestyle. Although del Rio had a very successful acting career in the U.S. and abroad, she was often typecast as a Mexican beauty.
1) What do you associate with figs? How does this affect your reaction to the poem?
2) What do you think the “you” in the poem is like now? Why?
3) Is there a modern day “Dolores Del Rio”? If so, what is your impression of her?
|Jose B. Gonzalez: “Because No One Should Say ‘Chávez Who?’”
Author’s commentary: Despite the fact that Cesar Chávez made tremendous strides for civil rights, especially for migrant workers, his name remains relatively obscure in the minds of too many of those educated in the U.S. This poem pays homage to a great leader though it also suggests that his fight is not over and that there are still Latino workers and farmers (be they in the U.S. or Latin America) who work in dangerous conditions and who are awaiting the rise of another leader with the qualities of Chávez. The poem alludes to Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, whose magic created powerful storms and enslaved Caliban, a character who has been studied closely in Colonial and Latino literature studies. I had the good fortune to meet Cesar Chávez at a lecture at my undergraduate institution. It was the first time that I had ever seen someone of Latino descent speaking publicly and needless to say, I found his message inspiring.
1) Why does the poem refer to table grapes?
2) Contrast the effort that goes into farming vegetables versus the way that they are used.
3) Most people in the U.S. barely know much about Cesar Chávez. Given that he is one of the most significant Latino figures of the 20th century, why do you think that people don’t know enough about him?
|Carolina Hospital: “Blake in the Tropics”
The Jaragua Hotel is located in the Dominican Republic, a country with a history of political instability. The contrast of what’s typically associated with the beauty of the tropic versus the images of dead children is what makes this poem so powerful. The following poem, “London,” by William Blake helps explain the title and focus of Hospital’s poem, as Blake also wrote about what happens in world where no one, not even children, are safe.
By William Blake
I wandered through each chartered street,
In every cry of every man,
How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
But most, through midnight streets I hear
1) What does the “black” in the Hospital’s poem signify?
2) Other than what is noted above, what similarities exist in the two poems?
3) Do you think that children in the U.S. face similar perils? If so, where?
|Luis J. Rodriguez: “Hungry”
This poem describes the precarious and desperate situation in which the husband places himself. Although he is still in love with his wife, he prizes his car, for it is the one possession that has not been a letdown for him. Yet, in the end he is so desperate for his situation to improve that he sells the Chevy for $200.00, without realizing that it’s not the car that has cursed him but rather his way of life.
1) In which instances does Rodriguez use humor in this piece? What is the effect?
2) What do you think happened to the husband’s other possessions?
3) What contributes to his drinking problem?
|Gary Soto: “The Elements of San Joaquin”
This poem is dedicated to Cesar Chávez, who fought vigorously for rights for migrant workers and led a table grape boycott. The poem provides a unique perspective in that while the elements of nature are part of the landscape, so are the urban images of used cars, thieves, and projects. Ultimately, the elements of nature wear down the young boy, who as a migrant worker, as the dirt covers him, the wind makes him cold, the stars are but a reminder that a tiring day is over, the sun overheats him, the rain keeps him from working, the harvest only benefits the farm owners, the fog hides everything, daybreak signals the beginning of arduous labor, and summer reminds him that a season of the same work will start over again.
1) Do you associate any elements of nature with work? If so, why?
2) How old do you think the worker in the poem is?
3) Who is the “you” in the poem?
National Book Award Winner: Books by Gary Soto
|Gary Soto “Mexicans Begin Jogging”
Throughout U.S. history, assumptions about the legal status of immigrants have resulted in Mexican Americans being deported. In this case, the supervisor, meaning to be helpful, assumes that the poet is an illegal immigrant. The poet does as he is told and is overjoyed that he gets a dollar for running away.
1) What does the reference to “the next century” signify?
2) In what type of factory do you think he worked?
3) How far do you think he ran? Why?
National Book Award Winner: Books by Gary Soto
|Jose Antonio Burciaga: “Pachucos and the Taxi Cab Brigade”
1) What is your impression of a zoot suit? Would you wear one? Why or why not?
2) What clothing would you consider the modern-day equivalent of a zoot suit?
3) When suspects for crimes are described as “looking Hispanic,” what do you picture? Why?
4) Provide modern-day examples of “Zoot Suit” riots.