The Urban World: Weaving Through City Streets
|Sandra Cisneros: “Bread”
Bread and water are said to be the most basic of food and drink. Here, the memory of bread overshadows everything else and is a testament to the simple things that the narrator can appreciate now that horrible experiences are in her past. This does not mean that the memories are insignificant but just the opposite–that they are so significant that years later they cannot be shaken.
1) Describe the narrator’s lover.
2) What pain do you think passed between the two of them?
3) What do the “new city memories” refer to?
Junot Díaz: “Edison, New Jersey”
The main character’s job in this story forces him to confront the socioeconomic differences and privileges that those who can afford to buy expensive pool tables have over him. He and Wayne deliver the pool tables to wealthy customers in the suburbs, where he is reminded of his status each time he goes to work. Few of them appreciate the work he does for them, and he is not the type of person who would allow someone to mistreat him. As such, he fights back in the only ways he can, by doing such things as eating customers’ cookies when they are not there or by clogging their toilets. Like the maid, he is stuck in a dead-end job. Although she leaves her job, he keeps his (albeit, he is demoted), and continues to be stuck in the endless cycle of going to the suburbs.
2) The main character says that he is college-educated (par. 99). Do you believe him? Why or why not?
3) How would you react to the customers who mistreat the narrator if you were in a similar situation as the one he is in?
4) What is the significance of the main character’s job delivering pool tables?
Web del Sol Other Voices Interview with Junot Diaz
Like the main character in “Edison, New Jersey,” this character is frustrated by the many turns his life has taken. And like him, he is at a point in his life where he is more concerned about himself than he is about anyone else. The title of the story begs the question—the “love of whom?” for we know that Jake is not in love with the woman, as much as he claims to be attracted to her. In the end, “love” means nothing, just as the lies he tells mean nothing. This short satire presents an atypical view of the Hollywood scene, where actors and actresses pretend to be someone else. In this case, Jake becomes one of these characters as he reinvents himself.
1) Compare and contrast the main characters in “Edison, New Jersey,” and “Love in L.A.” What can you tell about their past?
2) What does the fact that Jake does not appear stressed about the accident say about him?
3) Why is Mariana suspicious of Jake?
4) What do you think the future holds for Jake? Why?
Penn Book Award Winner: Books by Dagoberto Gilb
Sergio Troncoso “My Life in the City”
This story epitomizes the love-hate relationship that urban dwellers have with the cities in which they live. The narrator is lonely, yet he is only a few steps away from conveniences and others, just as he is a step away from death. Witnessing a near-death accident makes him ponder the presence of God and look for meaning around him. The city of New York is the ideal setting for such self-reflection, since it is the kind of place where he can be mauled by a pit bull (par. 7), crushed by a Ford Explorer (par. 11), and “anything can happen” (15). Becky transforms him, but whether his faith in God resurfaces is left up to the reader.
2) The narrator ponders leaving the city. Do you think he would be better off?
3) What does his closeness to his parents suggest to you about him?
4) Do you think that people who live in large cities have more or less faith in God? Why?
Helena Maria Viramontes: “Neighbors”
Anyone who has ever had to live in a place where they feared for their safety on a daily basis can appreciate this story. Naturally, urban cities where neighborhoods are often overcrowded, can be filled with crime, and the setting for this story, the city of Los Angeles, is no exception. Robert Frost once wrote that neighbors make good fences, but in the story’s city environment, no fence or policeman can keep neighbors from harm. While many films and stories have looked at how crime in the inner cities affects families in the short term, this story does more than that. Ferrio’s son Chuy is murdered, though we find out more about the father’s suffering years later than about the circumstances leading to Chuy’s death. Ferrio’s neighbor, Aura, has lived with the threat of violence in her own house, and her situation only gets worse when a thug promises to exact revenge on her for not opening the door for him when the police are chasing him. Sadly, Ferrio and Chuy live so close to each other that they can look inside each other’s homes, yet all that does is allow them to see each other’s loneliness.
1) Who is Ferrio’s visitor and why don’t we learn more about her?
2) Has someone ever threatened to get revenge on you? Were you able to avoid that person?
3) How close to where you live has a murder been committed? Does that distance make you feel safe or not?
4) Describe the type of person is likely to move next into Ferrio’s place.
|Jack Aqüeros: “Psalm for Coquito”
While the coquito is better known as the little singing frog native to Puerto Rico, here Aqüeros is referring to the alcoholic drink that is comparable to eggnog. The word “oligarchy” refers to government by a few, but its supposed “expunging” from the dictionary by corporations suggests that the corporate interests are the few who are in charge and that they are going to extreme to protect their interests. Once they increase their own power, the corporations begin to rule various facets of life and the people who have the least say in governance. The irony in the poem is that while the piece is a “Psalm” for the alcoholic drink, it provides a biting criticism of corporate greed.
1) Of the various corporate scenarios, which do you find most believable? Why?
2) State agencies are notorious for their bureaucratic policies, but which type of state agency is the poem most critical of?
3) Throughout the world the portrayal of Jesus varies. In the poem, he is described as being a part of a dark-skinned family. Why is such a depiction significant?
Lorna Dee Cervantes: “Freeway 280”
As is the case sometimes when highways are built, Freeway 280 in California displaced many poor residents. Many Chicano families were forced to relocate in the name of “progress,” and though the traces of this heritage are not obvious in the roads, they lie deep within. To the poet, these remnants or “seeds” may have been destroyed but in her eyes they will always be part of the highway. Note how the use of Spanish reinforces the underlying presence of the Chicano/a heritage.
1) Why did the poem want out at one point in her life, despite the fact that she appears so nostalgic about the area now?
2) What is the “raised scar”?
3) Describe a highway in your hometown that is similar to Freeway 280’s.
Lorna Dee Cervantes “Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway”
The theme in this poem is very similar to that of “Freeway 280” however, this poem (like various other poems by Cervantes) looks at the poet’s matriarchal histories. The poem challenges society’s views of what is considered “women’s work,” as the females do the plumbing, build houses, and are described with terms (such as “Knight” and “Warrior”) usually associated with men. Yet, despite this work, the poet braids her hair, while her mother prefers to be a princess, and the grandmother is depicted as a queen. Like mockingbirds, which are said to mimic other species and are mentioned a few times in the poem, the women can be described as having masculine qualities, yet they are clearly strong and just as importantly, feminine.
1) Why don’t the grandmother and the poet trust what has been built with others’ hands?
2) Do you agree with the view that in life one can’t be soft? Why or why not?
3) What does the freeway signify?
Victor Hernández Cruz: “Their Poem”
Students having difficulty following the various voices in this poem might want to consider punctuating it. Doing so takes away some of the stream-of-consciousness of the poem and the sense that the action is taking place at a fast pace, but it also helps the reader keep track of the action. The characters in the poem have numerous issues, yet they are part of the city’s landscape with all its temptations and dysfunctional relationships. As the reader discovers at the end, however, the poem is as much about the poet as it is about the characters. Ultimately, he knows all these people in what seems to be an intimate way, and as he’s getting older he’s becoming more introspective about the lifestyle he and his friends live.
1) Do you think the poet is entirely serious when he uses the word “intelligence” at the end of the poem? Why or why not?
2) Why are a few lines capitalized?
3) What do you think the future holds for the “I’ in the poem?
Julio Marzán: “Grand Central Station”
Grand Central Station, officially called Grand Central Terminal is one of the great landmarks of New York City. With a main concourse that is 125 feet wide, has ceilings that are over 100 feet high, it boasts aesthetically pleasing architectural details. It also is an extremely busy terminal, where tourists and residents move about in what often seems like an endless rush. The “baby-faced” Puerto Rican from upstate New York is one of these people. Although the poet does not appear to know him, the encounter is enough to make an impression of the young man’s anger.
1) What does the “light” represent?
2) What is the significance of the man’s asking for directions?
3) Do you think the poet’s impression of him might be wrong? Why or why not?
Willie Perdomo: “Reflections of the Metro North, Winter 1990”
This poem has a musical beat and lends itself to being read (or sung) aloud—by more than one voice. Parts of the poem serve as refrains and it is written in a style that is reminiscent of plenas, a type of folk ballad popular in Puerto Rico. The poem tells a story and takes you on a ride, a Metro ride, to be more specific, and on a tour of New York neighborhoods. On this ride, we learn that the streets are filled with temptations, but the poet’s love for Tanisa keeps him away from that world.
1) How does the poet feel about New York?
2) Not all the Spanish words in this poem were translated. Pick one. Can you guess at the meaning?
3) How would you characterize his relationship with Tanisa? For example, how do you think feels about him?
Pedro Pietri: “Puerto Rican Obiturary”
Obituaries usually list the names of the deceased, their immediate family members, where they worked, where and when they were born, and information about their funerals or other spiritual ceremonies in their honor. This obituary does all this, but it also provides a tribute to the likes of Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga, Manuel, and other Puerto Ricans who have had lives full of hard work and sacrifice. They died believing in the promise of the American Dream and waiting for opportunities to open up for them at work. Although one could argue that the poem is filled with anger (and true, parts of it are), it accomplishes much more than that.
1) Why does the author refer to the deceased as “spics” (106)?
2) The poem claims that “the flag wants them destroyed” (146). In what context is this meant?
3) How long do you think a real obituary of any of the individuals this poem would be? Why?
Miguel Piñero: “La Bodega Sold Dreams”
Bodegas are small stores found in many Latino neighborhoods. Despite their size, many of them manage to stock numerous items of interest to Latino residents. In Spanish Harlem, for example, many bodegas sell produce from the Caribbean and Latin America. The poet is aware that the poetry he writes is nontraditional. The irony is that while being a poet might be a dream and the poem might not be the kind that is automatically embraced into the U.S. literary canon, it is still powerful and creative—as all great poems should be.
1) What is the effect of having certain words end in apostrophes?
2) Who are the ones with weak minds (7)?
3) Why does he say “poet” in the first line and “poeta” in the beginning of the last stanza?
Miguel Piñero: “A Lower East Side Poem”
This is one of Piñero’s better know poems and highlights the affection that he had and millions of Puerto Ricans have had for New York, or more specifically, the Lower East Side. He makes no secret of the fact that he has been no saint in the city. Far from it, he has been to prison, on drugs, and has “committed every known sin” (30). Yet despite having been part of the city, he still considers the Lower East Side, the area of New York where the Nuyorican Poets Café Barrio is located, his home. Nelson Rockefeller, whom the poet accuses of “ghettocide” (51) was Governor of New York from 1958-1973, during which time he led many controversial initiatives to punish those convicted of drug crimes. In addition, some would say that his various building projects displaced thousands of poor residents. After his suspicious death in 1979, the body of Rockefeller, like Piñero’s was cremated. When Piñero died in 1998 many poets paid tribute to him and indeed scattered his ashes throughout the Lower East Side.
1) Why does the poet make it a point to say that he does not want to be buried in Puerto Rico?
2) Do you feel as passionate about a city or town? Do people want to move to or away from that city or town?
3) Who is the audience for this poem?
Gloria Vando: “In the Dark Backward”
This is a dark and sad poem in which the poet laments her life not in terms of what she had while growing up but what she did not have. Each of the descriptions of where she and her friend were raised serve as metaphors that highlight her family’s poverty and living conditions. For example, the tall trees on the riverfront block reflect the fine conditions that permitted growth. The sun and light allowed the tree to grow and blossom, while on the other side of the city, where night rules, the opposite took place. To her, it’s tantalizing to see the beauty of the Palisades, cliffs along the Hudson River, as like everything else on the other side of her home, it reminds her of what she cannot have.
1) If you have friends who lived in conditions that were opposite of those of your family, did it make you feel a grief similar to the poet’s?
2) What does a “ghost ship” (33) refer to?
3) How do you think her friend felt about the poet’s poverty? Why?
|Josefina Lopez: Real Women Have Curves
Although the women in this play are concerned that immigration officials will raid the small factory, the factory actually serves as a bit of a safe haven for them. True, they have valid reasons to worry. The threat of a raid is real, as evidenced by the number of roundups that have taken place in the Los Angeles area. And Estela’s immigration status does mean that she can be taken away and lose her business at any given time. But inside the factory the women are able to talk, form bonds, and support each other in ways that they cannot do on the outside. While their conversations at first glance may appear to be nothing more than gossip, the women discuss such serious issues as the role of education, the exploitation of workers, sex, self-esteem, self-confidence, and of course, women’s bodies. Although each of these women has at least one barrier in their way, all of them are strong in their own way: Estela has the business acumen to run a successful business; Ana is well-read; Pancha is strong-willed and sharp-witted; Rosali will not let her physical condition keep her from working; and although Carmen offers various moments of comic relief, she keeps everyone together.
It should be noted that the types of concerns that these hardworking women face while trying to make a living and looking over their shoulders for immigration officials are also the types of concerns that hundreds of thousands of legal and illegal immigrants have faced in the U.S. This play was written nearly a decade before the terrorist acts of September 11th resulted in Congress enacting stricter laws that made the deportation of documented and undocumented immigrants easier.
1) Review the costumes list (292-295). What objects do you think would be particularly important in producing this play?
2) Other than being well-read, in what ways does Ana show that she does not belong in the factory?
3) How do you think Ana found out about attending college?
4) Carmen makes the statement that “If you can’t trust your mother, who can you trust?” Do you agree? Why or why not?
5) Have you ever had a job which reminded you of what you did not have? If so, did you have the same sentiments as Ana?
6) Cite examples of the ways that Carmen takes charge.
7) Although the play ends on a promising note, what kinds of problems might Estela face?
8) What does the story say about the process of writing?
9) Do you think Ana will accomplish what she says in her final soliloquy?
|Luis Alberto Urrea: “Meet the Satánicos”
1) Does the end of this essay surprise you? Why or why not?
2) Do you think that the children who make up the Satanicos are different than children who are in other gangs? Why or why not?
3) The essay notes that the colonia is “not officially in existence” (par. 4). How does that contribute to its problems?