The Fringe World: Outside Looking In, Inside Looking Out
|Alba Ambert: “Rage of a Fallen Angel”
This story is reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In both stories, the reader can’t help but be pulled in and diagnose the main characters’ condition. We learn that her doctor will not take her seriously and while we sympathize with her, ultimately, we recognize that she is insane. The question therefore that arises is what makes her so? Answering this is easier said than done as she contradicts herself throughout the story. She says she doesn’t tell the truth but then adds that it’s because she doesn’t know what the truth is (par. 42). She claims to be a writer but then says that she “was.” One thing is certain—she is a very intelligent, educated woman. However, her doctor, like others throughout her life treats her in a condescending manner. Her first husband, Pepe, had no patience with her and considered her stupid (par. 60.). When she works as a substitute teacher, the principal reminds her that she is not an expert and that therefore her assessments of students don’t matter (par. 136). And Dr. Rhodes taps her hand before he leaves her at the end in an act that is symbolic of his perceived superiority.
1) Why is the narrator not taken seriously?
2) Why does she hide her journal?
3) What do you think the narrator needs in order to get better?
4) Identify the number of ways the narrator has “fallen.”
Daniel Cano: “Somewhere Outside Doc Pho”
The presence of Mexican Americans in Vietnam has gotten relatively little attention in the U.S. Despite the fact that so many Chicanos gave up their lives for the U.S., major publishers and commercially successful films such as Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Good Morning Vietnam, The Deer Hunter, have virtually ignored their significant contributions. This story challenges the reader to question the fate of Jesse Peña and to a certain extent make judgment on his patriotism. If it’s true that he has gone AWOL and fighting for the wrong side, then he is a traitor. Then again, could it be that his commitment is questioned because of other reasons?
1) Would you be more or less likely to believe that Peňa was fighting for the Viet Cong if he weren’t Mexican American? Why?
2) Which details about his disappearance do you think are most believable?
3) Do you find the narrator credible? Why or why not?
4) The title is very general about the location–“somewhere.” Why?
Leroy V. Quintana: “The Man on Jesus Street – Dreaming”
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, research on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) began “in earnest” after the Vietnam War, and “more than half of all Vietnam War veterans and almost half of all female Vietnam veterans have experienced ‘clinically serious stress reaction symptoms.’” These symptoms include (among other ailments) difficulty sleeping and flashbacks. This story provides a vivid description of the war’s tragic consequences. Henry Kissinger (par. 20) served as Secretary of State and Assistant to the President of National Security Affairs during the war. Although he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, his role in the Vietnam War is not without controversy. The Paris Peace Talks (par. 20) were efforts to end the war and were known at first for their failures.
1) What is the effect of the narrator’s switching back and forth between past and present?
2) Who is the man without a face?
3) What do you think happens to the main character in the end?
“Two Days in September,” an impressive short piece by up and coming author, Roberto Pachecano. Published in Amarillo Bay
Abraham Rodriguez, Jr.: “The Boy Without a Flag”
1) Are the facts that the narrator learns from his father part of your high school’s curriculum? Why or why not?
2) How much do you know about Puerto Rico? Did you learn what you know about Puerto Rico from schools in the U.S.?
3) What do you think would have happened if the father had supported the son’s decision not to salute the flag?
4) If your education did not provide you with much information about Latinos and/or Puerto Ricans, did you complain to a teacher? If not, why not?
www.nationalpuertoricandayparade.org: provides information on the Puerto Rican Day Parade
Edgardo Vega Yunqúe: “The Barbosa Express”
The New York City Transit Authority (also known as the MTA) employs nearly 50,000 workers, is in charge of the operation of buses and subways in the Metropolitan New York area and boasts “the largest subway car fleet in the world.” Although the author’s use of humor is prevalent throughout this story as he describes Barbosa’s express, ultimately the tale offers a stinging social commentary. The contrasting personalities of Jesús (Chu Chu) Barbosa and the narrator, Mendoza, stand out from the beginning. Barbosa, a motorman at the New York City Transit Authority contrives a plan to protest what he considers the agency’s discriminatory act of assigning a new train to someone who has less seniority than him. Having worked hard and loyally for the NYCTA for seventeen years, he rightly so can think of no other reason why he would be mistreated in such a manner. He devises a plan to get revenge on his terms, and from that point, the reader gets a sense of how different Mendoza and he are. For example, while Mendoza, a writer, may agree that discrimination against Puerto Rican and Latino workers might exist, he doesn’t indicate that he has ever rebelled. Just the opposite, Mendoza had been forced to write “nothing but lies about the people.”
2) What is your impression of Barbosa’s guests? For example, are you surprised by their professions? Why or why not?
3) Does Barbosa have other choices regarding the way he can protest? If so, what are they?
4) What statement does the story make about social change?
|Julia Alvarez: “Bilingual Sestina”
A sestina is a poem consisting of six six-line stanzas and a concluding three-line stanza. Each line in each of the six stanzas ends with the same words (said, English, closed, words, nombres, and Spanish, or a variation of any of those words). The use of this form extends back to the twelfth century, and not surprisingly, is rarely used today. Obviously, it’s even rarer to publish a bilingual sestina.
1) Why do you think the author chose to write in the sestina form? Why not, for example, in open form?
2) Who are Gladys, Rosario, and Altagracia?
3) Which language is easier to learn—English or Spanish?
Naomi Ayala: “A Coquí in Nueva York”
Until the end of World War II, Puerto Rico was primarily an agrarian society. However, at around the middle of the 20th century U.S. manufacturers began to invest heavily in Puerto Rico and changed its face forever. Loiza is a coastal, Puerto Rican town that has maintained its rich traditions, including festivals that celebrate the Taino Indian and African heritage. In part the line in the poem regarding “turning Loiza into an open-air museum” (8-9) is a criticism of the price of the involvement of U.S. corporations in Puerto Rico. But the poem as a whole is also critical of other practices, including the controversial laws that require the instruction of English in Puerto Rican schools.
1) When and if companies have invested in the city or town in which you currently live, have the lives of most people improved dramatically? Why or why not?
2) The end of the poem literally refers to a frog’s leap, but what else might it signify?
3) What is your impression of the poet’s self-description as a “loud-mouth coquí” (1)? Why?
Sandra Maria Esteves: “Here”
Like other works in this section, this poem documents the sense of being marginalized. Luquillo is a coastal town in northeast Puerto Rico and is filled with long rows of coconut trees.
1) How many parts of a person do you think you’re divided into? In what ways is that different than the poet’s?
2) If you once lived in a tropical town like Luquillo, how would you feel about living elsewhere?
3) In what ways has Puerto Rico been stolen?
Jose B. Gonzalez: “Autobrownography of a New England Latino”
Author’s Notes: The title of the work is a recognition that being Brown has shaped so many facets of my life. Growing up, I was never assigned a book by a Latino author—our experiences weren’t documented anywhere I looked. The only time that stories about Latinos appeared anywhere was in a negative context. For example, as a young child, my mother was robbed, and her name appeared in the local newspaper, much to her embarrassment. Years later, when I earned an award for excellence in English at my baccalaureate institution, the same newspaper wouldn’t even mention the accomplishment. In this poem I sought to challenge readers’ expectations of the life of a Brown Latino, especially since so many life stories about Latinos deal with crime, drugs, and anger. As the poem notes, too many people expect me to have little to no education and few, if any, expect me to teach English.
1) Write your own “autobrownography,” in which you use the same word over and over again to describe something about you that has helped shape your life.
2) As the poem incorporates humor, what effect does it have?
3) Do you agree that “in higher education / if you’re brown you can lay claim / to being the first this and that as a brown” (111-114)?
4) In what ways would the author’s experiences as described in the poem have been different if he were a Latino with light skin and other prominent Anglo features (e.g. light hair, blue eyes)?
NPR All Things Considered Essay: “The Bilingual Conundrum” by Jose B. Gonzalez
U.S. Census Bureau Analysis: “for the first time in U.S. Census history, respondents in Census 2000 were given the option of reporting more than one category in the question on race. Thus, for example, individuals could report multiple racial categories, such as White and Black, or Black and Asian, or White, Black and Asian.”
Jose B. Gonzalez: “Caribbean Fresco in New England”
Author’s commentary: While New England has numerous museums that celebrate everything from its maritime history to the Salem witch trials, it offers very little for those of us who want to learn more about Latinos. Some people might be surprised to hear that Connecticut cities such as Hartford, Bridgeport, Windham, and New London and Holyoke and cities in Massachusetts such as Springfield and Holyoke have significantly high Puerto Rican populations, or that Central Falls in Rhode Island has had a strong Colombian presence or that the state of Rhode Island is home to large percentages of Guatemalans and Dominicans. This poem is a reminder of how so many Latinos, such as myself, find it difficult to learn about our cultures in places that ignore our history and presence.
1) Why do you think that the presence of Latinos in New England is not so well-known?
2) Have you visited or would you visit a museum that focuses on a particular ethnic group? Why or why not?
3) What do you associate with the terms “Puritan” or “Yankee”? Why?
Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Arts & Letters: where this poem was first published.
Tato Laviera: “AmeRícan”
When individuals such as Tiger Woods define themselves by using multi-ethnic terms like Cablinasian, they are reaffirming their connection with more than one culture and are following a tradition that is not new. In the U.S., many people question the need for attaching any self-definition to the popular term “American,” but the U.S. is such a diverse country that using the word “American” is an oversimplification, especially since technically all Latin Americans can be described as “American.” Here the poet embraces the term “American,” but at the same time recognizes his Puerto Rican ancestry. His mention of Pedro Flores, a Puerto Rican composer who flourished in New York City in the first part of the twentieth century is a subtle but important example of the way that Puerto Ricans and their contributions cannot be so easily measured by being placed into either of the two categories. As the poem indicates, being Puerto Rican means having drops of European, Indian, Black, Spanish (367) and (in this case) U.S. blood.
1) What is the effect of having stanzas begin with the word, “AmeRícan” and formatting the stanzas by indenting?
2) Why is it so important for the poet and others like him to define themselves in their own terms?
3) Are you surprised that the poet is proud to call himself AmeRican? Why or why not?
Demetria Martínez: “Birthday”
The year of the rat during the twentieth century fell on 1912 and has fallen on every 12th year after that. On one hand, this poem could refer literally to one of those years, but on the other, it might also be using the word “rat” to suggest the types of infestations and diseases that one associates with a rat. The poem also mentions the of U.S. soldiers, 58,000, which is generally accepted as the number of U.S. soldier deaths in Vietnam.
1) If you were born in a year of turmoil, what was the cause of the turmoil and how does that compare to the poet’s experience?
2) What is your expectation of what the U.S. will be like 38 years from now? Do you expect things to be better or worse?
3) What is your reaction when you see a flag at half-staff? How long do you think a flag should remain at half-staff? Why?
Pat Mora: “Elena”
This poem details the price that Latino immigrant parents pay for raising children in a language they do not speak. Naturally, at 40 years old, it is much more difficult for the mother to learn English. In order to continue to have a connection with her children, she has no other choice.
1) If you have ever tried learning another language, did you have the same feelings as the mother and felt “dumb” (11)?
2) Why does the mother appear to care more about learning English?
3) Ultimately, what do you think will happen if the mother doesn’t learn English?
Pat Mora: “Legal Alien”
This poem plays with the word “alien,” which is often used in a negative context and is usually associated with the word, “illegal.” The irony of the poem is that although illegal aliens are clearly marginalized in the U.S., so are legal aliens—in this case by Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike.
1) What does the poet mean by “bi-laterally” (22)?
2) Whom is this poem most critical of? Why?
3) What is the legal alien’s socioeconomic status?
Cherríe Moraga: “The Welder”
This poem uses strong metaphors to make a statement about the power to define oneself. The poet makes an important distinction between a welder and an alchemist in order to emphasize that such power is within her control.
1) What does the poet mean by “the capacity of heat to change the shape of things” (41-42)?
2) Do you find the poem inspirational? Why or why not?
3) Why is “welding” the ideal metaphor for the poet’s message?
Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales: “Ending Poem”
This poem presents many facets of the experiences and backgrounds of Puerto Ricans. The mother, Rosario, was born in the Bronx, while her daughter Aurora was born in Puerto Rico. A “shtetl” (8) is a small city or town, and indicates the poets’ deep Jewish roots. Within this poem, the reader can’t help but hear the voices of the two individuals, as well as the voices of other Puerto Ricans who have had diverse experiences yet still have common bonds.
1) As they affirm their identities, why do these poets define themselves in negative terms?
2) What does line 45 mean?
3) Do you consider yourself as having such a mixture of roots as the authors? Why or why not?
Achy Obejas: “Sugarcane”
Although it is hundreds of miles away from where sugarcane grows naturally, Chicago has a population that is 25% Latino. Known for its cold winter winds and its sprawling high-rises, it is far from the ideal location for growing sugarcane.
1) What effect does the repetition of words have?
2) Why is sugarcane the ideal symbol for this poem?
3) The poem refers to “bro.” Why?
Alberto Ríos: “The Vietnam Wall”
This poem’s creative formatting is used in such a way as to make certain lines and stanzas appear like walls. The name, Severano Rios, stands in a line by itself, as it should.
1) Why does the poem stress that he has seen men cry at the wall?
2) Why does the poet begin by saying “I like it: The magic” (2)?
3) What do you think is the “something” (33) that persists?
4) Who is Severiano Ríos?
Carmen Tafolla: “Letter to Ti”
While many works offer dedications to someone, this creative, touching poem is from someone—Le Van Minh. The 15-year old boy cannot walk, and while parts of his life may have improved in the U.S., other things remain the same.
1) Have you ever had to rely on someone for physical help because of an injury or handicap? If so, how difficult was it to think of the better things in life?
2) If the poem were to continue after “still” (42), what would it say?
3) What does line 10 mean?
Gina Valdés: “Where You From?”
A common question for Latinos is, “where are you from?” Quite often, the assumption is that the person is from the same place as the majority of Latinos in the area. For example, in California, all Latinos are wrongfully assumed to be Mexican; in Miami, they’re assumed to be Cuban, and so forth. The other common assumptions are that Latinos are recent immigrants and that they are not from multiple areas. For Mexican Americans in the Southwest, this question is particularly complex, since parts of Mexico became the U.S. after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
1) Why is the word “frontera,” (18-19; 29-3) which means “border,” split up?
2) What does “splits on my tongue” (31) mean?
3) Why is it important that this poem be written in Spanish and English?
Adeline Yllanes: “Peruana Perdida”
This poem ponders the presence of Peruvians in the U.S. Aside from movie star Benjamin Bratt, whose Peruvian heritage is a secret to most people, the mainstream media, Hollywood, and the literary world have ignored Peruvians altogether. Using Peru’s landscape as a contrast to the technologically driven world of the U.S., the poet asks Peruvians, not others, to affect change.
1) What do you know about Peru? Where did you learn it?
2) Can you name celebrities, singers, or authors of your ethnic descent? If not, do you feelings similar to the author’s?
3) Do you think that words will make a difference, as the poet indicates they will? Why or why not?
Recommended Film: Hispanic Hollywood
José Rivera: “Cloud Tectonics”
The term Magical Realism is overused in reviews of works by Latinos, but in the case of this play, it is appropriate. The term originated in the 1920s and was first coined by German critic, Franz Roh to describe art that incorporated elements of the surreal within realistic images. Although it was popularized by Latin American writers during the 1960s, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is often credited with broadening its appeal. This play employs elements of Magical Realism as the situation itself is realistic. A sympathetic man, Aníbal tries to help a pregnant woman, Celestina. But when he brings her to her apartment, he (and the audience) can’t tell whether there is something wrong with her or whether her behavior is part of the magical appeal of the play. Other strange happenings, such the clock’s blinking and the time warp that follows Celestina, add to the magic.
1) Why does Aníbal continue to be so kind to Celestina when her comments seem so odd?
2) At what point in the play did you first notice the use of Magical Realism?
3) Of all stage directions, which do you consider most important? Why?
4) What impression of Los Angeles does the play give?
5) How does Nelson define manhood?
6) What does the play say about love?
7) Do you agree that language can be forgotten?
8) Do you think that time sometimes seems to go as fast as it does in the play? Why or why not?
Gloria Anzaldúa: “La conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness”1) Why does the author incorporate Spanish into her essay?2) Which of the author’s opinions apply only to Chicanas? Why?3) In what ways is this essay inspiring?4) In what ways is the struggles of Latinos an “inner” (par. 32) one?