Pat Mora (b. 1942)
Contributing Editor: Juan Bruce-Novoa
Classroom Issues and Strategies
The ethnic background of the students will greatly determine the nature of class discussion. How sympathetic they are to Mora's position will vary. Students may be first-generation immigrants who themselves are adapting to English and U.S. culture, or second- or third-generation residents whose relatives are the living reminders of the process. Others may see it as an experience their ancestors went through years ago, while some will never have asked themselves if their ancestors ever spoke anything but English. You may find yourself in the middle of a heated discussion of English as the official national language or the threat to American culture that the use of other languages represents for many people. I prefer to guide the discussion toward the universal quality of the experience of acculturation the poems express.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
The Mora selections feature the theme of English language acquisition as a painful experience of conflict and suffering for native Spanish speakers. In each poem, school is at least partially the setting for the conflict. Her perspective characterizes the experience as one of gain and loss, emphasizing the latter as the loss of cultural authenticity, while the value of the gain is left in doubt. This position is common among proponents of bilingual education and ethnic pluralism, and can be found among the majority of writers from the Chicano communities. It reflects a turn away from the historical paradigm of U.S. culture as English-based that in turn made the learning of English a necessary rite of passage. However, it should be noted that each poem includes a touch of ambivalence: The characters are attracted to English-based culture, producing a desire whose satisfaction they seek.
For the personal connection, see the headnote.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Mora's form and style are direct and should present few problems for students. The most notable feature is the use of Spanish words, but she does so on the most basic level that requires only dictionary translating for understanding. One should note, however, that the girl's name, "Esperanza," in "Border Town," means hope--an obvious pun.
Mora tends to publish in small presses specializing in distribution to a Latino readership. Hence, her poetry can count on a mostly sympathetic audience, one that probably will not find the smattering of Spanish hinders comprehension.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Mora can be placed in the context of Bernice Zamora and Lorna Dee Cervantes, among Chicana writers included here, as well as Judith Ortiz Cofer. For a similar depiction of the situation faced by Chicanos in Texas schools, see Tomás Rivera's And the Earth Did Not Part; for the ambivalent attitude of desire and fear, see Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory; for a contrasting view on the question of English language acquisition, see Linda Chavez's Out of the Barrio.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/Approaches to Writing
1. Students can be asked to locate the verses in each poem in which the dilemma of attraction and repulsion are conveyed. Ask them to consider the pros and cons of acculturation, especially as it relates to education.
2. Have students write about their own experience and, specifically, about whether education has demanded of them anything similar to what Mora describes. They could consider the question of private versus public codes of discourse and if education can serve both.
No major criticism has been published on Mora.