The emphasis needs to be on the promise of the "American Dream" and unfulfillment of that promise by American society. Students should identify the competition and intra-group enmity that arise from the dehumanizing effects of this inability to attain economic and social status in the United States.
Special care needs to be taken to note the use of Spanish: When does it occur and what specific words are used? Why is the phrase "Como Est� Usted" so important, according to Pietri? What is the tone of this short stanza? Is he stating that the dominant culture demands subservience of the Puerto Ricans? Other significant words and phrases that should be defined (if no one in the class can translate) are: Puertorriqenos, se hable espanol, and negrito. Negrito is especially significant as it will tie into later discussion of racial identity, especially in Ariano.
The next poet we will read is Tato Laviera, one of the most prominent of the Nuyorican poets and compared to Pietri by Juan Flores for his strident tone and pride in his ethnicity. The first of the two poems we will read is ""My Graduation Speech," a poem that uses code-switching liberally and celebrates its use as an element of his cultural and self identity. The poem is taken from his collection La Carreta Made a U-Turn (1979), a response to Rene Marques's drama La carreta (The Oxcart, 1953) by a Puerto Rican writer raised largely in the U.S. Marques traced the journey of many Puerto Ricans from the rural areas of the island to the ghettos of San Juan and the South Bronx. The play celebrates a return of the emigrant to the pastoral island and a restoration of ancestral values. Laviera, though born in Puerto Rico and raised there until the age of 10, sees this return to the mythical island as impossible. Nonetheless, he sees these emigrants as a worthwhile part of Puerto Rican culture and establishes this in his collection.
He begins "My Graduation Speech" by noting that the language in his thoughts, the code that he uses for his inner dialogues, is Spanish; this establishes his primary cultural identity. He then states that the language by which he communicates with the world is English. (This issue of public and private language will be a central focus of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez.) He then comments that he desires to return to Puerto Rico but questions whether he really belongs there. This establishes the central conflict: a linguistic identity with two groups, neither of which he fully belongs to.
Students will need to translate the Spanish that is used liberally throughout the poem. They could either enlist the aid of a native speaker from the community (perhaps an interview project) or translate on their own. Another possibility is for the teacher to group non-Spanish speaking students with native speakers in the class and use this as an opportunity to work cooperatively. They could match the translated lines and phrases side-by-side with the original text and note what images and ideas are conveyed in each language. Students should also note the concrete imagery he uses to convey his ideas. A discussion should follow in which the philosophical and political ramifications of the writer's linguistic choices are analyzed.
Students will then read Laviera's "AmeRican," a poem in which he declares and defines himself as something altogether different from either of the two cultures from which he arises. Laviera uses a series of stanzas that amount to an extended definition of self and this "new america" that he envisions. Students should note the repeated use of the words defining, new, and birth. There are several questions central to the discussion of the poem: What is the meaning of the repeated use of these words? What is suggested by using the word defining in the present tense? What tense are the verbs in the first three stanzas and why does he use present tense for all of the verbs thereafter? What grammatical parallelism does Laviera use and what is being emphasized? What words are used in Spanish?
Next, we will read two poems by Sandra Mar�a Esteves, "From the Commonwealth" and "A la Mujer Borrinquena." Students will need to be familiar with the literary device apostrophe before reading "From the Commonwealth." In analyzing this poem, students will need to identify who, or what, Esteves is addressing (the United States). Discussion should revolve around the similarities and differences in tone and content from the previous poets, both males. Students should note the negative roles of women that Esteves mentions and their contrast with her own self-definition. Students should discuss the sexual metaphor and how it portrays Esteves's view of the treatment of her people by the U.S. government and society, in general. Again, the use of Spanish, though minimal, should be analyzed for its rhetorical significance.
Her poem "A la Mujer Borrinquena" ("To the Woman of Bor�nquen" - the native name for Puerto Rico) also deals with a woman's role in society. Like "AmeRican" it uses birth as a metaphor for revolution (or is it evolution?) and the power of self-definition. Comparisons can be made to the previous poem for its use of parallelism, discussion of the issue of dual linguistic identities, and defiant tone. Like "Puerto Rican Obituary" it states certain activities positively and others negatively; this needs to be considered in the context of the poem. Also, like "Puerto Rican Obituary," the term "negra" (Pietri uses "negrito") is used near the poem's conclusion. The significance of an affectionate term that notes skin color needs to be discussed as it shows up also in Ariano.
In concluding this section of the unit, students will write a poem in which they will celebrate their membership in a community (America, Connecticut, New Haven, or their neighborhood, for instance). They will incorporate the use of dialect or a vernacular particular to that group or community as part of their effort to find their own self-definition. Students should consider what roles they fill in that community and attempt to include discussion of them in their poem. Of particular importance is the need for the student writers to include concrete images in their pieces; it is an easy pitfall to lapse into writing purely in abstractions without showing the people, places, and things that provide the ideas for expression. Another element I would stress is the use of figurative language. Many students use it naturally as a part of conversation but find it difficult to identify in a written piece. Try to make them be as natural as possible and incorporate the metaphorical references they use with each other in casual speech.
POLITICS OF PERSONAL IDENTITY IN SHORT PROSEWe will then read a selection of short fiction that deals with the same issues. The class will be divided into two groups. The groups will then read either "An Awakening...Summer 1956," by Nicholas Mohr, or "American History," by Judith Ortiz Cofer. Each group will then conduct a plot analysis of the story they were assigned. The individuals in each group will reread the story and perform a double-journal response to the story. The groups will meet and compare their responses and discuss a response to the question: "What role does language play in the character's self-discovery? What is the theme?" Each student will participate in preparing a short presentation to the whole class in which they summarize the story and discuss the theme.
There are several questions for discussion or written response at the end of each selection in Latino Caribbean Literature, which may be used by the teacher if he or she chooses. They may be helpful in guiding the students through an examination of the story. The use of a double-journal exercise, along with a summary of the plot might be more useful in getting the students to construct their own meaning from the reading selections. Then in small groups they can compare responses and find what each individual takes away from the story. This way students will see that, while perception and understanding are flavored by individual experience, writers attempt to have some objective truth, as they see it, at the core of the literary selection.
Students will then read two pieces of personal narrative that, although written by Chicano writers, deal directly with the dominant culture's stripping of a youngster's language and, hence, connection with their world: "Aria" from Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, and "How to Tame a Wild Tongue" from Borderlands/La frontera: The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzald�a. Both of these excerpts are about ten pages in length and should comprise about two or three periods of work, depending on class length and depth of study.
In small groups of 3 or 4, students will do a comparison/ contrast analysis of the two writers' experience, one male, one female. They will devise a thesis statement in their groups; the groups will then compare the theses that they have developed. After discussing what each group found in the pieces, students will write a short essay of comparison/contrast. Students should note the similarities between what Rodriguez calls the "private" language of the home (the language of "joyful return") and Anzald�a calls her "secret language." Students should note the irony of Rodriguez's feelings about acquiring the dominant language, English, as means of acquiring a public identity. This seems to be in some contrast to the other writers, including Anzald�a. Careful attention should be paid to the number of language variants that Anzald�a claims fluency in and the consequent fragmentation of this multiple identity. She claims that it at times negates personal identity altogether, resulting in "zero" identity; at other times, this multiple selfhood brings greater inner strength. Analysis of the private and public identities of both writers is very important in the linguistic discussion.
There are other issues that the class can address in this segment of the unit. Teachers can build lessons about rhetorical devices (rhetorical questions, pattern of the argument, etc.) in studying these pieces. Rodriguez's uniqueness as an outsider who does not live in an ethnic enclave (ghetto?), but, rather, on the literal fringes of a white community should certainly be discussed. What are the implications of this? How does he say it effects him, his attitude toward language, his relationship with his parents and his attitude toward their language use?
Anzald�a addresses gender issues in language, as well, and this could provide for a very fruitful discussion. There is a surprising note at the end of "How to Tame a Wild Tongue" about the Chicanos' general denial of their Indian blood and the Anglo myth perpetuated about the Spanish Southwest. This peculiar bit of bigotry could also make for interesting inquiry.
To make the transition from this section to the drama component of the unit, we will read a poem, "Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person, Could Believe in the War Between the Races," by Lorna Dee Cervantes. Her poem deals with the issues of language, racism, and the conflicts of the two cultures out of which she arises. This will be the thematic bridge to the play "Ariano," by Richard Irizarry. I would probably assign a short list of questions for response as a homework exercise, then use those responses as the basis of a class discussion. This poem deals with ironic contrasts between desire and reality and with the role of the poet as a political commentator. The questions assigned are:
- 1. Cervantes claims that she is not a revolutionary, yet she believes in revolution. Explain her self-contradiction.
- 2. What does she acknowledge the existence of yet claim she does not believe in? How would you explain her attitude?
- 3. How does this effect her role as poet? (What does she desire to do? What does she need to do?
ArianoRichard Irizzary's Ariano was first presented Off-Off-Broadway in 1984, starring Jimmy Smits. It was developed by the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater and given its first major production in January, 1988. The play examines the issues of identity distortion and distortion of Puerto Rican values by the influence of the adopted culture. It deals with the simplistic categorizing of people in America as white or non-white and the social and economic advantages "white" Puerto Ricans can enjoy by assimilating into mainstream American culture. We will attempt to understand this play from the inside and outside.
Ariano is a successful Puerto Rican businessman in New York who has been tainted by the pervasive attitude that "lighter is better." He lives in the barrio of East Harlem, but desires for greater inclusion in the mainstream culture. He has a loving family, a wife, Dolores, and a son, Serafin. He loves them also, but the corruption of his Latino soul by the racial attitudes of the U.S. has soured his relationship with them, especially his son Serafin who looks to his father for acceptance and emotional well-being. The crux of Ariano's conflict is his dark skin tone. When Serafin presents a family picture he had drawn at school, Ariano flies into a rage over the black father his son has colored. He tells his son that he needs to be conscious of his colors as the rest of the world is. Ariano destroys the dark-colored crayons in the child's box and forces him to redraw the family portrait; black is "ugly" and "scary."
Ariano's answer to his distorted self-identity is to hire Crystal, an attractive, blue-eyed blond, to bear his child. If he "lightens" the race, there might hope for full inclusion in American society. We find out that he had an earlier romance with a Caucasian woman whose father ran the "spic" off. This is a key factor in his angry world and self-view. Unknown to him, his wife, Dolores, is also carrying a child, further confusing his situation. The babies are symbols of the distorted Puerto Rican identity on the mainland. The hired woman loses the child she is carrying for Ariano, leaving the one child carried by Dolores. There is bitter irony in the truth of the child that Dolores is carrying. The self-sacrifice revealed by her forces Ariano to loath what it is he has become. In the end he is left staring into the mirror, chastising himself and commanding himself to be the "new" Puerto Rican.
A key to analyzing this play is in identifying the moments of code-switching and the terms that are spoken in Spanish. It is spontaneous, part of the unconscious identity. It is particularly important because Ariano is attempting to gain entry into the "glory" of mainstream America, and his unconscious use of Spanish is important. Students should note what terms are used and, also, when the frequency of code-switching increases (toward the end when he is confronted by both of the pregnant women). It is important to note that Dolores is the key to enlightenment for Ariano, and for the audience. She is the character who speaks most frequently in both languages, and it is she who forces Ariano to look hard at himself. Students should identify the meaning of her name ("sadness") and discuss the symbolic implications of it. When Ariano unconsciously refers to her as "negrita" - "black," a common term of affection but also a racial identifier in this play, she forces him to repeat it over and over so that he must face the truth of the outward appearance and understand the truth of her love that he disregarded in his quest for acceptance in America.
|The students analyze certain scenes by filling out a list of actor's notes. (See Appendix B for an example.) In small groups, the students will read a piece of dialogue and discuss the following three elements: character intent, character behavior, and audience effect. They will fill the sections on the sheet, then present a brief scene to the class.|
Evaluation of the projects would be used as a determining factor in the success of the unit. Specific criteria will be outlined in advance so that students will know exactly how their performance will be measured. See Appendices C and D for evaluation rubrics for both projects.
I will also administer a test to evaluate what the students learned from the unit as a whole. The test consists of four essay questions designed to confirm the students' understanding of code-switching and its use by a variety of writers working in a variety of genres. This will be administered shortly after completing the reading of Ariano, probably before the students get too involved in their independent projects. Following are the questions that I would include:
- 1. Define code-switching and explain two reasons why it is prevalent in the Puerto Rican community.
- 2. Choose one of the Nuyorican poems we have read and explain why and how the poet uses code-switching. Your essay should mention the theme of the poem, as you understand it, and how the language shift helps to develop that theme. You should also discuss the use of figurative language in support of your explanation.
- 3. Choose either Richard Rodriguez's "Aria," from Hunger of Memory, or Gloria Anzald�a's "The New Mestiza," explain the author's private and public language use and the psychological effects of their bi- or multi-lingualism.
- 4. Explain the significance of code-switching in Ariano and the voice that spontaneously emerges at Ariano's "moment of truth." Consider where code-switching occurs with greatest frequency. Also, consider a term that he inadvertently uses with regards to Dolores, a term that she seizes upon and forces him to note as a key to his understanding.
CONCLUSIONThis is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the literary/political statements of Latino and Chicano writers in contemporary America. However, it gives students an introduction to some writers who would otherwise languish in obscurity even in the very communities they celebrate. This unit will, hopefully, give students a deeper understanding of language as a critical component of our humanity and search for self-definition and expression.
Appendix A: Sample Journal Response
|"child of the Americas" (l.1)|
She has identified herself as belonging to a place - but whereexactly? Is her identity with the larger patchwork of U.S. society?
|"a light-skinned mestiza" (l. 2)|
Mixes English and Spanish - dual identity; "mestiza" - "mixed": belongs to both, but Spanish ancestry of primary importance?
|"a child of many diaspora" (l. 3)|
She is a political and ethnic outcast? Has she been forcefully removed from her place of origin?
|"a U.S. Puerto Rican Jew" (l. 4)|
She has the triple socio-political stigma of being a woman, a Puerto Rican, and a Jew - opportunity/inclusion has certainly been remote for her.
Appendix B - Actor's NotesCHARACTER: Student places here the name of the character he or she will be portraying. Each character in a given scene (or segment of a scene) will have a sheet completed by a student in the group.
TEXT: The Act, scene, and line numbers are placed here.
CHARACTER INTENT: The student(s) briefly write an analysis of what is motivating the character to say what he or she is saying at this point in the play. What does the character want from the other character(s) in the scene?
BEHAVIOR: The student(s) briefly describe what he (they) will be doing in the way of physical communication. Gestures, bodily posture, facial expressions, and
AUDIENCE EFFECT: Students should briefly describe what they think the audience is supposed to feel or understand as a result of this dialogue and action.
Appendix C: Rubric for Evaluation of Interview Project
|1. Presents a dominant impression of subject|
|2. Uses fact, anecdotes, and description to draw a vivid picture of the interview subject|
|3. Uses realistic dialogue if appropriate|
|4. Uses a logical and effective pattern of organization, such as a narrative or series of the interview subject's opinions|
|5. Uses transitional words and phrases to show relationships among ideas|
|6. Contains no more than two or three minor errors in grammar and usage|
|7. Applies quotation marks correctly to both brief and lengthy dialogue|
|8. Contains no more than two or three minor errors in spelling, capitalization, and mechanics|
(Teachers may assign point values as they see fit. I would give 12 points for strong performance on an individual element, 9 points for average performance, and vary the point value of a weak performance dependent upon how weak the presentation is - a judgment call. The total score would be 96; you can scale it to 100 if you like.)
Appendix D: Rubric for Evaluation of Literary Explication
|1. Provides enough information about the literary work to enable the reader to understand the analysis|
|2. Clearly states a single controlling idea|
|3. Presents evidence from the text to support critical and interpretive statements|
|4. Uses comparison and contrast, paraphrase and summary, and quotations as appropriate to show the basis for judgments|
|5. Uses a logical and effective pattern of organization|
|6. Includes a well-developed introduction, body, and conclusion|
|7. Uses transition words and phrases to show relationships among ideas|
|8. Contains no more than two or three minor errors in grammar and usage|
|9. Correctly integrates quotations into the text|
|10. Contains no more than two or three minor errors in spelling, capitalization, and mechanics|
(For each element I would assign either 9 or 10 points for strong performance, 7 or 8 points for average performance, and 6 or under for weak performance. Again this is dependent upon the individual performance and the judgment of the teacher.)
Annotated BibliographyStudent Reading (and Viewing)
Young-adult literature typically refers to texts written for and usually about adolescents. In some cases, a text not specifically written for a young-adult readership might be folded into the genre, owing to its stylistic accessibility or content that resonates with adolescent experiences. Young-adult literature conventionally features teenage protagonists growing up and coming of age by confronting and working through an array of issues endemic to adolescence. Matters of family, friends, sex, sexuality, drugs, and religious faith are commonly incorporated. The narrative outcome in young-adult literature tends to be the attainment of some type of resolution of these matters via a protagonist’s arrival at some understanding of the conflict. All the while, the protagonist’s ability to fashion a sense of self, a sense of place in the community, and a sense of future is usually at stake. While Latino/a young-adult literature features the usual characteristics that one finds in young-adult literature, culturally specific content and concerns distinguish it. These texts often feature adolescent protagonists dealing with racism or cultural identity. Protagonists might also confront social issues that often plague Latino communities, such as poverty, drugs, and gangs. Matters of family and sex frequently weigh on protagonists in culturally specific ways. To accommodate and articulate the diverse experiences of contemporary Latino/a youth, authors have not only ventured into different subjects; they have also experimented with and within different genres, including trauma fiction, poetry, and the graphic novel. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries some authors have explored new possibilities in paranormal fiction for teens. Overall, because the same themes that characterize young-adult literature generally also appear in Latino/a young-adult literature specifically, Latino/a young-adult literature can be seen as holding universal relevance and appeal at the same time that, in its reflection of Latino/a experiences, it carries a special significance for Latino/a adolescent readers.
Growing numbers of scholars, educators, and librarians have taken an interest in Latino/a young-adult literature. Awareness of and sensitivity to the history of stereotypes and other malicious distortions of Latinos/Latinas not just in children’s and adolescent literature but in American popular culture more generally subtend contemporaneous criticism. Many critics also emphasize the importance of the availability of multicultural literature. Barry 1998 provides an introduction to some of the salient concerns that should be considered when evaluating representations of Latinos/Latinas in children’s and young-adult literature. Medina 2006 maps out some of the distinguishing characteristics of Latino/a literature for younger readers. Day 2003 is a useful resource for background information on Latino/a authors and for bibliographies of their work. While the publication date of Frankson 1990 somewhat limits its utility as a bibliographic source, it presents a useful historical overview of texts published in the 1970s and the 1980s.
Barry, Arlene L. “Hispanic Representation in Literature for Children and Young Adults.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 41.8 (1998): 630–637.
E-mail Citation »
This essay examines shortcomings and problems in representations of Latinos/Latinas in children’s and young-adult literature. Besides exploring the nature and the effects of these representations, Barry considers some of the reasons behind these representations. She concludes by offering some possible remedies.
Day, Frances Ann. Latina and Latino Voices in Literature: Lives and Works. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2003.
E-mail Citation »
Day provides profiles and bibliographies (with annotations) for thirty-five Latina/o writers of literature for children and young adults. Entries include biographical information and overviews of the themes of authors’ works. Appendices include overviews of different resources and awards.
Frankson, Marie Stewart. “Chicano Literature for Young Adults: An Annotated Bibliography.” English Journal 79.1 (1990): 30–38.
DOI: 10.2307/818901E-mail Citation »
Frankson offers one of the first annotated bibliographies of Chicano/a young-adult literature. This work’s publication in 1990 means that it is a slightly dated resource, but as such it is helpful for discovering earlier texts and putting together a history of the genre. The inclusion of certain works in this annotated bibliography raises some questions, because they do not really fall within the category of literature for young adults.
Medina, Carmen L. “Interpreting Latino/a Literature as Critical Fictions.” ALAN Review 33.2 (2006): 71–77.
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With a keen interest in the critical potential of Latino/a literature for young readers, Medina provides an overview of some of the primary tendencies of this literature and of the issues that broaden the scope of this literature. In all, Medina works to present Latino/a literature for young readers as a dynamic body of literature.
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