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The poem “Legal Alien” has been taken from the book Chants written by Pat Mora, an American writer and poetess. She uses metaphor, imagery, paradoxes, two languages, symbols etc. in her poem. It is written in free verse yet it points out the fixed and rigid mindsets of people and how humans are constricting others because of their ill judgments, preconceived notions, stereotypes and prejudices.
Although the dominant language of the poem is English but a single sentence from Spanish is also featured. It might be representative of the idea that amongst the majority of white natives, the Mexican narrator is almost insignificant, ignored and considered useless. For instance, a reader might skip, ignore or does not pay much attention to a sentence which is written in another language.
Deconstruction aims at finding any “fissures and discontinuities” in a text, thus the poem is apt for deconstruction as it deals with the theme of fragmentation at multiple levels. The poem inculcates the experiences and emotions of immigrants, especially legal immigrants, whose lives and personalities are distorted / fragmented because of being in two places but not belonging to any of it or treasured as they should be.
A “legal immigrant” can be a “signifier” for numerous signified ideas in this poem. For example, it can represent the idea of self-alienation of immigrants because of the psychic unrest due to their multiple identities (Mexican-American). Such people always remain protean beings as their idea of home remains fluid and it almost becomes impossible to have single unified identity. An immigrant has to face both inter and intra cultural problems thus he develops a split personality, or a sub-individuality. This binary can also be compared with W.E.B Du Bois idea of “inward twoness.”
The poet uses hyphens to show the divisions of an immigrants psyche and life. The hyphenated words ‘Bi-lingual, bi-cultural’ portray people who belong to different places and are representative of both of them at the same time, yet they are treated as ‘native aliens’. Thus the hyphen not only connects but separates as well. These hyphenated words can also be considered as stereotypes or prejudices associated with immigrants, as they are often misjudged or pre-judged because of these two attributes. This hyphenated identity breaks the person in two parts. No matter how hard the immigrant tries to fit in the crowd of natives he cannot bridge the gap.
Being a multilingual is an ability that should be appreciated but it serves as a hindrance for an immigrant. Pat Mora uses the technique of “linguistic appropriation” to show the swift shift from English to Spanish to show how deep both the languages are rooted in the immigrant. When the narrator of the poem is asked ‘How’s life?’ she immediately switches to Spanish saying ‘Me ‘stan volviendo loca,’ meaning ‘I am going crazy.’ This linguistic “binary” also signifies her internal and external battle that only she herself can fight.
Another widely witnessed phenomenon is of exoticizing the east. Usually, the things or people being called exotic are seen as somewhat inferior because of their appearances, culture and the underdeveloped conditions of their countries. The poet is not sure if the Americans call immigrants as ‘exotic’ and ‘inferior’ because she also uses the word ‘perhaps’. But, she uses the word ‘definitely’ to enhance the effect the alienating effect forced upon her by own people. It is a natural phenomenon that when something is superior from them, one likes to find “differance” and deficiencies in it, in order save their own egos. One can thus come to the point that it is the immigrants’ rich qualities and skills which is serving as a reason for her estrangement.
The writer uses imagery and metaphor of a “handy token’ to narrate her experience as an immigrant. She is constantly being passed from one country to another but no one is willing to own it. The ‘fringes’ here can be interpreted as the metaphorical borders, through which she is travelling from one country to the other. A fringe is made from a torn, loose or twisted thread which can eventually be deduced as the torn and twisted relation with both the countries. It also indicates that how immigrants always remain at the rear edges of the society and they are never allowed to be in the center or spot light.
In the end, the poet does not provide a proper solution to the problem but lets the reader know she deals with it by smiling to hide the embarrassment or uneasiness. She is uneasy as she is not being judged by just one country’s people but she is being “pre-judged bilaterally.” She does not have the power to change people’s perception thus she lets the matter slip away by smiling to hide the hurt with a smile. Hence one can conclude that an immigrant has to live with a makeshift personality in order to mask her discomfort and fit in both the societies.
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