Analysis of Poem Legal Alien by Pat Mora

Updated on July 5, 2019
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Pat Mora
Pat Mora | Source

Pat Mora And A Summary of Legal Alien

Legal Alien, a short free verse poem, explores the identity of the Mexican American, caught between two cultures, having to face prejudices from both sides.

  • Pat Mora uses metaphor, imagery, language and antithesis to create a complex definition of your typical legal alien.
  • The poem is one sentence stretched out over 22 lines.
  • Picture someone taking a deep breath and letting it all out in one go.
  • English is the dominant language of the poem but Spanish also features.

But why the need for such a poem? Pat Mora explains:

“For a variety of complex reasons, anthologized American literature does not reflect the ethnic diversity of the United States. I write, in part because Hispanic perspectives need to be part of our literary heritage; I want to be part of the validation process. I also write because I am fascinated by the pleasure and power of words."

Pat Mora has been a voice for those without representation for years. She has written many poems that help others understand the plight of the Mexican American people, struggling for a solid identity. She is also a children's author and teacher.

It was first published in the book Chants from 1984.

Legal Alien


Bi-lingual, Bi-cultural,
able to slip from “How’s life?”
to “Me’stan volviendo loca,
able to sit in a paneled office
drafting memos in smooth English,
able to order in fluent Spanish
at a Mexican restaurant,
American but hyphenated,
viewed by Anglos as perhaps exotic,
perhaps inferior, definitely different,
viewed by Mexicans as alien,
(their eyes say, “You may speak
Spanish but you’re not like me”)
an American to Mexicans
a Mexican to Americans
a handy token
sliding back and forth
between the fringes of both worlds
by smiling
by masking the discomfort
of being pre-judged
Bi-laterally.

Analysis of Legal Alien Line By Line

Legal Alien is a short poem that attempts to define what it is to be a Hispanic living legally in the USA whilst not officially a citizen of that country.

The title itself is enough to challenge logic...legal alien. The first word formally acknowledges that a person is identified as being within the law, the second word labels them foreigner.

The first line reflects the oddity of the situation. The two words here need not be hyphenated, the second word need not have a capital B. The poet has chosen to split the words up as a physical illustration of antithesis on the page.

The reader is aware of the two words as single entities (bilingual, bicultural) but sees them separated, linked only by a hyphen.

They're able to slip from English to Spanish - greeting someone.. How's life?..and then declaring Me'stan volviendo loca (they're driving me nuts/crazy).

Again, clever use of opposites, the greeting being positive, the latter Spanish phrase suggesting frustration.

Yet the legal alien is able. They have work, they use English, they dine at a Mexican restaurant and order using Spanish. They're comfortable in both worlds or so it seems.

Then the line:

American but hyphenated,

and here the poem's tone changes as the speaker suggests that they may be legally working and relaxed enough to speak two languages, but they're a bit odd, like those opening couple of words.

They're viewed by Anglos (English speaking natives) as different - exotic (strange) and inferior (to be exploited).

Yet they're also not fully accepted by Mexicans, who see them as aliens (foreigners) because they're not pure Mexicano.

Metaphorically they're tokens who can get by in both worlds but aren't really comfortable there, they're acting out some sort of existence that doesn't ring true.

The human tendency is to judge people by their appearance and language and if they do not fit the norm, if they're not like 'one of us' then the prejudices and twisted opinions begin to form.

The last line is again one of the odd words, normally a single word but hyphenated here to look different. As a reader we understand the meaning but are not 100% comfortable with the way it looks.

Literary Devices in Legal Alien

Alliteration

When two or more words are close together in the same line and start with the same consonant:

definitely different...

Antithesis

When contrasting ideas are juxtaposed, brought together to create a tension...as in when the speaker notes that a legal alien can slip from How's life? to Me'stan volviendo loca…(they're driving me crazy).

Enjambment

When a line runs on into the next without punctuation, maintaining the sense. Many lines of this poem are enjambed, so the reader shouldn't pause but continue on.

Metaphor

A handy token...a token is thing that can be exchanged for goods or services. It can be a card or piece of paper or anything.

Repetition

To reinforce ideas repeated use of words and phrases is employed. As in:

able to....perhaps...by

Analysis of Legal Alien - Form/Structure

Legal Alien is a free verse poem of 22 lines, a single stanza, so there is no set rhyme scheme or consistent metrical beat. This reflects natural informal speech. Note the syntax (the way clauses and grammar work together) - plenty of commas embedded, enjambment (lines that run on into the next without punctuation) and parentheses.

© 2019 Andrew Spacey

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)