Analysis of Poem Mexicans Begin Jogging by Gary Soto

Updated on January 11, 2019
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Gary Soto and a Summary of Mexicans Begin Jogging

Mexicans Begin Jogging is a short, free verse poem that focuses on a specific incident in a factory that employs illegal Mexican immigrants. When the border police arrive the factory boss tells the workers to run.

The poem is very much an ironic take on the pleasurable pastime of jogging, which to most western people is associated with a leisurely pacing of the street or promenade for the benefit of personal health.

  • Soto's workers are forced to run for their lives, so his use of the word jogging is meant tongue-in-cheek.

It's this ability to treat an extremely serious subject like illegal immigration with irony and humor that separates this poem from the rest and gives it an almost farcical edge.

Gary Soto has written many poems over the years on this and other related topics - Mexicans Begin Jogging was published in 1981 in the book Where Sparrows Work Hard - and gained a reputation as a champion of the poor Chicanos (or Mexicanos/Mex-Americans), people who have Mexican ancestry but choose to live and work in the United States of America. Soto himself is a Chicano.

So the poem highlights the plight of these people, in this case employees at a rubber factory, by contrasting the experience of the speaker who is himself an American but looks like a Mexican.

As the poem progresses various issues are brought out into the open, namely:

  • cultural differences
  • stereotyped responses
  • ethnicity.

Mexicans Begin Jogging takes the reader right into the thick of the action, the narrative unfolding in the present as the speaker runs out of the back door, given a dollar by his unbelieving boss.

Soto has said 'I believe in the culture of the poor' and this poem reflects both his own background (brought up in a poor family by his Mexican parents in Fresno, California) and his interest in the ongoing struggle of exploited Mexicans who desire to find happiness and dignity whilst working in the USA.

Mexicans Begin Jogging

At the factory I worked

In the fleck of rubber, under the press

Of an oven yellow with flame,

Until the border patrol opened

Their vans and my boss waved for us to run.

"Over the fence, Soto," he shouted,

And I shouted that I was an American.

"No time for lies," he said, and passes

A dollar in my palm, hurrying me

Through the back door.


Since I was on his time, I ran

And became the wag to a short tail of Mexicans--

Ran past the amazed crowds that lined

The street and blurred like photographs, in rain.

I ran from that industrial road to the soft

Houses where people paled at the turn of an autumn sky.

What could I do but yell vivas

To baseball, milkshakes, and those sociologists

Who would clock me

As I jog into the next century

On the power of a great, silly grin.

Words and Terms Defined in Mexicans Begin Jogging

fleck - this is a rubber factory so bits of rubber are floating around.

I was on his time - the boss's time, so time is money and is not to be wasted.

wag - the line of workers running is a dog's tail, the speaker the end bit wagging...a dog is a subservient creature so reflects the status of the workers.

vivas - spanish for hooray.

jog - to run for one's health and pleasure, used ironically because the speaker is running away

Literary Devices in Mexicans Begin Jogging

Enjambment

This is when a line runs on to the next without punctuation. This poem has many enjambed lines which adds to momentum but helps vary the pace. In the first stanza lines 1,2,4, 8 and 9 and in the second stanza lines 11, 13, 15, 17-20.

Metaphor

When something completely replaces another thing. In the second stanza the second line - became the wag to a short tail of Mexicans - is a metaphor.

Simile

In the second stanza - blurred like photographs, in rain - is a simile, a comparison of one thing with another.

What Is The Tone of the Poem Mexicans Begin Jogging?

The tone of Mexicans Begin Jogging is ironic, that is, there's an element of sardonic humor in the way the speaker describes the experience of the border police raid.

For example, in the first stanza it's made known that the speaker is an American but when he shouts this to his boss he is thought a liar because he looks like a Chicano and Chicanos, stereotypically, in the mind of the boss, are all liars.

As he runs through the crowded streets the irony intensifies - he yells vivas (hooray) to the cultural examples so typical of the USA, baseball and milkshakes - but he is an American, so he's cheering on his own culture. He's having a bit of fun, because he's able to see the irony himself, and that makes him grin.

Analysis of Mexicans Begin Jogging

Mexicans Begin Jogging is an ironic poem highlighting the plight of one particular individual, the speaker, whose first person narrative engages the reader immediately because of its down-to-earth humanity and humor.

So here is the worker happily going about his job in the rubber factory when, out of the blue, there's a border patrol raid and he is ordered by his boss to run for it.

Despite being an American and therefore presumably a legal worker, the speaker is made to feel illegal by the boss, who doesn't believe him. The speaker is forced to join the others because his time is 'owned' by the boss who runs the factory.

He's even given a dollar for his services, a sort of last wage, to help him jump the fence and escape deportation. It's as if the boss is used to this sort of thing happening - to him it is routine. He'll be able to hire more men before too long, cos there's lots more waiting for a chance to work.

As the speaker runs through the streets he becomes fleetingly aware of the 'paled people' and their 'soft houses' - the local Americans whose cultural identity is safe and established. Hence the mention of baseball and milkshakes which the speaker yells 'vivas' at, because he loves this culture and wants to celebrate it.

What happens at the end of the poem is wishful fancy because the speaker tells of sociologists who in the future will clock me, that is, make a note of his identity in their time, measure his time in the USA.

The last line sums up the whole poem's tone - it's the fact that the speaker is American that he wears a great, silly grin - he won't need to have sociologists or anybody else following him, timing his stay, because he's legal. He was born and raised an American, despite his outward appearance.

© 2019 Andrew Spacey

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