a. Students will consider the meaning of "the American Dream" and the artist's need to "counterbalance" the myth
a. Students will identify the use of parallelism in the first 6 stanzas of "Puerto Rican Obituary" and describe the ideas stressed by the incidents of parallelism
b. Students will list images from the poem and infer the social and economic status of the people named in the poem
1. Read biographical information on Pedro Pietri, pp. 328-329,
The Latino Reader
2. Locate Ponce, Puerto Rico, on a map and pose the question: How could he be from Ponce yet consider himself a "native" of New York?
3. 5 minute journal writing: What is "the American Dream"? (Use some leading questions if the concept is unfamiliar to the students)
4. Take several minutes to solicit responses from the class and list elements of the "American Dream" on the board; discuss the implied promise of reward for being a "good citizen" and working hard
5. Read the first stanza of "Puerto Rican Obituary" to the class
6. Short group discussion: "What activity is repeated in the stanza? What activities are stated positively? Which are stated negatively? What grammatical structure is repeated? What might Pietri be suggesting by using this pattern?" (Students should be familiar with simple sentence structure and parallelism)
7. Read the next five stanzas aloud to the class
8. In small groups, 3-4 students, they will identify the use of parallelism in each stanza and describe the ideas they think Pietri is trying to reinforce through the use of parallelism
Homework: Write a half-page in which you identify the social and economic status of the people in this poem. Include at least 5 concrete images that lead you to make this inference.
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 Está 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
(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 María 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 Borínquen" - 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
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.