Wednesday, 28 September 2011

I Am Joaquin - Rodolfo Corky Gonzales (English 202 Blog)

If there was one thing I liked about this poem, it was that the first words were in Spanish. The poet clearly marks his priorities, then continues on to the poem. It's almost as if he began the poem thinking of writing for his own people, then decided he would rather make it a declaration to the world.

There are a lot of wonderful things about this poem. The emotions it invokes by occasionally using all caps (MY OWN PEOPLE, I SHALL ENDURE/I WILL ENDURE) especially brought me out of the stupor I fell into when reading all the footnotes. Yes, the footnotes - always a great way to kill the mood. However, when I decided to read the poem and read the footnotes afterwards, things improved.

The footnotes were mostly necessary because of the dozens of historical names Gonzales uses in the poem. His association with the people of his past - those he agrees with and those he doesn't - was the most powerful aspect of the poem. He identifies with both the Aztecs and Cortez, and this duality is present throughout the entire poem. There is only one true villain in the poem, and that is the United States.

It's a strong statement to make, I know, but lines such as, "My culture has been raped. I lengthen the line at the welfare door and fill the jails with crime. These then are the rewards this society has for sons of chiefs and kings" really, really bother me. I understand his point, and I would not say that Mexico is never/was never abused by Europe/US, but the vehemence with which he portrays American society is, to me, just as hateful as European snobbery toward an indigenous people. Even Cortez is portrayed as part of a strong and noble heritage, but the US is only 'the suburbs of bigotry'.

This leaves me feeling very confused. His love for his people, his history, and his culture is so admirable, but it is impossible for me to read this poem and pretend that I'm not a U.S. citizen. It makes me want to argue, but it makes me feel like a jerk for it.

As far as the technical aspects of the poem, it's very well done. Sometimes the line breaks were a bit excessive for my personal taste, but his ongoing theme of "I am... (historical figure)" was very powerful. The rhythm, while not defined by a certain scheme, was solid.

So I guess I'm torn. Half of me wants to shout "VIVE MEXICO" (in the style of Vive La France! Only without the French accent)while the other half wants to slap the poet. I half want to throw away my culture and half want to defend it to the death. Just like Gonzales.

Discussion Question: Who was this poem written for? For his own culture? For U.S. culture, as a sort of rebuttal? Or was it just for the poet, and his own personal belief?


Christina Lee said...

So interesting! All good questions--and when you are left questioning it tells you how powerful it is!

Talli Roland said...

Wow, sounds like a very strong poem with a big impact. Thanks for sharing.

Sangu said...

It's always a mark of a good piece of poetry if you're left with questions (the good kind, not the 'huh?' kind). T.S. Eliot often does that for me. This sounds intriguing - I might check it out.