The “Immigrant” by Pat Mora is a poem that seeks to illustrate the frustrations that faces an immigrant family as they struggle to embrace life in a new country. The poem talks of the pressures they have to face in order to be acknowledged as Americans. The nature of this poem is somewhat that of anxiety and fear. Fear that they will not raise their children under the right values, that society will not deem them American enough even after they conform to the accepted way of life. They seem embarrassed by their way of life and want to disguise their children as Americans as stated in the beginning line two ‘wrap their babies in the American flag.’ The American flag is a symbol of patriotism and these immigrants want also to be embraced in the unity that is the American family.
The English lesson talks of a group of twenty eight individuals who wish to learn the English language as they believe this will earn an equal divide with the rest of the American citizens. Some desire to become citizens in this country while some just want to find suitable jobs since they cannot do so in their own countries, majority just want a better life for their families It is clear that to them America promises great fortunes, equal opportunities and a democracy that the so eagerly seek.
The poem Immigrant shows us the struggles that are faced by immigrants. The title used by the writer is particular and to the point since a reader can easily discern that these are the problems being faced by immigrants as they bring up their children into these cultures as they themselves assimilate into it. The main theme that stands out in the poem is that of immigrants as they try to assimilate the American culture from their native ways. They want their children to grow up in the American way of life, “feed them mashed hot dogs and apple pie/name them Bill and Daisy/ buy them blonde dolls that blink blue eyes or a football and tiny cleats/before the baby can even walk.”(Lines two to four) Hot dogs and apple pie are considered an American delicacy and anyone who considers themselves an American consumes these foods. They feed their children these foods to ensure they grow up already accustomed to the ways of the Americans. They are willing to go above and beyond almost putting their health in danger in their mission to have their desire fulfilled. They also name their children what are considered to be names found in American homes, “speak to them in thick English/ hallo, babe, hallo/whisper in Spanish or Polish when the babies sleep”(Line seven) It seems they do not consider the fact that they are slowly eroding their native ways in their quest to find a better life. They are raising a generation that will certainly be faced by identity crisis.
These parents seem apprehensive of teaching their children of their children preferring to do so in the dark. They do not seem scared of the effects of the assimilation but their greatest fear is whether society will accept their children as “American boy or girl” who is in the last words of the poem, “that dark parent fear/will they like our boy, our girl/our fine American boy/our fine American girl?” The basis of America as a democracy is the family values with which they pride themselves. This should be the lesson taught to immigrants and not that they are inferior in any way.
In the English lesson, the story looks at the lives of twenty-eight legal aliens who are students from various backgrounds all in America for the search of a better life and the start this by learning the English language. As their teacher Mrs. Susan Hamma teaches them the basics of the language she gives them an opportunity to share their feelings. It’s clear that not all of them want to be citizens. A good example is found in the story… there was only one who did not want to become an American citizen, Diego Torres, a young man from the Dominican Republic. “I no give up my country, Santo Domingo, for nothing,"(line 188) He goes on to say in his imperfect English, that he prefers to live happy in his country though he does not have much. He declares that someday they will run their own country- the Dominican republic- and there will be jobs for everybody. He states that his only reason for being in the country is to make money then eventually return and build a life for himself in his homeland. (Line 200) it is clear that he has hope for a better time in his country, the metaphoric light at the tunnels end. He sees being in the country as a means to an end rather than the end itself. One of the students, Stephan Paczkowski from Poland gives a sad tale of what lack of democracy has reduced him to; from a professor in the history of music at University of Krakow to working in a large hospital as a porter. The story follows their lives from those whose desires are to be part of this county and those who see them as being traitors, refusing to be identified with the country and remaining loyal to the very country that oppresses them. In the end it’s evident that they had migrated here in search of a better future.
As far as history teaches us, immigrants coming into America often faced discrimination, suspicion and hate. Both writers are clear on the struggles faced by these immigrants. They are made to conceal their lives and assimilate a new one. In the English lesson when Diego Torres categorically states, “I am not an American citizen, no way. I'm Dominican and proud.” His teacher tells him that as long as he is in the class he is American much to his chagrin. In both, the immigrants are concerned about being accepted as Americans by the society and the do anything from learning the language to eating their food, “feed them mashed hot dogs and apple pie.” They differ in the fact that while the poem ‘immigrant’ shows the desperation in the immigrant, the English lesson shows that not all immigrants want to become citizens that some would rather be with their families back in their homelands.
Many times we have a divide talking about ‘we and them.’ We make those that are trying to have a better life feel inferior. Many of them work more than two jobs and do not complain. Such was the case during the 9/11 incident. Such hate was displayed on the Arab community including those who had been in the country longer and lived peacefully with others. In my opinion, those who move to the United States should be able to embrace American values while still being able to retain their roots. By not having these roots instilled, an immigrated family can lose that close familiar bond they came into the country with and eventually lose themselves.
Americans have welcomed immigrants when they are in periods of expansion and confidence and cut the cord on them in periods of despair. America reacted to the immigrants in different ways. We should borrow some lessons from these two passages, both Native Americans and immigrants; that in our quest to find greener pastures, we should never forget from where we came; we all are working towards a better future. For many immigrants it is not by choice that they end up as they are, but society should give them an opportunity before passing judgment.