From the Other Side of Night/Del Otro Lado de La Noche is a collection of poems published in 2002 by Chicano poet Francisco Alarcon. The collection includes Alarcon’s work from the past fifteen years with a couple new additions; all of which are neatly categorized into sections. These sections represent crucial stages in Alarcon’s life including love, heartbreak, and family. Yet, it is the poems of struggle and hardship that invoke the most emotion. As an activist for Latino rights, Alarcon used his profession as a poet in order to spark notions of change in those that read his work with a huge focus on the younger generation of Latinos. The pain expressed in Alarcon’s poems stem mostly from his experiences of discrimination as a Chicano in the United States.
Considering the current election, President Trump has caused a level of panic resulting in American citizens targeting Mexican immigrants. Since the election there has been an increase in hate crimes towards Latinos as well as many signs reading “go back to Mexico”. Thinking historically; however, indigenous people resided in Mexico long before the conquistadors followed European settlers. This appears to be a forgotten fact to many American’s, despite Chicanos knowing this reality all to well. Alarcon’s poem “Natural Criminal” expresses these feelings of displacement and alienation experienced by millions of Chicanos in the United States.
Alarcon uses metaphors to portray what it feels like to be “a drop/of oil/in a glass/of water”(38). These lines appear in the second stanza of the poem after the speaker states they are “a nomad/in a country/of settlers”(38). This provides some historical context to support the feelings expressed in the second stanza. Reading the stanza it is easy to imagine the separation of oil and water when they come into contact, but one must also consider that it is only a drop of oil. This means the water would completely surround the oil. Considering the liquids are contained within a glass there is only so many places the oil can move to, but no matter where it moves it is always in contact with water. The colors of both liquids coupled with the fact they are in a clear glass also aid in the clear mental distinction. Thus the metaphor provides an example to the reader of what the speaker feels like being a Chicano in America.
The contrast of oil to water in Alarcon’s metaphor are meant to parallel the relationship between Mexican and Latino immigrants to the rest of American society. By providing some historical context in the first stanza one must think about the history of colonization in America. Conquistadors were the first to raid the Aztec empire and claimed Mexico for Spain. Later on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave Mexican territory away yet again to America prompting a flood of white settlers into the new land. But along with them came their hatred and disgust for the Mexican people. This leads into the speaker considering themself a drop of oil in a glass of water with the glass symbolizing America. Like the water overpowering the oil white people are statistically considered the majority in the United States, with Latinos being the second largest ethnicity. It is interesting that Alarcon used these to elements, commonly known for not mixing well to describe the interaction of the two races. Does this imply his beliefs that there is no way Chicanos can mix into American society? Or are they not allowed to mix considering the overpowering presence of systems put in place against them? By making this juxtaposition within the metaphor Alarcon reveals the tension felt by the Chicano community to the rest of society. Additionally, making the comparison a metaphor allows the reader to clearly visualize and example how just how divided Chicanos feel in America.
Alarcon, Fransisco. From the Other Side of Night=Del Otro Lado De La Noche: New and Selected Poems, University of Arizona Press, 2002, pp. 38