Seeing America Through the Eyes of a Chicano

Francisco X. Alarcon provided by

Francisco Alarcon published his book of short poems From the Other Side of  Night/Del Otro Lado de La Noche in 2002 as an attempt for readers to get a glimpse of Chicano experiences in America. Alarcon was born in Wilmington, California and moved to Mexico with his family in the 1960’s. Being raised in Mexico, but consistently traveling back to Los Angeles in order to visit relatives opened his eyes to cultural differences at a young age. He began transforming the experiences he had as a Chicano child growing up in two worlds into poems. The poems themselves began to transition from feeling out of place at school to feeling out of place in the country where he was born. 

From the other Side of Night/Del Otro Lado de la Noche contains a wide array of pieces from his fifteen years as a poet with a few new additions. The poems are categorized by chapters all pertaining to the books they were featured in. Majority of the poems are written in a style Alarcon likes to call “skinny”(Transcript 1) meaning short poems with few words and lines per stanza. While there is no clear speaker many of Alarcon’s poems are meant to represent crucial points in his 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 and Chicanos. In particular, his 2 page poem Carta a America/Letter to America focus on the mistreatment and misrepresentation Chicanos and Latinos feels in the United States.

To fully understand the pain invoked in Alarcon’s poems, one must know some history of the Anti-Mexican sentiment that has plagued the U.S since the late 1800’s. In Nadra Nittle’s article History of the Chicano Movement, she discusses the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty was passed in order to end the Mexican American War which resulted in the United States acquiring territory such as Texas and California, which previously belonged to Mexico (Nittle 1). What followed was decades of discrimination toward Mexican Americans including segregation in schools and violent hate crimes. While the protests did lead to some substantial changes for civil rights of Chicanos such as the birth of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, we appear to be in an era where these Anti-Mexican sentiments are on the rise again. 

Alarcon addresses how this historical hatred has manifested itself into modern views of Chicanos in his poem Carta a America/Letter to America. He starts the poem off with an undisclosed person saying: 


Common sign put up in shop windows during the early 1900’s

the lag

in writing you 


we were left

with few 

words (Alarcon 51) 

There is no direct statement of who the “you” in the poem is, but there are implications of it being America or American citizens. Similarly, there is no direct title associated with the “we” so the reader must assume the “we” as being Chicanos, Latinos, or other oppressed groups. The stanzas are both very short and contain very few words per line, meaning it can be read quickly. A parallel between the “we” and the structure of the stanzas themselves becomes evident; both contain few words. However, it is important to acknowledge they were “left with few words” meaning someone has control over the allotted amount of words the are aloud to say. It is obvious Alarcon is the one who decides how many words to include in his poem and what is being said, but who is controlling the “we’s” voice. 

Thinking historically, the U.S government was known to shut down protests advocating for equal treatment during the Chicano Movement. One such instance was the death of Ruben Salzar, a Mexican journalists recognized for his effort of addressing Chicano struggles in mainstream news sources. In an article surrounding the 2014 documentary made by Phillip Rodriguez, “Ruben Salzar: Man in the Middle”, evidence is presented exposing the strange circumstances around his death. Given how successful his articles became the LAPD, began to issues warnings again Salzar claiming he was being monitored by law enforcement (Rodriguez). He was then coincidentally killed after police began tear gassing and beating Chicanos protesting Anti-War sentiments. No one was charged for his death and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department refused to release any information on this case for years (Rodriguez). But this is just one of the many instances where law enforcement has psychically silenced Chicanos voices their pleas for change. As states in the PBS article, the U.S government appears to have control over the voices of Chicanos and can take action against them which parallels Alarcon being able to control the amount of words he uses in his poem. Both the Chicanos and the poem are being limited by a higher power. 

The poem then transitions to a long list of inanimate objects that represent what the speaker feels like the “we” or Chicanos can be compared to including a rug, table, lamp, toy and pan. The 7 stanza list is then directly followed by 2 stanzas that represent what the “you” does with these objects: 

you fear us 

you yell at us

you hate us 


you shoot us 

you mourn us

you deny us (Alarcon 52)

The stanzas are set up in such as way that the reader can see the increasing levels of hostility all steming from fear. The fear manifests itself into direct acts of aggression resulting in a shooting followed by a mourning. Each line contains an aggressive or violent action imposed on the “us” by the “you”. This repetition forces the reader to stay on these ideas of violence for a while. But one must remember that the violence is being directed towards the “we” in previous stanzas, which has transformed into the “us” in these two stanzas. The “we’s”(Chicanos) were previously compared to random objects in the previous seven stanzas. Interestingly enough,  the objects are all luxury or essential items that most Americans have in their home, not to mention all these objects are pretty harmless. If the Chicanos are being portrayed as harmless, essentials parts of society why are they being brutalized? 

This portrayal of repetitive violent acts towards innocent “objects” as depicted in the nine stanzas, mimics the rise in hate crimes against Latinos and Chicanos in the United States. Brendan Campbell, Angel Mendoza, and Tessa Diestel from News 21 address these acts of aggression in their 2018 article “Rising Hate Drives Latinos into Silence”. A huge factor in this rise has stemmed from the 2016 presidential election. Pricilia Garcia, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant told the News12 staff “post election, I could tell there was a change. People became a little more brave with their words, especially when it came to hateful things they said”(Campbell, Mendoza, Diestel). There were 34 reported anti-Latino hate crimes directly following the first two weeks of the 2016 election; a 176% increase over the year to date daily average (Campbell, Mendoza, Diestel). Not only are the crimes increasing, but “studies have shown the FBI substantially undercounts them”(Campbell, Mendoza, Diestel). This aids the denial expressed in the ninth stanza. Having the stanza end with “you deny us”, gives power to the word “deny” as that is the last idea the reader is left with. Considering the “you”(America) has the ability to deny the “us” (the Chicanos), it completely undermines the repetative violent acts as seen in both the stanzas and reality. It is important to remember that the poem sets up the Chicanos to appear harmless, so seeing consistent infliction of hate towards innocent people should invoke feelings of anger for the reader; especially if they are Mexican. 

Through all this history of violence and discrimination the poem approaches an end with the speaker acknowledging the resilience of the Chicanos saying: 

“United Race”

and despite 






ourselves (Alarcon 52)

This resilience is what forms the back bone of Latino and Chicano activism. The power to keep their culture despite society telling them to hide it. A huge part of this culture is the language. The poem “Carta a America/Letter to America” is structured in a way that forced the reader to acknowledge the different language and in turn the different cultures present in America. The first column contains the poem translated in Spanish directly next to a second column containing the english translation. Having the Spanish translation presented directly across from the English translation not only allows for a broader audience to enjoy the poems, but forces the reader to acknowledge a presence of two languages. Alarcon is quoted in a 2018 “Transcript From an Interview with Francisco X. Alarcon” saying Latinos “have this connection with the Spanish language, and I want to keep that, to me it’s very important”(Transcript 1). There is a sense of pride both he and many other immigrant families feels in being able to speak another language. Alarcon’s choice in having every poem first being presented in Spanish and then English demonstrates this sense of pride—-putting his native tongue first. For non Spanish speakers who read the poems, they are consistently made aware of the presence of a different language. While this may seem like a waste of ink to some, it may result in curiosity from others which aids in Alarcon’s goal of preserving Chicano culture and language. 

The final stanzas of the poem contain a plea to America from the perspective of the “we’s”. They ask: 



once and for all —


we are

the insides 

of your body 


our faces 


your future

The ending metaphor compares Chicanos to the inside of Americas body, in a sense making them the organs. We have yet another example of Chicanos being compared to essential parts of life, although the significance of being the “inside of a body” is arguably more important than the previous comparisons of tables and rugs. It is possible to remove some organs without resulting in a fatality to the body, but if one were to remove all their organs they would surely die. This implies that it is impossible to get rid of all the Chicanos and Latinos in the United States. But not only is it impossible, it is unadvised do the serious repercussions it would have on the country; similar to what would happen if you removed all your organs from your body. In a statistics provided by the Census Bureau, it is projected that in “2060 Hispanics will comprise 28.6% of the total population with 119 million Hispanic individuals residing in the United States”(CNN). This sentiment further supports the claim of “our faces/reflect/your/future” (Alarcon 52). By stating the faces of Chicanos “reflect” future of America, Alarcon creates a sense of peace between both groups. Considering the long history of violence between Chicanos and “Americans” the reader gets a sense of relief when reading the last stanza. If the reader so happens to be Chicano or Latino one can only imagine the sense of pride they must feel knowing their presence in America will last for many generations to come. 

Alarcon takes readers on a rollercoaster of emotion stemming from historical oppression, but ultimately leading to a hope ending. He chronologically start the poem of with stanzas that revert back to the history of the United States silencing Chicanos and moves onto how Chicanos are still the targets of hate despite being deemed harmless and in some ways essential through his use of repetition and metaphors. One must not forget that this poem is meant to be a letter as mentioned in the title. This leaves the question, when will it be mailed out? When will America read it? If America does read it will they do something about it or just throw the letter away? Even if the letter doesn’t get read Alarcon makes sure the reader understands that Chicanos keep being themselves and ensure their future in America despite the history of being silenced, beaten, and mistreated. His final statement in the Reading Rockets interview goes as follows “And I think it will be important to open up, you know, the idea of, you know, it’s OK to be American and to be bilingual. It’s OK to be Latino, to be dark-skinned, to speak Spanish as a first language. It’s OK. It’s America. No problem with that”(Transcript 9). Alarcon wants readers to realize despite all the hardships there is immense pride associated with being Chicano in the United State and how they should be proud of who they are. Although he has sadly passed on, his poems will surely keep invoking notions of pride and notions of change for the Chicano community. 

Works Cited

Alarcon, Francisco. Interview by Reading Rockets “Transcript from an Interview with Francisco X. Alarcon” PBS, 27 Nov. 2018 transcript. Accessed 6 May. 2019. 

Mendoza, Angel. Campbell, Brendan. Dieste, Tessa. “Rising Hate Drives Latinos and Immigrants into Silence.” Public, 22 August. 2018, https:// drives-latinos-and-immigrants-into- silence/. Accessed 6 May. 2019 

Rodriguez, Philip. “Ruben Salzar: Man in the Middle”, 29 April. 2014, http:// Accessed 6 May, 2019

Nittle, Nadra. “History of the Chicano Movement”. ThoughtCo, 21 January. 2019, https:// Accessed 6 May. 2019

“Hispanics in the US Fast Facts”.CNN, 6 March. 2019, hispanics-in-the-u-s-/index.html. Accessed 6 May. 2019

Del Otro Lado De La Noche: Metaphor Analysis

Cover of Francisco Alarcon’s From the Other Side of Night/Del Otro Lado de la Noche

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. 

Works Cited:

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


Institutionalized Identities in Malaysia & Singapore

Organizing people into groups fitting their race and culture has been a struggle for centuries. Not so much a struggle for the people themselves, but for the colonizers who come to their land and become tasked with forming a new
hierarchy of races. Daniel Goh and Philip Holden address these issues of “institutionalized identities”(3) in their book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009), by demonstrating how devastating it is for groups excluded from those categories. 

Goh and Holden first credit Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylors argument regarding state imposition. He claims a state giving support to “selected cultures
can be justified only as long as the fundamental rights of citizens within commitments to other cultures or no commitments are protected” (3). Taylor’s ideas for a fair acknowledgment of all races is contradicted in the forms of state multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia imposed by the British. The creation of “official categories” of race create a category know as “other” who do not identify as Chinese, Malay, or Indian. Goh and Holden argue that this system makes it impossible not to “commit”(3) to one of the 4 groups. The groups hierarchal position in society reflects how citizens are treated.

I find this interesting considering it has similar parallels of how America views race. We live in a multicultural society and yet it is evident races are treated different. But even before society decides how to treat them, the government must first decide which racial box everyone belongs in. As in Malaysia and Singapore, some races are excluded. Latinos for example are not considered a race despite us being the second largest ethnicity in the United States. Filling out forms leaves many of us confused since we are either given our own “race section” or “other”. If there is no “other” option we are left with the confusing task of categorizing ourselves into races we may not feel accurately represent us. As discussed in class today, similar issues regarding declaration of race on documents appear in Malaysia. 

It is important to understand that the definition of multiculturalism includes supporting a diverse number of racial and cultural backgrounds. But a problem arises when we have foreign powers imposing their pre-colonial views of race on ethnic people. It creates a huge confusing and unfair mess we are still trying to figure out to this day. 


Works Cited:

Goh, Daniel P.S. and Holden, Philip. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. New York, Routledge, 2009. 

Flashbacks of Brightness and Darkness

Have you ever watched a series that didn’t show events in chronological order? It confusing right, you’ll be sitting and watching only to have the episode suddenly change to a flashback or fast forward into the future. In GB Tran’s 2010 graphic novel Vietnamerica, Tran channels this use of “mixed up timelines” to tell the story of his father, Tri Huu Tran. Readers are taken through an erratic mix of bright and dull colors while being transported back and forth from his early life to period of detainment. 

The story opens on page 68 where we see a two dark pages filled with various shades of purple. Tri is being taken into questioning where he is asked about his fathers whereabouts. The story then jumps back to when he was a child talking to his friend about the French Vietmihn. The pages are loaded with bright colors of blues, yellows, reds and greens. Despite the bright colors, we are still made aware of the violence in the streets. This pattern of childhood flashbacks to the time of his detainment reoccur throughout the chapter. It finally ends on page 90 where Tri’s world of color and darkness collide. The top left corner of the page is white, showing a continuation of the happy memories of his engagement shown on page 89. The reality then fades to black as it is revealed to all be a dream Tri is suddenly woken up from as guards throw him out of a moving truck to be a “good Vietnamese citizen”(91). 

GB Tran’s use flashbacks to the colorful fathers childhood is meant to represent a more vibrant time in his life. But can it really be considered a better time? Despite all the pleasant colors we see violence between the authorities and the citizens as well as Tri consistently being ridiculed by his mother for wanting to pursue art. However, none of this compares to the torture he has to endure in captivity. The constant jumping back and forth from sad to sadder is incredibly depressing for the reader. It makes us feel sorry for Tri as he can’t seem to catch a break. 

Reading the dark pages made me want to return to the bright pages, only to receive an equally disheartening story line. But maybe that was Tran’s intention. This is an incredibly powerful representation of what it was like living in Vietnam during the time of war. You can go through the struggles of everyday living under subjugation of the French or face capture to even worse living conditions. Tran shows the reader through his use of flashbacks the reality of a lose-lose situation. 

Works Cited:

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010

Blog Post 4

Struggling to Breathe

What happens when you feel yourself being split between two worlds? Do you pick one or opt to transition between both for the rest of your life? In Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 novel “Home Fire”, she sheds light on young British Muslims trying to find their identities in a society that is telling them to hide their Muslim side. Parvaiz, the sole brother of the Pasha siblings, has always felt like he was in the shadow of his sisters. So when ISIS recruitment soldier Farooq finds him and fills his mind with with prospects of greatness and a sense of purpose, Parvaiz becomes torn between two worlds. Through the use of personification Shamsie encapsulates this conflict between his Muslim and British identity. 

Farooq shows Parvaiz pictures of men by the Euphrates river with promises of the caliphate being a paradise for muslims. All this newfound knowledge and temptations of belonging flip a switch in Parvaiz. The narrator states “increasingly his lungs did not know how to breathe the air of London”(Shamsie 150) followed by Farooq asking him numerous questions wondering how he could want to stay in a country that limits his freedom. The personification of the lungs being the things breathing instead of Parvaiz allow for a sort of separation between himself and his organ; this fuels the separation he has been feeling through the entirety of the novel. Here Parvaiz’s lungs appear to be in distress considering they can no longer breathe this “London air”. Lungs are vital organs we can’t live without; it’s simple if you can’t breathe you eventually die. By personifying the lungs as being a thing that’s slowly suffocating, Shamsie allows us to see the extent of Parvaiz’s distain for his currently life in London. It’s not just a simple dislike for his current living situation, but something that is equivalent to physically hurting or killing him. Suffocating is a slow and painful process that will turn deadly if not treated properly. Farooq tries to offer a “treatment” by persuading him to accompany him to the caliphate. Considering the physical and mental pain Parvaiz is experiencing it was no surprise he took Farooq up on his offer. 

By stating his lungs are suffocating due to the London air, we can interpret Parvaiz is beginning to resent his “London side”. After seeing a place where everyone embraced being Muslim in what appeared to be a brotherhood of men, his lungs began to yearn for the “liberating” smell of the caliphate air. It is here we see the shift from a British-Muslim to simply Muslim. It leaves us to wonder, why must he throw away one identity in order to embrace another? 


Works Cited:

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.

Stopped Again…and Again

You are walking when suddenly you find yourself being pinned to the wall and tapped down. You are scared, but as the side of your face is smushed against the wall reality starts to sink in. You remember you’re just another brown person trying to go about your day with the word “dangerous” branded on your back. The constant stopping and frisking of black and brown people by the police is expressed in Claudia Rankine’s poem Stop and Frisk form her 2014 collection of poems, Citizen: An American Lyric. 

The lines “and you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always fitting the description”(Rankine 105) is repeated 3 times throughout the poem. We first see the lines appear after the first block of text and again at the very end of the poem. This receptiveness parallels the common excuse cops give to black and brown people when they are pulled over or forced to be searched. It’s always the same answer “you match the description of someone we’re looking for”, but what description would that be? A black boy with a hoodie and dark jeans? It’s not like there isn’t dozens of boys that meet that same description, no. In an article published by New York Civil Liberties Unions, the amount of stop and frisks reached an all time high in 2011. Out of the 685,724 stops 88% were innocent. Out of the innocent people who were unjustifiably searched 53% were black and 34% were latino. Rankine allows us to stay on this idea of stereotypical stop and frisks by making these lines to stand alone in its own block of text. Rankine’s use of the word “you” also forces a connection with the reader; it makes them think about themselves and what they would do in this situation. 

For people of color who have or have not been stopped “randomly” by the police, these are incredibly powerful words. My friend and I read this poem aloud and always found ourselves stumbling to say these lines, not only because of the repetitiveness in the sentence, but because of the weight in the meaning. In three short lines Rankine encapsulates the underlying racisms faced by black and brown people imposed by the police officers who are trained to target them. 

Work Cited

“Stop-and-Frisk Data.” New York Civil Liberties Union, 10 Dec. 2018,

Rankine, Claudia. “Stop-and-Frisk.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.

Race Is Real

Race, should it even be considered real? According to Ijeoma Oluo’s 2018 publication So You Want to Talk About Race, she addresses the idea of race having no meaning in terms of science, but still “[being] alive”(Oluo 11) in todays economic and societal systems. This ideology is also supported in John Biewen’s podcast series Seeing White, while he talks with REI advocator Suzanne Plihcik.

While talking with Plihcik on his podcast, Biewen plays a clip of her presenting at a Racial Equity Inclusion workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina. She makes the interesting claim “there is more genetic variation within groups that have come to be called races than there is across groups that have come to be called races”(Biewen Seeing White). Plihcik then points at the crowd and states it is statistically more likely that she shares a closer genetic relation to a black man in the crowd than a white woman. This statistic helps shatter what we think we know about how race is categorized in society. It is so common for people to group others based off of appearance alone, and in regards to race skin color plays a crucial part in these groupings. But so what? The varying levels of melanin in skin is an easy thing to sort since color is easy to see. The problem lies when some of these sorted groups are perceived as being less or more “dangerous” than other groups. Plihcik makes the claim that anthropologists have now started to consider race as “anthropological nonsense” (Biewen Seeing White), but this does not mean it doesn’t exist, doesn’t affect the lives of millions of people, and mostly importantly it doesn’t give any justification for race to be a subject brushed under the rug. 

Oluo also addresses this issue of race being a very real reality especially for black and brown people in America. She makes the bold claim that race “was invented to lock people of color into the bottom of [a racially exploitative economic system”(Oluo 12). Thisconnects back to the history shared in Biewen’s podcast where they explained racially discrimination for those not considered white Christians was a westernized concept. Western civilizations purposefully enslaved people with the mindset the were “less human” by the color of their skin and religious affiliation. This has manifested itself into the disadvantages experienced by POC’s today. Not being able to acquire jobs on the basis of their names, being seen are more violent or scary without having committed any crime, which in turn leads to them being targeted.

Both Oluo and Biewen aim to shed some light on how past categorizations of race have affected modern views on the subject. They help us understand how history has influenced the underlying forms of racial oppression and discrimination towards black and brown people in our society, that put millions at a disadvantage for opportunities. 

Work Cited:

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. Seal Press, 2018.

Biewen, John, host. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White, Scene on Radio, 15 Feb 2017.