Black Identity in I, Too

The poem, I, Too by Langston Hughes was published in 1926 but first seen in his book, “The Weary Blues” in 1925. It is a rather short, free verse poem of five stanzas, opening and closing with similar one line sentence, and using simple language throughout. The poem is only five sentences in total, but covers two events, today and tomorrow, and two places, the kitchen and the table. The narrator of the poem creates black narrative and exposes the African-American identity within the oppressive dominant white culture of America. More powerfully, it captivates the history of slavery and oppression that creates systems of racial inequality and denied blacks their rights. The poem uses an exemplary event of the unfair treatment of a person because of their darker skin complexion to comment on the racism that plagues our nation. When the poem emerged in 1926, the Great Migration (high rate relocation of African-Americans from Southern states to the North), The Chicago race riots (the lynching of blacks), and Jim Crow (state and local laws that legally separated the South), painted the racially divided climate of the US.

In the Poem, I, Too, the narrator is sent to the kitchen to eat his food alone by an authority figure when people come to visit who all eat together at the table. The narrator does as told but claims that he will not be in the kitchen in the future. Through the use of commas, Hughes expressed his feelings towards racism and comments on the racially discriminating state of our nation.

Hughes writes,

                                                                    “I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.”           




The use of commas in this quote forces the reader to slow down and take in the actions of the narrator. The commas show the continuation of the unfair treatment because the commas combined with the word “grow strong” shows the longevity and multiplicity of times he was had to eat in the kitchen because he is “the darker brother.” The commas also allow for the tone shift through the lines as well as stanzas of the poem. The tone shift from one of anger to one of strength through the use of the commas because the commas allows for the poem to be read like blues music, filled with sorrow and anger, but finding the beauty by finding its worth like the narrator does. Commas produce this effect because it showcases the narrator’s growth and emotions. The commas allow us to get a whole picture view of the changes the narrator goes through after being banished to the kitchen such as the, “But I laugh,” that is followed by the, “And eat well,” then him saying, “And grow strong.” He is not allowing for his banishment to the kitchen to keep him down, but rather laughs and thinks of the future when he is stronger and can escape the segregation that has been forced on him. The commas also produces a contrast between not being able to eat at the table juxtaposed to his claim of his, “tomorrow(‘s)” right to eat at that table. His perseverance and resilience in self authorizing that he will be at the table comes through because of the use of commas showing that he is not accepting his current situation.

  The vagueness in the setting of time in the poem (today and tomorrow), showcases how whether or not it takes place during slavery or post-slavery, the remaining effects of oppression and unequal treatment of blacks is still present and draining in the American society. Moving on, the narrator claims his liberation and argues for unification at the table. He is claiming his right to feel included and equal as a citizen in America. He is disapproving the idea that equality is based on race, or more specifically that you have to be white or of a lighter skin complexion to be fairly treated.

Through his poem, Hughes makes a declaration of freedom for blacks and stands against the oppression and cruel treatment of slaves as if they aren’t equal human beings. The narrator’s fight still remains true and ongoing in American society today because we still see ongoing movements and suffrage for racial equality and freedom. The Black Lives Movement is a 21st century visual representation of the poem and the theme of Freedom that it demands. This theme of freedom rings through in Hughes other works of poetry such as, “Let America be America Again” and “Montage of a Dream Deferred.” Malcolm X said, “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Parallel with Hughes message, Blacks are demanding their freedom in all pursuits, but more than just demanding it, they are taking it  peacefully or via force.


Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. “I, Too by Langston Hughes.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 1926,

Tolnay, Stewart (2003). “The African American ‘Great Migration’ and Beyond”. Annual Review of Sociology. 29: 209–232. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.100009. JSTOR 30036966.

Michael O. Emerson, Christian Smith (2001). “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”. p. 42. Oxford University Press.

“Malcolm X Quotes.” BrainyMedia Inc, 2019. 19 April 2019.

Esoteric Experiences in Citizen Illegal

In his 2018 collection of poems, Citizen Illegal, author Jose Olivarez encompasses emotions and experiences revolving around Mexican immigrants. Citizen Illegal is divided into five sections and contains poems ranging from 1 stanza to multiple stanzas and emotions of nostalgia to sorrow. While there is no set character, the poems are meant to either place the reader in the author/Mexican immigrants’ position or simply enlighten identifiable situations. Throughout the poems, readers learn about relations between individual family members, and between Mexican immigrants versus American society. It alludes to esoteric experiences while educating and informing the reader of more than the misconceived notions or what is often portrayed in the media. In particular, his multiple one-stanza poems titled “Mexican Heaven” describe the ideal “heaven”/utopia that consists of both Mexican and American culture. 

Cover of Jose Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal

Although Olivarez himself is not an immigrant, he is the son of immigrant parents, whose experiences outlines some of his poems. His work helps readers understand the untold experiences of Mexican immigrants that no one thinks twice about. Often, what is portrayed or misconceived of Mexican immigrants is that they “don’t contribute to society” or “they’re taking all our jobs” or, as President Trump has most recently described them, “drug dealers, rapists, and criminals”. Unfortunately, we believe or perpetuate these notions because these narratives are most often the only ones portrayed, making us unaware of their experiences. Given today’s political climate with our current president, Olivarez’s work engages readers to learn and understand true experiences told by someone who is knowledgeable about Mexicans immigrating into the U.S.  

Jose Olivarez’s collection of poems, Citizen Illegal, comprises poems that speak to things that are relatable to Mexican immigrants. While he has multiple poems titled “Mexican Heaven” in different sections of the book, the “Mexican Heaven” poem in the third section exemplifies Mexican women’s role in the Mexican community. The common misconception of Mexican immigrants is that the men are the hardworking one, while the women stay at home. Although I am not dismissing their effort, it is important to highlight the unofficial work Mexican women partake in. The poem is one stanza comprised of five lines and narrates common responsibilities:

all the Mexican women refuse to cook or clean

or raise the kids or pay the bills or make the bed or

drive your bum ass to work or do anything except

watch their novelas, so heaven is gross. The rats

are fat as roosters & the men die of starvation (Olivarez 31).

The word “or” separates the numerous tasks/responsibilities Mexican women have, even though they don’t work at an actual job. The repetition of the word “or” produces the effect of “never-ending”, that the responsibilities Mexican women have are infinite (could go on and on). This goes against the misconception and highlights the unnoticed work of Mexican women.

Additionally, in omitting commas to separate the tasks and using multiple “or”, the poem forces the readers to take their time in reading each task, reflecting the difficulty of each and realizing the domesticity of them. Implementing commas would make the list become fluid and rushed, not allowing for reflection and thought for each task. The repetition of “or” and the omission of commas showcases the jobs of Mexican women as, although domestic, still important. Important enough that the son of immigrant parents noticed as a kid growing up. It conveys that Mexican women are just as hardworking as men, and also contributes to society (misconception that they don’t) by implementing same actions as American women. Further, these devices highlight immigrant Mexican women’s roles and showcases one of the relatable “things” that other Mexican immigrants or children of Mexican immigrants can relate to.




Works Cited

Olivarez, Jose. Citizen Illegal. Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2018.

New Racism in Malaysia and Singapore

Historian often say history repeats itself until we learn the lesson that is meant to be learned, and we make the necessary changes to become a more globally accepting, equal, and interconnected society and world. One way history has been repeating itself for centuries is with the way in which we categorize people.Daniel Goh and Philip Holden show the continuance of racial structures that promote “institutionalized colonial identities” (3) which turns into a different form or “new racism” (2) in our society decades after a country established its freedom from their colonizers in their book, Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009).Goh and Holden also acknowledge the damaging effects of this continuance and of the “new racism” it forms.

  To start of, Goh and Holden states that these two countries government are, “shaped by a racial governmentality” (1). Racial govermentiality first started when British assigned labor systems in the countries that they colonized such as Malaysia and Singapore. The British recognized any progress socially, economically, or culturally as being tied to your race. Therefore, racial structures were created that positioned a person’s race and ethnic identity ahead of their Singaporean or Malaysian identity. This created “institutionalized colonial identities’ (3), because years after these colonized countries such as Malaysia and Singapore fought for their freedom, the effects and racial structures stemming from a racial governmentality that the British practiced in these countries remained. Goh and Holden essentially make the argument that race and multiculturalism function as a continuance of “institutionalized colonial identities” (3) that creates “new racism” (2) in countries like Malaysia and Singapore whom were colonized and later established their freedom.This means that the act of freedom from colonizers is not enough, there has to be more actions taken to rectify the structures they left. Malaysia and Singapore are examples that a colonized country still relies on the established government by British colonizers even in a postcolonial and multicultural state.

One way we see this argument shown as accurate is through the use of Robert Hefner’s collection of essays (2001). Hefner’s works showcases the, “investigation of multiculturalism in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in the production and reproduction of precolonial, colonial and postcolonial pluralism”(2). This goes to show how “new racism” stems from the precolonial and colonial decades of history, because the “institutionalized colonial identities” established by the British are still present today in countries that have postcolonial pluralism. I found this to be revealing because often when people think of a postcolonial or multicultural/pluralistic country, they think of it as a melting pot such as with the United States. The terms or view point of multicultural or melting pot often gives of the impression that the country and its citizens are equal, diverse, and legally understanding of everyone. However, that is not true because we see the effects of the race systems from colonial days that still show face in the legal, social, and cultural aspects of our society today. For example, in Malaysia, the “politics of recognition” (3) shows how one must navigate race to have access to resources because it is not evenly distributed among citizens. This is similar to America where the race you are born into already has serious stereotypes accompanied with it. For Blacks, this is often shown through the wealth and economic gap that shows how minorities like blacks are more likely to live in poorer segmented neighbors.

History repeats itself as we learn it, until we understand it enough to change it. The understanding that one has control of their own fate is then seen as only possible if we as a society decide that we want to change our fate and take another route not tied to our colonizers. Daniel Goh and Philip Holden are taking the necessary steps in learning the colonial history of Malaysia and Singapore, and exposing the recurring effects British colonizers have had on the land. They are also arguing for the necessary change in the ways we use “institutionalized colonial identities” (3) because it is creating a system for “new racism” as seen in other countries like America who went from slavery to Jim Crow laws. It is interesting how history has been repeating itself, but it is also revealing because Goh and Holden are revealing to us how to change the continuance of a racially charged and oppressive history.

Blog 5.

Works Cited

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



Visual Pattern of Recurring Trees

America is a multicultural society that composes of many individuals and families with binary identities and races. Sometimes this is through heritage, other times it stems from living within multiple cultures and communities that a person feels tied to, or makes up who they are. In the graphic novel, Vietnamerica (2010) by GB Tran, is a family story of Tran’s journey to reconnect with his Vietnamese identity and family after having fled to America with his parents during the Vietnamese war. The choice of a graphic novel allows Tran to tell his story through comic style writing and visuals. One visual I found compelling was the recurring images of trees, often of dark blue and black coloring that can be seen in the background of many of the scenes in the pages.

     Cover of Vietnamerica graphic novelThe visual representation of the recurring black and dark blue color trees within the graphic novel is started after the images of the Vietnamese war that opens up the novel. The recurring dark color trees is the first image we see when Tran’s family escapes to America. This is then followed by the quote on the next page from his father which says, “A man without history is a tree without roots,-Confucius.” This pattern of recurring trees then produces the effect of having the reader’s constantly remember the quote and question what is Tran’s history. It also makes the reader more aware of the dark trees rather than it just being a normal scenery, it stands out as important to the story and the colors makes us question, is the history of Tran’s family dark as well? The quote causes the trees to be re-imagined as history that has to be rooted in something, and for Tran that is Vietnam. The recurring trees also connects the life he had in America to Vietnam because trees are general parts of nature and are seen and reproduced in the scenes of when he is in both places. It then allows us to connect that Tran has history in both countries, and he is traveling to Vietnam to get in touch with his roots here because he has been gone for so long. The quote combined with the recurring trees shows the pathway or journey that Tran must embark on to find his history, his roots.

Being someone in a binary race or culture identity can make you feel like you’re having to find both your identities. It is often a journey to connect to lost family, history, and your roots. Tran is trying to find his history and roots within his multicultural identity, and the importance of history and remembering it acts as his father’s push to remind him of that.


Works Cited

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

Blog 4.