Response #3

Alexandra Troiano

Professor Alvarez

English 255

14 March 2012

The Paradoxical Struggle: Identity in Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’ I Am Joaquín

     In the 1960′s, during the time of Civil Rights Movement, Chicano labor movements sought to improve the lifestyle and working conditions of the Mexican-Americans who endured marginalization and discrimination for decades. This time witnessed the emergence of the symbol of Aztlán, which symbolized a Mexican right to land in the United States as well as supremacy of mestizaje’s in America. Stavans explains how the emergence of the Chicanismo identity also reflected this social and political unrest in the Mexican-American society of the time:

In wanting to reclaim their past, Mexican Americans defines their collective identity as a nation within a nation. The social conditions in which they lived amounted, as the poet Abelardo “Lalo” Delgado put it, to “outright slavery under another name.” Through a focus on Chicanismo, Chicanos sought autonomy and pride. The term Chicano itself became a battle cry for change. (Stavans 589)

In this quote, Stavans addresses a “Chicanismo” identity taken on by Mexican-Americans. This group identified themselves as a “nation within a nation.” According to Stavans, the Mexican-Americans identified as a Mexican nation within an American nation. This identity differs from the common immigrant identity of “in the hyphen” or struggling between two identities. Stavan states that the Chicanos “sought autonomy and pride” through this identity, this identity created common ground for Mexican-American who sought an identity.  He compares the groups’ social conditions to the conditions of slaves: “outright slavery under another name.” This clearly connotes inhumane living conditions. Also, he uses the word “outright” which highlights the idea that the white American society did not subtly place these harsh conditions on the Mexican-Americans, but rather did it quite openly.  Stavans also highlights the idea that this “Chicano” identity became a “battle cry for change.” This implies that an identity taken on by this community in itself represents a “cry for change,” or campaigns for rights and change.

The recurring theme of identity and the “paradox of America” plays an important role in the telling of immigrant lives in America.  “The paradox of America,” in the eyes of an immigrant, forces one to either assimilate or remain an underclass in American society. The “paradox” exists because the forced choice of identity undercuts and contradicts the notion of America and what it represents. The “American Dream” cannot be possible for immigrants who do not assimilate, and even the immigrants that do assimilate may not be able to achieve that “dream.” Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales expresses this “paradox of America” throughout his poem “I Am Joaquín” by identifying as both Aztec and Spanish, and slave and tyrant. In this quote from his poem, Gonzales criticizes this paradox of America:

I must choose

                                        between

the paradox of

victory of the spirit,

       despite physical hunger,

                             or

to exist in the grasp

           of American social neurosis,

sterilization of the soul

                              and a full stomach. (Gonzales 788)

In this excerpt from  “I Am Joaquín,” Gonzales expresses the tension between choosing between two identities; the speaker states, “the paradox […],” implying that this forced choice seems paradoxical, or contradictory. However, rather than stating these identities as either “Chicano” or “American,” Gonzales refers to his choice of identities as either “victory of the spirit, / despite physical hunger” or “to exist in the grasp / of American social neurosis, / sterilization of the soul / and a full stomach.” Gonzales reduces the choice to life or death. The form and structure of the poem even displays this juggling of identities because it sets them apart with a line of the indented “or” in between, implying that he must choose one “or” the other. According to the speaker, keeping his own culture would mean a “victory of the spirit,” while assimilation would mean “sterilization of the soul.” The speaker’s use of the word “grasp” implies that he will be stuck or caught in this “American social neurosis,” but will merely “exist,” rather than live, in this “grasp.”  Clearly, the speaker does not look positively upon assimilating into “America social neurosis,” but may have to in order to avoid “physical hunger,” or starvation and poverty. The use of the word “neurosis” here implies an illness or disease and stress, which highlights, again, the speaker’s negative outlook towards the idea of assimilation into American culture. The speaker also states that he “must choose.” Clearly, the speaker feels like it must be one or the other, he cannot keep his culture and “a full stomach.”

Works Cited

 Stavans, Ilan. “Upheaval: 1946-1979.” The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 589. Print.

Gonzales, Rodolfo “Corky.” I am Joaquín. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 788. Print.

 

 

 

 

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