Poem of the week: Pat Mora's "Legal Alien"


Pat Mora is a Mexican-American poet and writer who has won numerous awards for her books and poetry. She holds the Kellogg National Leadership fellowship award, the National Endowment for the Arts award, the Southwest Book Award and the Aztlán literature Award.

She was born El Paso Texas, January 19, 1942.  Her family settled there during the Mexican revolution. She writes on many topics, from poetry to children's books. She has taught at the University of New Mexico as a distinguished visiting professor. Her most popular books include My Own True Name (1984-1999), Aunt Carmen's book of Practical Saints (1997), and Auga Santa (1995).

Mora also has been a museum director and consultant for U.S.-Mexico youth exchanges. She is now retired and spends most of her time writing and traveling to schools and other events to teach young writers.

This poem, "Legal Alien," captures an important quality of our evolving and emerging multi-national, multi racial, and multi-ethnic culture.

Legal Alien

by Pat Mora

Bi-lingual, Bi-cultural, 
able to slip from "How's life?" 
to "Me'stan volviendo loca,
able to sit in a paneled office 
drafting memos in smooth English, 
able to order in fluent Spanish 
at a Mexican restaurant, 
American but hyphenated, 
viewed by Anglos as perhaps exotic, 
perhaps inferior, definitely different, 
viewed by Mexicans as alien, 
(their eyes say, "You may speak 
Spanish but you're not like me") 
an American to Mexicans 
a Mexican to Americans 
a handy token 
sliding back and forth 
between the fringes of both worlds 
by smiling 
by masking the discomfort 
of being pre-judged 

From Chants by Pat Mora, Arte Publico Press 
© 1985 Pat Mora, republished with permission of Arte Publico Press

Image: Kate Gardiner // CC BY-NC 2.0

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  • You have a few mistakes, but this is amazing and a proper source of information! :)

    Posted by Lexi Robles, 05/21/2014 2:06pm (2 years ago)

  • I can definetly indentify myself with this poem. it explains in a very simple way the awkwardness of being regarded as different like the author said "bilaterally". The porpuse might be foreign to people who do not understand the struggle. Loving our country, but being in love with our roots at the same time.

    Posted by Giovanni, 02/21/2014 6:20pm (2 years ago)

  • this poem is nice. but what is the authors purpose

    Posted by f, 11/13/2013 5:41pm (2 years ago)

  • This poem was very confusing and now that i understand i love the poem because relates to because im puerto rican and its kinda like mexican but we are treated really different, i can tell how you feel in the poem . Its all about racism

    Posted by jessica brown, 10/01/2013 6:15pm (2 years ago)

  • Lalalalalalalalalalala yippe, yippe, yip yay.

    Posted by Pancho Kitty, 05/01/2013 1:38pm (3 years ago)

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