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


John Case
John Case

John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.