“In Colorado my Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes”

This poem by Eduardo C Corral deals with the implications of immigration, and living in the US as an illegal immigrant.

In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes

BY EDUARDO C. CORRAL

in a Tex-Mex restaurant. His co-workers,
unable to utter his name, renamed him Jalapeño.
If I ask for a goldfish, he spits a glob of phlegm
into a jar of water. The silver letters
on his black belt spell Sangrón. Once, borracho,
at dinner, he said: Jesus wasn’t a snowman.
Arriba Durango. Arriba Orizaba. Packed
into a car trunk, he was smuggled into the States.
Frijolero. Greaser. In Tucson he branded
cattle. He slept in a stable. The horse blankets
oddly fragrant: wood smoke, lilac. He’s an illegal.
I’m an Illegal-American. Once, in a grove
of saguaro, at dusk, I slept next to him. I woke
with his thumb in my mouth. ¿No qué no
tronabas, pistolita? He learned English
by listening to the radio. The first four words
he memorized: In God We Trust. The fifth:
Percolate. Again and again I borrow his clothes.
He calls me Scarecrow. In Oregon he picked apples.
Braeburn. Jonagold. Cameo. Nightly,
to entertain his cuates, around a campfire,
he strummed a guitarra, sang corridos. Arriba
Durango. Arriba Orizaba. Packed into
a car trunk, he was smuggled into the States.
Greaser. Beaner. Once, borracho, at breakfast,
he said: The heart can only be broken
once, like a window. ¡No mames! His favorite
belt buckle: an águila perched on a nopal.
If he laughs out loud, his hands tremble.
Bugs Bunny wants to deport him. César Chávez
wants to deport him. When I walk through
the desert, I wear his shirt. The gaze of the moon
stitches the buttons of his shirt to my skin.
The snake hisses. The snake is torn.
In this poem, there are numerous references to the problems of identity, especially, that the narrator’s father’s immigration instills in him. From the beginning, we get the irony of the father working in a Tex-Mex restaurant where nobody can pronounce his name so they call him “jalapeno.” There are many layers to this insinuation alone–the fact that the father, who is actually Mexican, is just a dishwasher at this restaurant, while the other workers, including the chefs, cannot even pronounce his Spanish name tips the reader off almost immediately to the complexities of transnationalism within the US. Even the existence of “Tex-Mex” cuisine is a marker of this transnationalism, the blending of two cultures that, ultimately, is claimed by the Americans and refused to the narrator’s father, even though his is one of the cultures that has influenced the cuisine.
The poem also deals with the idea of illegal immigration as being a marker of identity. Nowhere in the entire piece does the narrator say that his father is Mexican, instead the father is “an illegal./I’m an Illegal-American.” This loss of nationality is implied to have occurred as a result of the father’s immigration to the US, but he does not receive a new nationality upon his arrival. Instead of having been Mexican and becoming American, he was Mexican and is now Illegal. Interestingly, too, the son is not Mexican either–although he does identify as American, he is Illegal-American, as if America has erased all possibility of his father retaining his Mexican heritage. All he has inherited from his father, it seems his transience–his constant movement throughout the US, but seeming inability to put down roots.
This poet is considered an American poet, and yet his narrator does not seem to feel part of the US. Once again, the fact that the US itself is transnational; made up of so many immigrant groups, makes this irony even more apparent. We must examine America in the world, but also how the world plays out within America. If immigrants lose their nationality upon arrival in the US, what do they gain?
-Yevanit Reschechtko

3 thoughts on ““In Colorado my Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes””

  1. I think that the commentary on the the state of immigration policy in the US (although similar comments could probably be made about a lot of other countries) is really striking and explores a lot of interesting questions.

    Firstly, it really draws attention to the issues surrounding the use of the word “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants. The speaker’s father is working and learning English and trying to become part of American society. This can be particularly seen when the first five words of English that he learns are “In God We Trust”, which is a phrase that is traditionally associated with America, and “percolate”, which can be used to describe something filtering gradually though something porous. In spite of the fact that the speaker’s father clearly wants to be a part of this society, and the fact that other Americans are more than willing to take advantage of his current position, he is still defined as “illegal”.

    I was particularly interested in the line “Bugs Bunny wants to deport him”, because it suggests a link between the ethnoscape and the mediascape, and implies that the media plays a huge role in how immigrants are perceived.

    -Tanya

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  2. The lines “No qué no/ tronabas, pistolita” are interesting to me, because they’re an idiom that does not translate well into English. It’s used to point out to someone that something they said was impossible had just been done. I’m not sure there is a phrase like that in English. I find that this is a problem in any translation, because the translation itself inevitably changes or removes some of the original meaning of the poet. Here, Corral negates that problem (for those who can read English and Spanish) by leaving certain words in Spanish, much like Díaz did in “Oscar Wao.” It gives the work, particularly one about immigrants who would have been speaking Spanish and Enligsh, an air of authenticity; this is how his father speaks.

    Madison

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  3. I am struck by the closing question of this post: “If immigrants lose their nationality upon arrival in the US, what do they gain?”

    Indeed, nowhere in the poem is there mention of what is gained by moving to the U.S. It seems that the immigration of the speaker’s father is a kind of escape in and of itself: “César Chávez / wants to deport him” and so, “Packed into / a car trunk, he was smuggled into the States.” There is a sense of irony to that: that it is not necessarily to fulfill the American dream that an immigrant might find himself in the U.S.

    I have mixed reactions to the line: “The first four words / he memorized: In God We Trust.” On one hand, the mention of a phrase very clearly related to an American ideal or virtue or something foundational about America would suggest the kind of emphasis on (quick) assimilation of the immigrant to American language and culture. On the other hand, I wonder if the “God” mentioned here even has anything to do with a God that the speaker’s father perhaps does believe in. It does not seem so, which, I suppose, is the point.

    Sarah

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