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
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?