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Short story written by Martin Espada Essay

Niggerlips is a short story written by Martin Espada and is located in the bilingual book of poems called Cool Salsa edited by Lori M. Carlson on pages 73-74. My interpretation of the historical implications in the writing is when he notes the great grandfather’s time and place of existence, Coffee Hills in Puerto Rico 1900’s. The writing also includes a section describing how a young villain student, Douglas, who attended elementary school with the grandson, would frighten young black children playing on the sidewalk with an unloaded gun in their communities. This to me indicates a time in history where racism and violence were not considered radical acts as most would in today’s modern society, but that’s not to say that it still doesn’t happen today especially in southern states like Arizona or Arkansas for example. In this era, sinister behavior like Douglas’s was somewhat acceptable in a sense from the 1960’s and prior for many years and included harsher treatments. For example, during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, police were treating minority groups with fierce aggression that included unjust assault on men, women, and children. I also picked up the sense that the great grandfather, Luis, was more of a burden to his family rather than a beloved member. It were as if the family was disowning or hiding him from the family legacy for having black skin and assuming curly hair which are dominant traits in the Puerto Rican nationality. The conflicts imply a historic era engulfed by prejudice that defines entire races to be inferior to others and often made scapegoats for others as well. They also represent a time when hate and violence were accepted in communities as a status quo for reasons that are beyond petty such as how they look, their income, gender, sexual preference, and religion. These types of traits are not optional to the human being, but rather a forced stamp on an envelope that cannot be undone in a natural manner. This literature is a drama and I say this because it tells the story of heritage and shame which is not depicted in any form of humor by the author.

It tells about one of the many acts of violence in a clear and precise tone and its causation, racism. The violence was targeted by innocent children who could not change their economics, education, politics, or genetics to avoid being a victim of such cruel punishment by Douglas and others like him. The author uses metaphors and interesting words to creatively describe the events that occurred. For example, the text reads a line that includes the phrase, “stubborn copper skin” (Cool Salsa, Carlson) to describe Luis’s black skin to be a pest to his future generations and will not go away regardless of the amount of powder used to cover it up. The author also uses the metaphor, “a fly in milk” (Cool Salsa, Carlson) to describe his existence as in being a constant reminder of their inferior Puerto Rican roots in a society that thought them less. Lastly, at the end of the text the main character uses the words “unloaded gun” to show a sense of inner power he has that trump’s the horrible acts bragged about by Douglas indicating that he is aware of what’s going on and that he can deal with it in his own independent way. The tone was pride, perseverance, and shame. Douglas was proud of his hate crimes and showed it by bragging about it to his classmates. He even bragged about it in front of students who were victimized themselves with no thought to their regard at all. The main character overcame his struggle of having black skin and big lips by acknowledging that he was similar to his great grandfather even though the rest of his family tried not to. The family openly expressed their feelings of shame by refusing to keep a picture of him in the home as if they despised their Puerto Rican ancestry. They tell stories of Luis using a powder in an attempt to bleach his skin as memories for the grandchildren as if making a mock of him.

The theme is about a boy facing racism in a society that allows it and is exposed to his family’s negative feelings toward their Puerto Rican roots by disowning Luis, the ancestor. The story reflects a type of déjà vu between the main character, the great grandson, and Luis, the great grandfather, because of their Puerto Rican traits that they shared that consisted of big lips and black skin that were social hardships for both men within their historic time periods. The theme also includes violence, racism, deadly weapons without ammunition. My personal opinion of this literature is sadness towards Luis, the great grandfather, for having Puerto Rican traits like big lips. Also, the part that mentions white powder used to cover up Luis’s black skin is as if he were trying to erase his authentic identity to create another that was more fitting for his own personal interest and of his family. As I read the story, I also felt feelings of anger towards Douglas for the very purpose of trying to bring mental or physical harm to innocent people. I did however; get a sense of contentment for the main character in the end with his choice of words and persevering tone, Douglas’s unloaded gun. It’s as if he were saying that he can take on the whole world, as ugly as it can be, and persevere through it. I also find it difficult to imagine, realistically, the struggles that the young black children faced onward throughout their lives with this event as another similar memory added to the many they probably faced.

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