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Gary Soto's poem, "Mexicans Begin Jogging," captures the complex themes of identity, irony, drama, and vivid imagery. Through this narrative, Soto sheds light on the challenges faced by Mexican Americans, offering a poignant commentary on their experiences. This essay delves into the layers of meaning in Soto's poem, exploring the profound themes it encompasses.
The tone of "Mexicans Begin Jogging" is characterized by irony and a refusal to take itself too seriously. The poem begins by narrating the story of a Mexican American who once worked in an industrial factory.
The imagery in the opening lines is vivid, as Soto describes the factory's environment: "In the factory I worked, in the fleck of rubber, under a press of an oven yellow with flame." (Lines 1-3) The choice of words paints a picture of the factory setting, with the oven's flames emitting a striking yellow hue.
However, the poem takes an ironic turn when the border patrol, referred to as "La Migra" in Spanish slang, arrives at the factory.
The boss instructs the speaker to run, assuming that he is also an illegal immigrant. The boss's authority is evident as he shouts, "Over the fence Soto." (Line 6) This moment reveals a conflict of identity as the speaker, with the surname "Soto," is caught between his Mexican heritage and American nationality. Despite asserting, "I am American" (Line 7), the boss remains skeptical and retorts, "no time for lies." (Line 8)
This dramatic encounter between the speaker and his boss underscores the tension arising from the speaker's dual identity—he is Mexican at heart but American in mind, a complexity that his boss fails to comprehend.
The poem's dramatic quality lies in the palpable pressure between the two characters, compelling readers to continue to unravel the unfolding narrative.
Soto employs precise imagery throughout the poem, particularly when describing the suburban neighborhood through which the speaker runs. The residents watch in astonishment as the group of illegal immigrants traverses their community. Soto skillfully highlights the contrast in skin color when he writes, "Houses where people paled at the turn of an autumn sky." (Line 16) This visual imagery emphasizes the difference in skin tones between the residents and the runners, accentuating the notion of otherness.
Furthermore, the speaker embraces symbols of America during his escape, including "baseball, milkshakes, and those sociologists." (Line 18) This choice of symbols reflects the speaker's optimism and sense of relief. He rejoices in the familiar and comforting elements of American culture that represent freedom and acceptance.
The poem's climax captures the speaker's jubilant mood: "What could I do to yell vivas (Spanish for hooray) to baseball, milkshakes, and those sociologists who would clock me." (Lines 17-19) Here, Soto conveys the speaker's happiness and relief as he feels safe from the border patrol. The poem exudes positivity and optimism, symbolized by the "great, silly grin" (Line 21) that the speaker wears, signifying hope for a future where Mexican Americans can be as American as anyone else.
Central to the poem is the exploration of the speaker's dilemma: he exists in a liminal space, neither fully Mexican nor fully American. The assumption of his non-American status, based on his skin color and borderland upbringing, fuels the conflict at the heart of the narrative.
The speaker is a symbol of the pursuit of freedom and a better future, a pursuit so ingrained that he is willing to risk everything to achieve it. Despite his assertion that there is no need for him to run because he is American, society's preconceptions persist. This enduring prejudice highlights the pervasive challenges faced by Mexican Americans in their quest for acceptance.
Gary Soto's "Mexicans Begin Jogging" is a nuanced and emotionally resonant poem that encapsulates the experiences of Mexican Americans. Through its exploration of identity, irony, drama, and vivid imagery, the poem offers a compelling commentary on the challenges and prejudices faced by individuals navigating the complexities of dual identity. Soto's work serves as a testament to the enduring pursuit of freedom and acceptance in the face of societal biases.
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