| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
A Chicana from El Paso, Texas, Pat Mora has written
three books of poetry, a children’s book, and a collection of essays. She
earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English from the University of Texas at El
Paso while she raised three children who all currently attend universities. She
lives and writes in Cincinnati, Ohio.
poem “University Avenue” presents Chicanas, working-class women, who only
recently gained front-door entry to universities, particularly in traditionally
racist institutions in Texas that historically relegated Mexican women to roles
as faceless workers pushing the broomcarts, mopping the corridors of academia,
and cleaning the departments’ bathrooms. Mora’s poem recognizes that the “first
of our people” to attend universities as students, administrators, and faculty,
however, need not sacrifice Mexican indigenous traditions that inform
Chicana/Chicano identity. Implicit in her use of Spanish words is the succor
that bilingualism offers, the richness that biculturalism should evoke. The
lessons whispered in Spanish are also the stories, the rich oral traditions
that we carry with us to seminars, meetings, and lectures.
“Unnatural Speech” Mora explores the dual voices of this bilingual, bicultural
student. She speaks to the pain that the Chicana confronts as she makes the
transition from Spanish speaker to English-dominant speaker. Must the Spanish
oral tradition of childhood nursery rhymes remain in the past, hidden in the
memory of carefree childhood? Is there danger in learning and internalizing the
“new rules” of the dominant language too well? The dilemma remains: will
accommodating the dominant culture in the United States erase the songs of the
other, the indigenous Mexican culture?
Town: 1938” presents the other side of the bicultural dilemma. While we can now
assert the importance of keeping both the Mexican and the American languages
and traditions, Mora’s poetry urges us to remember the specificities of Chicana
history in the United States; that history has been one of separate and unequal
educational systems. Evoking that memory of segregated “Mexican Schools” in
Texas of the recent past, Mora does not allow the reader to romanticize that
history. The problem she presents in these poems from her collection, Borders,
is one where Mexican Americans on the border too often are forced to choose one
side or the other, one language or the other, one culture or the other.
Struggling to gain a foothold in the land of their ancestors, Chicanas must
learn to gain power from a constantly shifting, ambiguous, multiple identity: as
Mora asserts in a poem from Chants, “Legal Alien”, “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 / Bi-laterally.”
University of California, Los Angeles
In the Heath Anthology
Border Town: 1938
A Birthday Basket for Tia
Nepantla: Essays from the Land in the Middle
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A biography, list of works, and honors.
Mora's own site offers information about her latest work, published fiction and nonfiction, and more.
The Academy of American Poets
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Voices from the Gaps
Biography, criticism, and links.