Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Habit of Movement” is a poem about the difficulties involved in the painful assimilation into another culture. Ortiz Cofer shows the stages along the way as she and her family move away from one culture but are not yet absorbed into another. Ortiz Cofer says she is “a composite of two worlds.” Since she speaks English with a Spanish accent and Spanish with an American accent, she feels that she has never completely belonged in either culture. She writes in English, the language of her schooling, but thinks of Spanish as her cultural and subconscious language. She is a mixture of both worlds, constantly straddling two cultures. She has spent too much time in the United States to think of leaving, but she says she becomes melancholy at times as she continues to yearn for Puerto Rico.

In “The Habit of Movement,” the poet provides a mental picture of the dichotomy of the immigrant experience. Ortiz Cofer has said that “every time I write a story where Puerto Ricans live their hard lives in the United States, I am saying, look, this is what is happening to all of us. I am giving you a mental picture of it, not a sermon.” In this poem, she shows the ambiguous state of immigrants who no longer feel at home in their old culture but are not part of the new one. The images that she uses to illustrate this struggle begin with a feeling of nostalgia for the homeland that nurtured her and quickly move to the feeling of being adrift in a nomadic...

(The entire section is 549 words.)