In the school auditorium,
the Theodore Roosevelt statue
for the Spanish-American war
each fist lonely for a saber,
or the reins of anguish-eyed horses,
or a podium to clatter with speeches
glorying in the malaria of conquest.
But now the Roosevelt school
is pronounced Hernandez.
Puerto Rico has invaded Roosevelt
with its army of Spanish-singing children
in the hallways,
brown children devouring
the stockpiles of the cafeteria,
children painting Taino ancestors
that leap naked across murals.
Roosevelt is surrounded
by all the faces
he ever shoved in eugenic spite
and cursed as mongrels, skin of one race,
hair and cheekbones of another.
Once Marines tramped
from the newsreel of his imagination;
now children plot to spray graffiti
in parrot-brilliant colors
across the Victorian mustache
- Does historical background help you understand this poem? In what ways? Be specific.
- How does Espada use imagery and how does this shift as the poem progresses?
- What words jump out at you? What meaning to they impart to the poem?
- What overall meanings emerge? In other words, what is the message?
Absolutely. Though the name “ Spanish-American War” is transparent enough, understanding Theodore Roosevelt’s role in it as well as his “Big Stick” ideology helps paint a better image of the poem’s meaning. Without an image of Roosevelt in your mind, I’m not sure that a reader would really have a good idea of his role in this poem.
Initially Roosevelt is not painted in such a negative light. The statue is described as being “ nostalgic” of a time long lost, and imagery is used to support this. “Each fist lonely for a saber, or the reins of anguish-eyed horses.” After this, though, it presents imagery of Hispanic children “invading” the school. It closes with a description of the statue in an almost silly way, as it is about to be vandalized with “parrot-brilliant” colors across its mustache and monocle.
I’d say that the imagery of the poem its strong-suit, phrases such as “parrot-brilliant colors,” and the description of the statue itself. The “malaria of conquest” was pretty potent as well.
It seems to me as though irony is a central theme in the poem, in that Roosevelt is now surrounded by the people he is depicted as having disrespected so severely. Above all, though, it seems to condemn imperialism, conquest, and discrimination.