The controlling metaphor of Pat Mora's poem, "Legal Alien" is stated in her title: Mora lives and works in the United States legally, yet she still feels as though she is a foreigner. Thus, the tension of the poem arises from what Mora calls "bi-lateral"
sliding back and forth
between the fringes of both worlds
Born in the United States of Mexican parents, Mora "slides" from the English-speaking world of her job and Americans who perceive her as "exotic,/perhaps inferior, definitely different" to the Spanish-speaking world of a true Mexican restaurant with native clientele, who are suspicious of her and perceive her as an alien,
(their eyes say, "You may speak
Spanish but you're not like me")
So, Mora feels as though she is viewed as "an American to Mexicans," but to Americans she is a Mexican ("a Mexican to Americans") In other words, Mora feels pulled apart without a single identity. When Americans talk to her, they see a Mexican; however, if she speaks to a Mexican, then she is perceived as an American. Consequently, she feels "bi-lateral," or two-sided. She is a dual persona, and, therefore, has no single, true identity. She legally belongs in the United States, but she is not accepted.