What would be the tone and the theme of the poem "Legal Alien" by Pat Mora?

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samcestmoi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this poem, Pat Mora talks about the cultural identity of Hispanic Americans, about how, despite belonging both to an American community and a Mexican community, one can never really be fully integrated into the other. To be constantly “sliding back and forth/between the fringes of both worlds,” is tiring and disaffirming. The speaker states that he or she must always be putting on a front, to hide the fact that he or she is “being pre-judged/bi-laterally.” This is a parallelism of the first line, which consists of two words:  “Bi-lingual, bi-cultural.” Rather than being fully accepted by two communities, the speaker is “An American to Mexicans,/A Mexican to Americans,” facing stereotypes from both sides. The poem emphasizes the irony of this situation.  The title itself is a good representation of this: “Legal Alien.” Though the speaker is a citizen of the United States, he or she is still “other,” is still an alien.  Despite belonging, she doesn’t belong.

The poem is resigned in tone, and somewhat withdrawn. The speaker feels his or her identity to be suspended, to be caught in a nothing place – to be “American, but hyphenated” – American with stipulations. And this results in a helplessness that comes from being defined predominantly not by your personality or your job or your achievements, but by your race. 

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Legal Alien

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