Identify the tone used in the poem "La Migra" by Pat Mora.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Pat Mora's poem, "La Migra," is a poem that adopts a tone of irony, all based upon point of view. The tone might seem as playful at first ("get ready, get set, run", and "let's play"), in that the situation is presented as a game. However, one need not read very far to realize that the poet is in deadly earnest. The game is very serious, even to the point of life or death.

The first section indicates that the "migra" (Border Patrol) has the upper-hand, and no one has the strength to defy him as "la migra" takes advantage of others, using handcuffs or a gun. The danger and fear are seen in "you can hide and run, but you can't get away..." and again with, "I can touch you wherever I want..." The line "I don't speak Spanish" (clearly a taunt used in this section) provides a pivotal note used very cleverly in the second section.

I get the badge and sunglasses.

You can hide and run,

but you can't get away...

I can take you wherever

I want, but don't ask

questions because

I don't speak Spanish.

I can touch you wherever

I want but don't complain...

if I have to...

I have handcuffs.

Oh, and a gun.

The point of view shifts from the hunter to the hunted, and the "migra" no longer has the upper-hand. Whereas the Border Patrolman might perceive himself as all-powerful, it is easy to see in the second section that he is an outsider who cannot know the life of the Mexican, or, most importantly, how to survive on the land. The second section seems to beg the questions, "Who has the power now? How will your strength and weapons help you now?"

The first signal of a change in circumstances is the question, now on the tongue of a woman who might well have been a victim of the Border Patrol—she mimics "la migra's" taunting, "let's play." However, instead of intimidating the Border Patrolman with her sense of power and manipulation, she paints a picture with her words.

He is stranded, the sun is hot, all of his tools to coerce others are meaningless to him now, and because he doesn't speak Spanish, he won't understand when the speaker and the others talk of where water can be found.

Let's play La Migra
You be the Border Patrol.
I'll be the Mexican woman.
Your jeep has a flat,
and you have been spotted
by the sun.
All you have is heavy: hat,
glasses, badge, shoes, gun.
I know this desert,
where to rest,
where to drink.
Oh, I am not alone.
You hear us singing
and laughing with the wind,
Agua dulce brota aqui,
aqui, aqui,**
but since you
can't speak Spanish,
you do not understand.
Get ready.

And although it is not funny, there is a sense of irony and poetic justice by the poem's end.  The poet points out the abuses of power carried out by the Border Patrol, and the tone takes on a serious note of warning and vengeance.

** "...the Spanish in this poem reads 'sweet water springs here, here, here.'"

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