Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Claribel Alegría is an enduring voice for the rights of Latin American people. One primary focus of her artistic work is to show how those in power exploit those who have little power. Certainly “The American Way of Life” is a strong example of Alegría’s central point, but the poem speaks to more than the powerful Americans who live the life Alegría illustrates. The poem speaks to those minorities who seek the American way of life, including immigrants, displaced workers, the poor, and those who, like university students, seek to change the American way of life.

The poet speaks to immigrants when she describes the “three hundred undocumented” who are deported weekly, turned in by border patrol agents (“the Migra”). The illegal immigrants come to the United States to seek a better way of life, but Alegría reminds immigrants that those who are deported are “returned to their deaths” or to where they have no hope of a better life. The poet also takes note of those legally allowed to work in the United States, but who have no jobs. Alegría finds irony in the name of a factory, Bethlehem Steel, that causes the lives of its “jobless steelworkers” to become “suddenly as empty” as the plant in which they used to work. Christians have long associated the name Bethlehem with hope for a better future. In this instance, the name is associated with a corporation that has wreaked havoc in people’s lives and caused them to feel...

(The entire section is 499 words.)