Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Two closely related themes appear in “Depression Days,” a powerful political poem about a significant historical decade and its effect on Mexican Americans. One of the themes is the horror of racial discrimination. Delgado, victimized because of his Mexican name, vividly exemplifies the object of racial discrimination. Discrimination threatens to deprive the “border kid” of a job. Although he is of Mexican ancestry, Delgado does not appear to be Mexican and could easily pass for Anglo, so he faces a terrible dilemma: Forsaking his cultural heritage and his identity would assure him of a job and thus end his economic misery.

The issue of identity is another prevalent theme in this poem, as it is in several of Mora’s other works. The sergeant’s order to Delgado to change his name so that he can get a job is a very tempting offer, given the time period and the economic crisis. Delgado remembers at this decisive point “his father who never understood/ this country.” His family name, which comes from his father, provides him with a sense of who he is. Delgado has to consider whether changing his name would solve his problems and would allow him to fit in any better. An image of his mother comes to mind as he considers what his decision will mean. If Delgado changes his name he will gain a job, but he will also lose his identity. Names provide a sense of cultural heritage, of where one comes from. They identify people as individuals. In the poem “Legal Alien,” Mora writes about the feeling of discomfort caused by living in two cultures, “sliding back and forth/ between the fringes of both worlds.” Frequently, people who are bilingual and bicultural have no definite place in either world and can claim membership in neither. Mora does not provide a solution to the problems of discrimination and identity, nor does she philosophize. Instead, she poses a challenge for readers to consider what they would do in Delgado’s situation.