Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In an interview, Baca described himself as “a detribalized Apache” and explained that his grandparents essentially raised him from infancy to the age of six. From that point, he was shuttled from a broken home, to foster homes, to the streets of the El Paso barrio, to juvenile detention centers, and then to prison. Practically illiterate and totally directionless, he learned to read in jail, and then to write about his life. “Green Chile” was conceived as a tribute to his grandmother, a special person he trusted and loved, as a demonstration of the endearing qualities he responded to and respected.

Beyond this, the poem presents Baca’s grandmother as a representative of a culture that has often been disparaged and stereotyped, and the chile pepper that she so artfully prepares is developed as a symbol of the strength, substance, and style of her community. When Baca describes the red chile he prefers in the first section, he shows how his personal choice is a part of a larger cultural matrix in which the pepper becomes an emblem of cultural pride, signifying “historical grandeur” that carries an image of a vegetable stand into the realm of generational succession, and making its “festive welcome” indicative of a social standard.

The expansion from a single house to the entire state of New Mexico in the third section is a strong expression of pride in simple but basic facts inherent in a way of life. Baca’s depiction of the...

(The entire section is 472 words.)