Immigrants in Our Own Land Summary
by Jimmy Santiago Baca

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Immigrants in Our Own Land Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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Immigrants in Our Own Land provides samples of Baca’s early work, which is indeed prosy. The collection includes a number of so-called prose poems, description divided into prose paragraphs. Other poems are in free-verse lines. In both kinds of poems, however, the description is somewhat flat, including too much direct statement and metaphors which are commonplace or trite.

Similarly, the point of view in the poems is limited. Centered on Baca’s prison experience, the poems dwell on the plight of the inmates—on how Baca and the other inmates are ground down—but there is remarkably little concern with how they got there in the first place. It is as if readers are to assume that all these men are victims of mistakes and injustices. Baca may have even thought so at the time; he repeatedly expresses his solidarity with the other inmates and condemns the forces that oppress them.

The point of view, however limited, does have a positive side: “This is suffering, pain, anguish, and loneliness,/ but also strength, hope, faith, love, it gives a man/ those secret properties of the Spirit, that make a man a man.” There is a determination in Baca to endure and remain “strong enough to love you,/ love myself and feel good.” Despite harassment—in “It’s Going to Be a Cold Winter,” new guards ransack Baca’s cell and subject him to a strip search—a healing process occurs, encouraged by the passing time, moments of quietness, the prison routine, and a new warden who brings reforms and new activities, including “a poetry workshop where the death house had been.”

In “So Mexicans Are Taking Jobs from Americans,” perhaps the best poem in the volume, Baca also extends his sympathies outside the prison. He reaches out to feel solidarity with poor Mexicans whose children are starving and to mock the economic fears of complacent, overfed “gringos”:

Mexicans are taking our jobs, they say instead.What they really say is, let them die,and the children too.

The volume’s title poem, “Immigrants in Our Own Land,” is also effective. It presents prison as a kind of reverse Ellis Island, where convicts are processed into a new land of “rehabilitation” that proves to be illusory. The title also seems to allude to Chicanos whose families have lived in the Southwest since the original Spanish land grant, but who are sometimes still treated like immigrants, legal or illegal. The poem thus connects prison to the Chicano situation, with the prison experience becoming a metaphor for the denial of Chicano land, language, culture, and identity.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Coppola, Vincent. “The Moon in Jimmy Baca.” Esquire 119 (June, 1993): 48-52.

Fuss, Adam. “Jimmy Santiago Baca.” BOMB 84 (Summer, 2003): 58-63.


(The entire section is 646 words.)