Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 432

Espada is a poet, a lawyer, and a teacher. No matter what professional hat Espada has worn, he always has strived to fight for social justice. His first book of poetry, The Immigrant Iceboy’s Bolero, was published in 1982. With each critically acclaimed collection of poems that followed, Espada continues to give voice to the oppressed Latinos who have struggled to carve out a life for themselves and their families. Rebellion Is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands won both the 1990 PEN/Revson Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize. “Latin Night at the Pawnshop” is only one of the poignant free verse poems that fill the collection. Never shrill or pedantic, the poet paints vivid portraits of Latinos who have been wronged in one way or another. While political poetry can tend to put readers on edge, Espada’s success as a poet stems from his ability to tell the human story behind any tragedy. He stated that he does not wish for anger to “overwhelm a poem or group of poems.” While intensity of feeling is one of Espada’s strengths as a poet, he never goes about hammering a reader over the head with a strident diatribe that would only do a disservice to the subject matter.

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Rebellion Is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands is divided into two sections: “If Only History Were Like Your Hands” and “To Skin the Hands of God.” “Latin Night at the Pawnshop” is one of the twenty-two poems that can be found in the first section. As with other poems of this section, including “Revolutionary Spanish Lesson,” “The New Bathroom Policy at English High School,” and “Shaking Hands with Mongo,” Espada details a personal history, a personal story to which any attentive reader can relate. The political poet must walk a fine line in order not to lose the very readers he wishes to inform and educate.

The title “Latin Night at the Pawnshop” introduces a humorous tone to the poem. It may be a dark humor that takes a morbid turn by the end of the poem, but the impact is enhanced by this tone. The seemingly insignificant fate of various musical instruments has been expanded to speak for an entire culture driven to death by either intent or neglect. The Christmas message of goodwill toward all seemingly has fallen on deaf ears. In “Latin Night at the Pawnshop,” Espada convincingly conveys to the reader through clear direct language that one should pay respect to all cultural expressions no matter how foreign or removed they are from one’s own.

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