What is the underlying meaning of Pat Mora's poem "Immigrants"?

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In the poem "Immigrants," Pat Mora uses iconic American symbols to show the longing for inclusion felt among immigrants.

Wrapped in American flags, immigrant parents in this poem feed their babies hot dogs and apple pie; about the only thing missing from these staples of American culture is baseball. Throughout the poem, these parents step outside the comfort of their own cultures to try to immerse their children in a fully American experience. They choose distinctly American-sounding names, embrace American football, and learn English so that they can speak to their children in this non-native language. They believe wholeheartedly in the promises of America and all it can offer their children.

Because of hope and possibilities, these parents desperately want their children to be included in American culture. They long for acceptance for these children so that they can have a chance at the possibilities that America affords.

At the root of the closing image in the poem however these parents are enveloped in fear (characterized as "that dark / parent fear"). The apprehension is raised that these new Americans, their children, will not be accepted. While this is indicative of a general fear that accompanies parenthood—the fear that a child will be rejected by their peers—the specific fears of these parents are related to the sacrifice that they made to come to America and the hope that their children can live a better life by being Americans. Thus their hope for their children commingles with their fear.

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The underlying message of Mora's poem is the Americanization of immigrants once they come to America—particularly the Americanization of their children. In general, the poem treats the action of the parents as something of an offering (a sacrifice) to the nation of America in an attempt to gain the favor of the citizens and to help the children become accepted members of American society.

A good thesis for Mora's poem would be "describe the actions taken by immigrant parents to Americanize their children so that they may gain acceptance." Some examples of this are when the children are called American names, when they are encouraged to get involved in American sports, and when the traditions of the family are changed to incorporate American holidays and events into their lives. These are all done in an attempt to make their children seem more American.

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In Pat Mora's heart-wrenching poem "Immigrants" she explores the emotional pain and anxiety that comes with being forced to assimilate into a white-dominated, American society in which one's homeland culture is systematically erased both by choice and societal pressure. Particularly, the poem reflects the fears and anxieties of immigrants' parents about the futures of their children and whether or not their children will be accepted into American society.

The poem certainly emphasizes the hypocrisy of America and how the notions of a welcoming sanctuary are sharply contrasted with anti-immigrant sentiments and strong societal pressures from conservative elements that argue that immigrant peoples need to assimilate to white culture. There is a strong sense of sadness to the poem as the speaker mentions white dolls with blue eyes being presented to brown children.

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One of the most widely acclaimed poets in the United States, as a child who grew up in El Paso, a city on the border of Texas and Mexico, Pat Mora often writes about what touches her heart the most: borders, whether they be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or cultural. Indeed, Mora communicates in her poetry that it is the unseen borders which are the hardest to cross.

In "Immigrant," the parents hope that by providing all the external markings ("mashed hot dogs and apple pie," names, dolls, etc.) of an American child to theirs, the child somehow will become a "fine American boy" or "a fine American girl" and, then, be liked and accepted. But, in the dark, in the hidden room of their hearts, they fear that the unseen borders of culture and race as well as their own conceptual borders, will prevent acceptance.

...speak to them in thick English
,,,whisper in Spanish or Polish
when the babies sleep, whisper
in a dark parent bed, that dark
parent fear. Will they like
our boy, our girl, our fine American.... 

This nervous fear that the parents feel is conveyed, not only in the words of the poem ("in a dark parent bed...parent fear"), but also with enjambment in the lines of the poem. Thus, the fear, too, crosses a border as its expression in words builds a momentum that carries it to the next line, producing a deliberate effect that underpins the theme. Certainly, in "Immigrant" the theme of borders is effective as it works its way through Mora's poem from the physical to the verbal, and, finally, the imaginary.

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