What is the meaning of Pat Mora's poem "Peruvian Child"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mora's poem explores themes of fear of the unknown, sympathy fatigue, cultural appropriation, and so-called "poverty tourism." The speaker, part of a group of Westerners visiting Peru, has evidently been attracted by the opportunity to "drink the clear, holy water of the Inca / A fountain of youth," and yet feels an obvious discomfort with the people who now inhabit Peru, the descendants of those people. We know that the speaker had anticipated children being there and knew that they would be poor children, but there is a dissonance between the expectation ("a picture of the child in a white border") and the reality of the child with the "mud-crusted hands," a child "with no smile."

What the poem suggests is that, to the Western tourists, the idea of Peru is romantic so long as it is far away, something explained to them by a "tour guide" as an artifact of a bygone civilization or seen in a guestbook. The speaker feels uneasy by the reality of the Peruvian people, who to the speaker are conflated, a homogenous group like the "doll with no face," who "stare at us as if we are guards." The speaker feels uncomfortable at the realization that these people do not have smiles for their visitors, nor behave in the expected way; this makes the "matted group" query their presence in the country, and why they felt sympathy for the child in the guidebook but did not wish to touch the child in reality. The same questions are posed to the reader, too: would you, "as usual," feel this way? Does this make you uncomfortable, and what can you do about it?

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The poem "The Peruvian Child", by Pat Mora, is a poem about the differences of cultures.

The narrator of the poem is obviously a tourist to the land as denoted by the following line fragment: "our guide said." The narrator wishes to create a mental picture of the child she comes across in the street. The child, with "mud-crusted hands or feet or face", does not create the image the tourist wishes to take home with her. Instead, it creates a very negative and sorrowful image for her.

There is also fear seen in the faces of the locals. They seem fearful of the people, different from them, who have invaded their lives.

In the end, the poem speaks to the fact that, many times, when "we" are on vacations or in areas very different from ours, we fail to understand the minds of those who live there. We do not wish to remember our excursion as one which brings us sorrow. Instead, we wish to fill these moments with memories which bring us happiness.

The image of the child, sitting in the middle of the street, does not offer the perfect and picturesque image we wish to embed in our minds.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial