Grappling with Identity in Latino Poetry
Procedures for teachers is divided into three sections:
-- Preparing for the lesson
-- Conducting the lesson
-- Additional activities
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Students need the following supplies:
Alvarez, Julia. THE
OTHER SIDE, Plume/Penguin Press USA, New York. 1996.
Gillan, Maria Mazziotti,
and Gillan, Jennifer, ed. UNSETTLING AMERICA: AN ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY
MULTICULTURAL POETRY, Penguin Books USA, Inc. 1994.
(1-2 class periods)
Ask students to freewrite at least a half page about what makes
someone American. If they have trouble writing, you may want to
prompt them with questions like:
After everyone has a chance to write, come up with a class-wide,
working definition of American. Afterwards, ask students
to identify how they came up with their definitions. Were they
influenced by what they see in the media, what they learn in school,
or what they hear from family or friends?
- Are you American by virtue of where you live?
- What kinds of things do you have to do to be an American?
- When someone says the word America what comes to
For homework, have students watch an episode of AMERICAN FAMILY
and list out all the ways the family conforms or doesnt conform
to their previous definition of "American." Check your
local PBS station for air dates.
The next day, review the results of the homework. How is this
family American or not American? Why do
you think the producers decided to call the show AMERICAN FAMILY?
What other titles could the producers have given the show?
| Learning Activities:
| Activity One:
(2 class periods)
|| In this activity, students will gain further perspective
on who Americans are, with a particular focus on the Latino
population. Begin by having students look at the demographics of the
United States. Distribute copies of the United
States Demographics Organizer, then send students to
http://eire.census.gov/popest/estimates.php to find answers to
the questions listed in the organizer.
|| After finding the answers, have the class discuss whether
the demographic information changed or confirmed their previous definition
of American. Discuss how American society and culture does, or does not represent the ratio of ethnic groups, then read the essay on the history of the word Latino at http://www.pbs.org/americanfamily/latino2.html.
|| Find out more about how the growing Latino
population is impacting media representation by reading THE NEWS HOUR:
HISPANICS AND THE MEDIA (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/media/jan-june01/hispanic_3-13.html).
As they read, ask students to note how the growing Hispanic population
is impacting how Hispanics are portrayed in the media.
| Activity Two:
(several class periods)
Students will expand on this theme by reading a series of poems
written by Latino authors on the topic. The selected poems
deal with the experience of being newly arrived in America or as
a Latino negotiating within the dominant American culture.
As they read they should look for the various views of this particular
American experience to see if there are any similarities or differences
in themes and view-points.
This lesson can be used with a wide range of literature. The following
are suggestions of poems which deal with the lesson's theme.
Alvarez, Julia. THE OTHER SIDE, Plume/Penguin Press USA, New York.
1996. Although the entire collection of poems are worthy of reading,
you may want to focus on poems from part I and III, which deal specifically
with issues related to this lesson.
Gillan, Maria Mazziotti, and Gillan, Jennifer, ed. UNSETTLING AMERICA:
AN ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY MULTICULTURAL POETRY, Penguin Books
USA, Inc. 1994. This anthology presents a collection of poems that
deal with American identity from a multicultural perspective. Of
particular relevance to this lesson are the poems of Pat Mora, Gary
Soto, Judith Ortiz Coffer, and Luis Rodriguez.
Start by studying one poem together with the class as a whole
in order to scaffold. Begin by reviewing the process for reading
First Reading - Tell students that a poem is meant to be
heard so that you can appreciate the rhythms and sound patterns. During their first reading they should focus on listening for pleasing sounds or phrases. This will help students appreciate the beauty
of the language. Have students underline the phrases or words,
then read them out loud to each other.
An excellent poem to begin with is Pat Moras LEGAL
ALIEN accessible at http://voices.cla.umn.edu/newsite/authors/MORApat.htm.
Second Reading - In the second reading, students will start
to focus on basic comprehension of the poem. They should re-read
the poem to themselves looking for answers to questions listed
in the Poetry Reading Organizer. After answering the question
ask students to write a summary of the poems theme. After
they come up with the theme summary, ask them which is more interesting
and illuminating to read. Have them explain why.
|| As students read through the series of poems, ask students
to note lines and phrases that deal directly with the experience of
being Latino in the United States. They will later use these
notes to create a collage on the topic in the final assessment.
| Culminating Activity/Assessment:
Have students demonstrate what theyve learned about the Latino
perspective, by creating a mural/collage of images and words that
depict what they have learned about the Latino experience
of the United States. Along with the collage, students should provide
a written statement that explains what they are attempting to show.
Since students will be representing the viewpoint of other people,
they should support every generalization with lines from the poems,
articles, or census data read during the lesson. Students should
also read an additional article or series of poems on the topic,
and include those as well in their collages.
These collages can be created digitally, or done with traditional
supplies such as paper and other art supplies.
Have students present their work to the class, and then publish
on line or post to a classroom bulletin board.
Study the history of Latino immigration to the United States.
Have each student ask a different member of your community to define
what it means to be American. Write up the definition along with
a portrait of the person. Create a collage or mural out of all the
various definitions of Americans.