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"Stupid America" and "The Chicano Manifesto" (Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado)

April 23, 2010

I found these two poems in an anthology called Hecho en Tejas: An Anthology of Texas Mexican Literature (pictured left).

I absolutely loved “Stupid America” because of the vehemence of the poetic voice and the personification of America as this sort of violent ignoramus who has to have pointed out to him the struggles of the Chican@ in America. It may be a short poem, but it has a big message to send. My favorite part is the ending:

remember that chicanito
flunking math and english
he is the picasso
of your western states
but he will die
with one thousand masterpieces
hanging only from his mind (176)

It just captures the profound sadness of this entire situation, where one person’s genius could fail to be recognized simply because the system they live in refuses to recognize what they have to offer. Instead. that system buries it under grades and other measures that all culminate in one thing: the message that this person is worthless and has nothing to offer.

As for “The Chicano Manifesto” is also groundshaking. It touches on so many flaws in the system that I really became aware of when I was teaching at the high school level. I wish I could have my students read this poem now, because regardless of their racial composition, I think this poem is really important (especially in a place like California where there is such a large Chican@ population). The series of questions near the beginning of the poem are questions I’ve heard people say in various forms so many times:

what is it you chicanos want?
[…]
is it understanding?
is it that you want us to tolerate you?
is it admittance? (177)

When Delgado goes on to refute these questions, he makes so many excellent points. Understanding? Well, there’s a huge difference between understanding and comprehending. It won’t help. Tolerance? That just means you’re putting up with someone — tolerance does nothing to stop bigotry or racism or any of the problems from which discrimination arises. And admittance? Just asking that question situates one group on the “inside” and the other group (in this case, Chican@s) on the “outside.” That’s no good either. Delgado’s poem really digs into the issue of race relations and points to some major flaws in the way mainstream (white) America tries to address the issue. It’s a really worthwhile poem to read — let me know what you think if you get the chance to read it.

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