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Poetry and Unity
Carolyn Forche uses silence, speech and memory to show political and personal space exists in
experience. Throughout "The Country Between Us," Forche presents different stories of suffering,
revealing the way politics intersects personal freedom, consciousness and behavior. As Forche reveals in
her writing, people tend to forget that politics shades perceptions. In an interview by David Montenegro,
Sometimes, in the course of speaking about Central America,
the subject of Vietnam is raised by a member of an audience.
I have asked then how many people died in Vietnam? The
hands go up one by one and finally the answer is given that
more than 50,000 died. The question was not how many North
American soldiers, but how many people? More than 2,000,000.
The opening poem "San Onofre, California," specific images of poverty and vague pronouns draw
the reader in. At the beginning of the poem, "we" represents US citizen, but when the someone says,
"come with us!" It is unclear if the call is to the "we" or "them" in the poem. Further in the poem, "we
would lead our lives with our hands tied together," deepens the connection between the "we" and "us." The
poem progresses from "we" to "us" to "our" to show that "we" some times excludes foreign voices and
cultures. The poems empowers the "someone" by giving voice and personality to ghosts. Absent from the
poem is the description of American culture and faces. Forche uses the oldest women, the Portillo, and
children to suggest the face of these ghosts. Had the poem included the description of a model, movie star
or professional athlete, the reader would have more freedom to see what one expects and not what the
In the "San Onofre, California," Forche uses silence to empower and remember the dead. Though
Forche does not uses quotes to emphasize the voice of "Come with us!" the point of authority is with
Hispanic culture. The movement of the poem begins with "we" talking about going south, and ends with
"who" taking years to get here. The poem begins with "we" as the position of power, but in the end, the
active group is closely connected to the oldest women shelling limas, and the Portillo. Though the voice of
the poem is given to "we," the lack of self-reflection and the use of Hispanic images as a reference point
shows that "we" knows itself by describing what "we" is not. Though the "we" does not state, "I am not
like the Portillo," the use of Hispanic images as a point of comparison shows that the oldest women
shelling limas and the Portillo know themselves without having to refer to an American star or hero.
San Onofre within the poem is a crucial location because it is the site of a Navel base. Forche uses San
Onofre with Hispanic culture to show that within the space of the poem, the intimate details of boys
pissing, women shelling limas, and the military exist side by side. On the I5 freeway in San Onofre are
signs depicting human crossings. Though the poem could include descriptions of the Navel base or the
freeway signs, Forche does not describe them, because it would weaken the focus on those who died trying
to enter California. As the poem suggests, the line between foreigners, and "we" is at San Onofre.
Crucial metaphors in the poem are birds and weather. Given Forche could have used images
associated with Mexican culture, her decision to use birds and weather shows two levels of associations.
Equating Hispanic immigrants with birds shows a perspective of that denies humanity and trivializes their
existence. In contrast, weather gives an unstoppable feel to immigration. Within the poem, the comparison
between immigration and migration creates different levels of tension. On one hand, the metaphor draw
our attention to immigration laws, but Forche also uses it to show that birds have more freedom than
"someone." Forche does not describe the type, color, or size of the birds so that the "someone" turns into
"something unstoppable," rather than a specific type of birds. This "something unstoppable" in contrast to
"we" is based on natural migration of individuals from an impoverished area to a richer area. Therefore the
opening sentence, "We
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San Onofre State Beach, Carolyn Forch
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