Born 1952, in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico; immigrated to United States, 1956; Ethnicity: "Puerto Rican" Education: Augusta College, B.A., 1974; Florida Atlantic University, M.A., 1977; attended Oxford University, 1977.
Office—Mercer University College, Forsyth, GA 31029. Agent—Berenice Hoffman Literary Agency, 215 West 75th St., New York, NY 10023.
Bilingual teacher at public schools in Palm Beach County, FL, 1974–75; Broward Community College, Fort Lauderdale, FL, adjunct instructor in English, 1978–80, instructor in Spanish, 1979; University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, lecturer in English, 1980–84; University of Georgia, Athens, instructor in English, 1984–87, Georgia Center for Continuing Education, instructor in English, 1987–88; Macon College, instructor in English, 1988–89; Mercer University College, Forsyth, GA, special programs coordinator, 1990; University of Georgia, professor of English and creative writing, 1994–. Adjunct instructor at Palm Beach Junior College, 1978–80; visiting professor Vanderbilt University; Rockefeller Foundation residency in Italy, 1999. Conducts poetry workshops and gives poetry readings. Member of regular staff of International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature, 1979–82; member of literature panel of Fine Arts Council of Florida, 1982; member of administrative staff of Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 1983, 1984.
Poetry Society of America, Poets and Writers, Associated Writing Programs.
Scholar of English-speaking Union at Oxford University, 1977; fellow of Fine Arts Council of Florida, 1980; Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, scholar, 1981, John Atherton Scholar in Poetry, 1982; grant from Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, 1988, for Letters from a Caribbean Island; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry, 1989; nominee, Pulitzer Prize, 1990, for The Line of the Sun; PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation, for Silent Dancing; Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, for The Latin Deli; O. Henry Award, 1994, for "Nada"; Best Book citation, American Library Association (ALA), and Pura Belpre medal, REFORM/ALA, both 1996, both for An Island like You: Stories of the Barrio; Chris-Janer Award in Creative Research, University of Georgia, 1998; Americas Award for Children's and Young-Adult Literature, National Consortium of Latin-American Studies Programs, 2003, and Books for the Teen Age citation, New York Public Library, 2004, both for The Meaning of Consuelo; Pushcart Prize; Americas Award honorable mention, National Consortium of Latin-American Studies Programs, 2005, for Call Me Maria; Georgia Top Twenty-five Reading List includee, 2005, for The Latin Deli.
Latin Women Pray (chapbook), Florida Arts Gazette Press, 1980.
The Native Dancer (chapbook), Pteranodon Press, 1981.
Among the Ancestors (chapbook), Louisville News Press, 1981.
Latin Women Pray (three-act play), first produced in Atlanta, GA, 1984.
Peregrina (poems), Riverstone Press (Golden, CO), 1986.
Terms of Survival (poems), Arte Publico (Houston, TX), 1987.
The Line of the Sun (novel), University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1989.
Silent Dancing (personal essays), Arte Publico (Houston, TX), 1990.
The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1993.
An Island like You: Stories of the Barrio, Orchard (New York, NY), 1995.
Reaching for the Mainland, and Selected New Poems, Bilingual Press (Tempe, AZ), 1995.
The Year of Our Revolution: Selected and New Stories and Poems, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 1998.
Sleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1999.
Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2000.
(Editor and author of introduction) Riding Low on the Streets of Gold: Latino Literature for Young Adults, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 2002.
The Meaning of Consuelo (novel), Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.
Call Me Maria (novel), Orchard (New York, NY), 2004.
A Love Story Beginning in Spanish: Poems, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2005.
Contributor to anthologies, including Triple Crown: Chicano, Puerto Rican and Cuban American Poetry a trilogy that contains Ortiz Cofer's poetry collection Reaching for the Mainland, Bilingual Press, 1987.
Several of Cofer's books have been translated into Spanish.
"People ask me: If I am a Puerto Rican writer, why don't I write in Spanish?" noted poet, essayist, and author Judith Ortiz Cofer in the online publication, The Global Education Project. "Isn't writing in English a sellout? I respond that English is my literary language. The language of the country my parents brought me to. Spanish is my familial language, that lies between the lines of my English language. Because I am a daughter of the Puerto Rican diaspora, English gives life to my writing."
Such bilingual concerns are part of the territory for Cofer, born in Puerto Rico and raised in the United States. A member of the Puerto Rican "diaspora," she however differs from other well-known writers of that experience in that she is a woman writing in standard American English, and she writes not of immigrant life in New York, but of life on the home island and in Paterson, New Jersey, where Cofer herself grew up. Roberto Marquez, writing in a New York Times Book Review article on Cofer's The Line of the Sun, declared that this "first novel confirms the continuing efflorescence and enlarges the resonance and reach of this [immigrant] literature." In her first novel, as well as in her collections of poetry and prose for adults such as Silent Dancing and The Latin Deli, and in collections intended for the young adult market, An Island like You and The Year of Our Revolution, Cofer has made the bi-cultural experience understandable and approachable.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1952, Cofer was brought to the United States at the age of two. Her mother and father married as teenagers, and her father was stationed with the military in Panama when Cofer was born. "He didn't come back home until I was two years old, and I had to get used to him at that time," Cofer told Rafael Ocasio in an interview for Americas Review. Out of the army, her father tried to make a go of it in civilian life, but for financial reasons he rejoined the armed forces, this time in the U.S. Navy. "That's when our back-and-forth travels began," Cofer told Ocasio. The family moved to Paterson, New Jersey, but continued to migrate back and forth between there and Puerto Rico every six months when her father sailed with the cargo fleet to Europe. They would stay with Cofer's maternal grandmother when in Puerto Rico, and it was during these periods that Cofer internalized the life, language, and culture of her homeland.
"Spanish was my home language, and it still is my family language, but that vocabulary has to do mainly with family matters," Cofer told Ocasio in her interview. Though she sometimes still dreams in Spanish, her broader linguistic experience is in the language of her adopted country: American English. Those years of traveling back and forth between Paterson and Puerto Rico provided Cofer with a fund of stories and experiences she still draws upon. The contrast between America and her native island was sharp and deep—from the urban environment of Paterson to the rural and tradition-bound life in the village in Puerto Rico.
"The main contrast had to do, of course, with culture and language, as well as climate," Cofer told Ocasio. Her mother felt more secure on the island, for she could communicate better and was more at home in the small town environment provided there: "The shifts were abrupt and always traumatic, going back and forth." On the island, the children attended Catholic school taught by American nuns so that they would keep up their English skills. Cofer was the eternal new kid at school with these semi-annual moves. In the midst of such constant moving, she found one constant: books. The Paterson Public Library became her refuge in North America, and one year she went right through the entire fairy and folktale section, discovering that the Cinderella story was extant in cultures from Scandinavia to Africa.
"I think that I educated myself from the oral traditions of my grandmother's house and from all of those folktales and fairy tales that I absorbed growing up," Cofer noted. In The Global Education Project Cofer wrote of these early years that "I absorbed literature, both spoken cuentos and books, as a creature who breathed ink. Each writer provided poems, novels, taught me that language could be tamed. I realized that I could make it perform. I had to believe the work was important to my being: To use my art as a bridge between my cultures. Unlike my parents, I was not always straddling. I began crossing the bridge, traveling back and forth without fear and confusion."
Like her parents, Cofer married young, at age nineteen, then went on to earn an M.A. at Florida Atlantic University and attend Oxford University in 1977. During her postgraduate years she also was a bilingual teacher in the Florida public schools, as well as an adjunct professor and lecturer in English at the University of Miami. Moving to Georgia, Cofer became a professor at the University of Georgia and set up home in Louisville, Georgia, with her husband and daughter. Her move to the South gave Cofer a further take on the multicultural experience, yet often confuses critics. As she noted in The Global Education Project, people often ask her what she is doing in the South when the barrio is her proper subject. "My isolation from others, my living and teaching in the piney woods of Georgia has not dissipated my passion," she commented. "I write anywhere I can find 'a room of my own.' My psyche is that of 'immigrant writer.'"
"In an extended family, the family story, gossip, or myth becomes something that is repeated so often and used in so many ways to teach lessons or to make a point that I couldn't help but be trained in that as I grew up," Cofer told Ocasio in Americas Review.
"When I became a writer [the oral tradition] became such a natural form of communication for me." Cofer's first literary efforts were in poetry, a form she still writes in. "Nothing contains the truth I know like poetry," Cofer wrote in The Global Education Project. "A poem is a sacred thing in that it connects a person in a very real way not through magic, but in a very natural process of association and chemistry to the unconscious." Early chapbooks led to her first volumes of poetry, Peregrina, Terms of Survival, and Reaching for the Mainland. Present in these poems already was the theme of a life in two worlds, of the immigrant experience. Of Reaching for the Mainland, a critic in Library Journal commented that "Cofer's warm, intimate use of language is always inviting and appealing." As a poet, Cofer has earned honors and critical acclaim.
In 1989, Cofer published The Line of the Sun, the first novel ever published by the University of Georgia Press. A Pulitzer Prize nominee, The Line of the Sun tells the story of a wild young boy born in the village of Salud, Puerto Rico. Guzman is ungovernable as a child, and even worse as a young man. He falls in love with the village prostitute and soothsayer, La Cabra, a woman twice his age. Ultimately he flees the island for New York, and is not heard of again for fifteen years. In the meantime, Guzman's sister marries his best friend and the family moves to Paterson, New Jersey, taking up residence there in a Puerto Rican community, in El Building, along with their daughter and son. Marisol, the daughter, is thirteen, and has always been attracted to the myth of her lost uncle Guzman. When he shows up one Christmas Eve, she becomes his closest attendant, nursing him when he is stabbed, spying for him, even enabling him at the end of the story to play the part of the mythic hero he has always desired.
Narrated by Marisol, The Line of the Sun, is told in two parts: Marisol's mythic tales of the Salud, the Puerto Rican village she left when a baby, and, the more realistic present of Paterson, New Jersey. "Cofer is a poet," noted Sonja Bolle in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "and in her descriptions of the small town, her eye for detail brings alive the stifling and magical world of village life" Bolle concluded that the "lasting impression from Cofer's novel is the gulf that separates poverty-stricken life on the island and the trapped, tenement life on the Mainland." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded that the novel "paints a colorful, revealing portrait of Puerto Rican culture and domestic relationships." Writing in Wilson Library Bulletin, Ellen Donohue Warwick called The Line of the Sun a "fine first novel" and noted also that "Much of the book's appeal springs from the choice of Marisol as narrator." Starr E. Smith observed in Library Journal that the "U.S. immigrant experience" is flavored with "a hint of magical realism" in Cofer's novel, and lauded the author's "well-realized characters and vibrant depictions of Puerto Rican folk culture." In a review for the New York Times Book Review, Marquez called Cofer "a prose writer of evocatively lyric authority, a novelist of historical compass and sensitivity," and one "from whom we may well look forward to hearing more."
If Cofer weaves her Puerto Rican and New Jersey roots into fictional prose in her first novel, her next book, a collection of poetry and essays, deals with this same experience more directly as autobiography. Silent Dancing "bridges the gap between autobiography and fiction" and between memories and social commentary, noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. In this book Cofer deals with her early years, shuttling back and forth between Puerto Rico and the high-rise life of urban New Jersey. Cofer "recovers the warp and weft of her experience in stellar stories," a Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded. Writing in Library Journal, Mary Margaret Benson observed that these "eminently readable memoirs are a delightful introduction to Puerto Rican culture." In this book, Cofer first experiments with combining essays and poems, her essays inspired by and also providing background to her verse.
The Latin Deli was described as "a delicious smorgasbord of the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds recalled from a cross-cultural girlhood," by Booklist contributor Whitney Scott. In this collection of poetry and short stories, Cofer presents universal coming-of-age concerns as well as young protagonists alternately baffled by prejudice against Hispanics by both blacks and whites and consumed by the battle between flesh and spirit as played out within the Roman Catholic faith. A critic for Kirkus Reviews deemed the collection a "compassionate, delicate rendering of Puerto Rican life in America." Cofer places her stories in a simulation of the barrio tenement, El Building, where she grew up in Paterson and where "the joys and tragedies of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood unfold," according to the Kirkus Reviews critic. Stories deal with real pain, as well, as in "Nada," in which a mother loses her only son in Vietnam not long after the death of her husband, and is driven to suicide. "Nada" won the prestigious O. Henry Award in 1994 and the entire collection received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for its celebration of diversity.
"I believe there are many paths for my creative drive to take," Cofer told Ocasio in Americas Review. One of those paths emerged in the mid-1990s when she realized that many of her stories were being anthologized for high school students; that her stories, poems, and essays spoke to that readership as directly as they do to older readers. Working with an editor at Orchard Books, Cofer penned a series of short stories featuring teens living in a multicultural world. The twelve stories in An Island like You: Stories of the Barrio are set in and around Paterson's Puerto Rican barrio, El Building, and are told "with sensitivity, insight, and humor," according to Lauren Mayer in School Library Journal. Mayer concluded that the stories are compelling because their teen protagonists "are doubly caught between two worlds—not only between childhood and adulthood, but also between their parents' culture and heritage and their own" In Booklist Hazel Rochman noted that Cofer's characters' voices are "funny, weary, and irreverent," and that the author "depicts a diverse neighborhood that's warm, vital, and nurturing, and that can be hell if you don't fit in."
Different teens are the focus in each of the linked tales: Yolanda watches her mom stumble toward a new relationship in "Don José of La Mancha" and then appears again in "The One Who Watches" as a shoplifting friend of the narrator, Doris. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly commented that the theme representing a "struggle to transcend one's roots but never succeeding (nor really wanting to)—is explored with enormous humanity and humor." The same reviewer predicted that this "fine collection" will help shed light on an "underserved" young-adult group. In a Horn Book review, Rudine Sims Bishop observed that the collection "benefits from the consistency of quality that comes from a single talented writer" and went on to note that "Cofer's writing is lively, and the characters memorable…. The characters, their voices, and their experiences will seem famil-Consuelo Signe, the more serious-minded sister in a close-knit Puerto Rican family, slowly realizes that her pretty, vivacious younger sister Mili has a serious problem that other family members refuse to acknowledge.iar to many adolescents." Concluding the review, Bishop wrote, "I hope Cofer continues to write for young people."
Cofer has indeed continued writing for a young-adult audience, publishing a second collection of stories and poems, The Year of Our Revolution, in 1998. These stories focus on growing up during the turbulent 1960s and once again are set in the Paterson barrio. Most are narrated in hindsight by Mary Ellen, also known as Maria Elenita. "Caught between Hispanic and American lifestyles, and eager to break free of traditional Hispanic values, Mary Ellen is strongly attracted to things that are alien to her parents," observed a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. The same reviewer went on to note that "Cofer's lyrical descriptions of how music and the Vietnam War fired Mary Ellen's youthful passions are affecting," and concluded that, "for mature teenagers, there is wisdom aplenty in this radiant collection." Focusing on the verse included in the collection, Booklist critic Debbie Carton wrote that the "poems highlight the conflicts, principles, and themes" of Cofer's stories. Carton concluded that The Year of Our Revolution serves as a valuable "resource" for studies about ethnicity and an invaluable reading experience for teens "able to savor" the author's "use of language."
Taking place during the 1950s, The Meaning of Consuelo finds the title character dealing with a father who loves America, a mother who loves traditional island life, and a sister who is developing a worsening case of schizophrenia. Eventually, Consuelo follows her gay cousin Patricio, the only person in Puerto Rico who seems to understand her, after he travels to New York. In the story, which is suitable for older teens, Cofer balances the various pulls on her heroine; according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "We understand Consuelo's abiding love for her homeland as well as her need to get away." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, noted that The Meaning of Consuelo "combines the timeless clarity and moral imperative of folktales with the timely wit of keen social criticism." Mary Margaret Benson, writing for Library Journal, noted that the author's "descriptions of her native Puerto Rico are rich and layered," while School Library Journal reviewer Kathleen T. Isaacs dubbed the novel "a literary delight."
In an effort to bring more Latino literature to young adults, Cofer has edited a collection of new and well-known authors titled Riding Low on the Streets of Gold. The anthology includes eleven poems and twelve short stories from established writer such as Pat Mora and José Marti, as well as newer authors like Mike Padilla. Although the book does contain some gritty language, many of the stories and poems serve as effective vehicles to begin classroom discussion, according to Linda L. Plevak in School Library Journal. Plevak deemed the book a "solid introduction to Latino literature," while Henry Berry, writing in Reviewer's Bookwatch, maintained that the audience need not be limited to
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teens, calling the book "a fine anthology in its field for readers of any age."
Call Me Maria is a novel for younger teen readers; Maria is a thirteen-year-old Puerto Rican girl who chooses to move from the island with her father to New York. Eventually, Maria realizes that her mother will not come to live with them in their new country, and she struggles to figure out whether she is an island girl or a barrio girl, wondering why she cannot be both. Maria is an aspiring writer, and several of her poems and letters are included in the novel; a Kirkus Reviews contributor commented on the "affecting mix of poetry and prose" found in the novel. Carol A. Edwards, writing for School Library Journal, considered the book "understated but with a brilliant combination of all the right words to convey events." Maria eventually becomes familiar with three languages: English, Spanish, and Spanglish, and Cofer "weaves them together in verse and poetic prose that is authentically adolescent."
Cofer maintains that the act of writing helps to bind her past with her present; essays, short stories, and especially poetry strengthen her ties to her island roots even as she goes about her life as a college professor in the United States. Her book Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer is an autobiographical collection of essays and poetry that follows the process by which she developed her craft as a writer. "Cofer writes with conviction and power, encouraging all whom aspire to writing … to pursue their dream," praised Nancy R. Ives in a review of the book for Library Journal. "I would say that ninety per cent of what I write is about being Puerto Rican," the author admitted to Ocasio, "even though I live in rural Georgia, my husband is North American and my daughter was born here…. You sit down at a table and call back the spirits of your ancestors. Poetry is my emotional and intellectual connection to my heritage."
Biographical and Critical Sources
American Women Writers, Volume 5, supplement, Continuum Publishing, 1994.
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Hispanic Literary Companion, Visible Ink Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Magill, Frank, editor, Masterpieces of Latino Literature, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
Noras, Himlice, Everything You Need to Know about Latino History, Plume (New York, NY), 1994.
Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Puerto Rican Voices: Interviews with Writers, Praeger (Westport, CT), 1997.
Reference Guide to American Literature, 3rd Edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Americas Review, fall-winter, 1994, Rafael Ocasio, interview with Cofer, pp. 84-90; July-August, 2004, Barbara Mujica, "Women out of the Ordinary," pp. 59-60.
Athens Banner-Herald (Athens, GA), December 14, 2003, Wayne Ford, "For UGA English Professor Judith Ortiz Cofer, Writing Is Art."
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 2, 2003, Teresa Weaver, "A Talent for Language," p. C2.
Booklist, November 15, 1993, Whitney Scott, review of The Latin Deli, p. 609; February 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of An Island like You, p. 1082; July 19, 1998, Debbie Carton, review of The Year of Our Revolution, p. 1870; June 1, 2000, Stephanie Zvirin, review of An Island like You, p. 1875; October 1, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of The Meaning of Con-suelo, p. 299; December 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Riding Low on the Streets of Gold, pp. 658-659; December 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Call Me Maria, p. 647.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1995, p. 267.
Callaloo, summer, 1994, Rafael Ocasio, "The Infinite Variety of the Puerto Rican Reality," pp. 730-742.
Children's Literature Association Quarterly, spring, 1993, Lucille H. Gregory, "The Puerto Rican 'Rainbow': Distortion vs. Complexities," pp. 29-35.
ForeWord, May-June, 2005, Camille-Yvette Welsch, review of A Love Story Beginning in Spanish.
Hispanic, November, 2003, Patricia Maldonado, "Plenty of Beautiful Images along with Cliches," p. 58.
Horn Book, September-October, 1995, Rudine Sims Bishop, review of An Island like You, p. 581; January-February, 2005, Lauren Adams, review of Call Me Maria, p. 90.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1993 review of The Latin Deli,; June 15, 1998, p. 892; September 15, 2003, review of The Meaning of Consuelo, p. 1141; October 14, 2004, review of Call Me Maria, p. 1003.
Kliatt, September, 1991, p. 5; September, 1996, p. 3.
Library Journal, May 15, 1989, Starr E. Smith, review of The Line of the Sun, p. 88; July, 1990, Mary Margaret Benson, review of Silent Dancing, pp. 96-97; November 1, 1993, p. 93; February 15, 1996, review of Reaching for the Mainland, p. 154; July, 1998, p. 76; September 1, 2000, Nancy R. Ives, review of Woman in Front of the Sun, p. 206; November 1, 2003, Mary Margaret Benson, review of The Meaning of Consuelo, p. 126; November, 2004, review of Call Me Maria, p. 138.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 6, 1989, Sonja Bolle, review of The Line of the Sun, p. 6.
MELUS, summer, 2001, Carmen Faymonville, "New Transnational Identities in Judith Ortiz Cofer's Autobiographical Fiction," pp. 129-159; summer, 2002, Rocio G. Davis, "Metanarrative in Ethnic Autobiography for Children," p. 139.
Ms., November, 1993, Phyllis Rose, "Writing Our Own Lives," p. 78.
Multicultural Review, June, 1999, Elaine Dunphy Foster, review of The Year of Our Revolution; summer, 2004, Bessy Reyna, review of Riding Low on the Streets of Gold, p. 97.
Nation, March 30, 1992, Carlos Fuentes, "The Mirror of the Other," p. 409.
New York Times Book Review, September 24, 1989, Roberto Marquez, "Island Heritage," p. 46.
Publishers Weekly, April, 28, 1989, review of The Line of the Sun, p. 61; June 8, 1990, review of Silent Dancing, p. 609; April 10, 1995, p. 60; April 17, 1995, review of An Island like You, p. 61; December 2, 1996, p. 62; July 27, 1998, review of The Year of Our Revolution, p. 78; August 11, 2003, Jeff Zaleski, review of The Meaning of Consuelo, p. 252; January 12, 2004, review of Riding Low on the Streets of Gold.
Reviewers Bookwatch, August, 2004, Henry Berry, review of Riding Low on the Streets of Gold.
School Library Journal, July, 1995, Lauren Mayer, review of An Island like You, pp. 92-93; June, 2004, Linda L. Plevak, review of Riding Low on the Streets of Gold, p. 136; November, 2004, Carol A. Edwards, review of Call Me Maria, p. 116; March, 2005, Kathleen T. Isaacs, review of The Meaning of Consuelo, p. 69.
These Times, July 25, 1994, Ilan Stavans, "Art and Anger," pp. 32-34.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 15, 2000, review of Sleeping with One Eye Open.
Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 2001, review of Woman in Front of the Sun, p. 97.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1995, p. 155; June, 1999, review of The Year of Our Revolution, p. 112; October, 2004, Delia A. Culberson, review of Riding Low on the Streets of Gold, p. 330; April, 2005, Tina Frolund, review of Call Me Maria, p. 14.
Wilson Library Bulletin, October, 1989, Ellen Donohue Warwick, review of The Line of the Sun, p. 123.
Judith Ortiz Cofer Home Page, http://www.english.uga.edu/∼jcofer (September 19, 2005).
Immigrants from all over the world come to America to seek a better life; however, many continue to face hardships everyday. Coming to the United States does not always result in a life of luxury for these immigrants. Many Americans find themselves struggling in their daily lives; subsequently, when immigrants come to America they must overcome these barriers as well. Poverty and discrimination are the two biggest issues many immigrants face. Often times, they encounter even more problems than Americans because of their inability to receive benefits. Moving forward, this essay introduces several authors who describe the difficulties faced by so many living in America today.
Living in poverty is becoming even more of a reality for many people in America. This is because America’s economy is suffering. The cost of living is more expensive for some people than others, depending on where a person lives. The cheaper places to live are suffering from low job opportunities; likewise, wealthier places to live are costing people their homes while they are just trying to make ends meet (DeParle et al. par. 4). Many people get laid off from their jobs when businesses are not meeting sale standards and cannot afford to pay employees. This forces many Americans to lose their health benefits and take any part time job they can get. In Jason DeParle and coauthors article, he explains that many older Americans are in poverty because of their medical bills, which they cannot pay for because of their inability to obtain a job. (par. 4). These poverty rates are putting future children at risk of being poor. Ehrenreich and Eighner both saw the effects that were leading Americans into poverty; consequently, they see that many individuals may have a difficult time surviving in America.
Illegal immigrants in America are looked at with mixed feelings. Pat Farmer, a local policeman from a town an hour from San Francisco chooses to coexist with the illegal immigrants in his community. He says that as long as they abide by the laws and are here to better their lives, the he does not turn them in. On the other hand, many politicians are pushing for more strict enforcement when dealing with illegal immigrants. Governor Rick Parry from Texas has “pledged $10 million, 50 new immigration detectives, and National Guard training to help local deputies police the border” (McGray par. 15). America is clearly divided in its views on illegal immigrants.
The United States most readily becomes referred to as the land of Freedom, a beacon of hope or even a place where the American Dream thrives. The American Dream was thought to be something in which every American seemed to already live and what every person deprived of this vision wanted. People in undeveloped countries live in ways which many of us could not even imagine. They lack the money and resources that many American's take for granted. For example, Glennerste and Kremer point out that simple necessities such as school uniforms and vaccinations are unattainable for some families in Kenya. Immigrants from all over the world have flooded to this country in hopes of a better tomorrow. This readily system has helped many immigrants change their lives for the better, yet still struggle on a daily basis when entering this crude reality. Thus, Immigrants coming to this American Dream land have come to realize they must not only fight for their lives and jobs with other immigrants, but also with Americans on the sprint for jobs as well.
While some immigrants, such as Mira and Bharati from India, obtain successful careers in the United states (Mukherjee 280), most are not so lucky. Fighting for those top of the line jobs might as well be labeled as impossible; unfortunately for most illegal immigrants this is their doom. Most immigrants flee to the United States as a last desperate hope; making them the most willing to acquire any small, low paying job one can get their hands on. For most, this may mean picking strawberries in a field for little pay and excessive hours, yet not appearing on the U.S Immigrations and Customs Enforcements or ICE radar. It could take years for an undocumented Alien to show up and actually be deported from this wonder land of a country. According to Wood in the Bloomberg Businessweek, ICE keeps most up to date with illegal immigrants and immigrants who commit crimes over in the United States. This is only due to the threat one may hold by being in the country which then causes automatic deportation. Overall, immigrants and illegal aliens come to this country to seek a better opportunity; if that means working many jobs, then most do just that.
Besides poverty, another major hardship immigrants have to face everyday is discrimination. No matter what country they come from, immigrants in America are being judged, not by who they are, but instead, by where they come from. No matter what other country they are from, not only illegal immigrants, but also legal immigrants are ridiculed and mistreated by many Americans. Often times, even the media portrays different ethnic groups in an unrealistic manner, which can lead to many misconceptions about immigrants. Latinos are often portrayed as sex symbols, which draws a large amount of unwanted attention towards much of the Latino population. Cofer explains that it is not uncommon for many Latina women to experience sexual harassment in the work place, and that many are even forced to “submitting to sexual advances” if they do not want to lose their job (93). While Latinos are not the only immigrants to be discriminated against, they do make up a large percentage of America’s population.
Another group of immigrants that often face discrimination include America’s neighbors, located directly south of the US border. Leal, who is the son of two Mexican immigrants, has created a photo essay in which shows the image of where these immigrants come from and why they come to America. Many of the photos include children. In these photos, you can see the living conditions are not great. One picture in particular shows a boy standing behind the dividing wall that separates Mexico from the United States. It looks as if the boy is in prison just watching and waiting to get out. The ultimate goal of Leal’s essay, he says, “is to produce images of who these “aliens” really are; not just faceless demons but humans whose daily struggle takes place just south of a man-made line.”
For the many Americans that dislike the fact that there are immigrants living in every part of the country, they will have to get used to it. According to Meacham’s article, “The New Face of Race,” Whites will only make up about 53 percent of the United States population by the year 2050 (par. 5).
In Karim Bardeesy’s article, “Immigrants and the Question of Fairness” she goes to explain how immigrants from Canada were not only suffering from discrimination, but as well as hard times with finding work and shelter. Bardessy describes how many communities with immigrants suffer like regular Americans. However, studies show that immigrants are the highest group of people in poverty.
These Canadians look for many job opportunities but can only obtain service jobs or anything else they can get. According to Bardeesy’s article, “Less than one in four internationally educated immigrants work in the field for which they trained.” The immigrants are not getting noticed for their full potential because they are immigrants. This is shown by “Anton Norbert of Brampton, Ont., [who] emigrated from Sri Lanka 13 years ago, and got jobs in telecommunications despite his passion for the airline industry, in which he'd worked in a senior capacity in Sri Lanka and Europe. The 51-year-old married father of three has been out of work since February and wouldn't qualify for the Liberals' tax credit.” Problems like these are overlooked because of regulations set by the government. Immigrants are forced to live in hard times, low pay or even no pay because the government is still unsure of what mandatory regulations should apply towards immigrants. They argue on what is truly fair between immigrants and non-immigrants.
Bowden, Charles. “Our Wall.”NGM.com. National Geographic, May 2007. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.
Charles Bowden explains how putting up walls creates separation and mixed feelings, in his article “Our Wall.” The walls he is referring to are the walls that separate us from one of our closest neighbors, Mexico. According to Bowden, these barriers “flow from two sources: fear and the desire for control.” Bowden points out that these walls slow immigrants from coming over, but do not stop them. Some despise the wall, some find comfort in the wall, and some have mixed feelings about the wall. Bowden includes the thoughts of some men living near the barrier. Jesus Gastelum Ramirez, is somewhat sympathetic to these immigrants as he knows they are just trying to increase their income in order to live. Dan Duley is not quite as understanding as he says: “We need help…We’re being invaded. They’ve taken away our jobs, our security. I’m just a blue-collar man living in a small town. And I just wish the government cared about a man who was blue.” Bowden explains that many, along with Duley, believe the only way to resolve this problem is by fixing the economic issue in Mexico, as most illegal immigrants would not come to America if they were able to make a living in their homeland.
Bruni, Frank and Debra Sontag. “Behind a Suburban Facade in Queens, a Teeming, Angry Urban Arithmetic.” Nytimes.com. New York Times. 8 Oct. 1996. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.
In this New York Times article, Frank Bruni and Debra Sontag bring us into the city of Queens to a seemingly pleasant neighborhood. However, if one takes a closer look, this neighborhood turns into an overcrowded mess filled with many unpleasant people. Bruni and Sontag explain the reason for this deteriorating, once pleasant neighborhood is the insufficient amount of affordable housing, the growing number of illegal apartments in the neighborhood, and the growing population; of which many are jobless immigrants. Many of these recent immigrants sleep on nothing but bare mattresses in the basement of apartment buildings.
Bruni and Sontag go on to describe the owners of these illegal apartments, who are middle class homeowners trying to increase their wages in order to keep their own homes. Many get away with this illegal act. Without these cheaper, crowded homes, its’ occupants would become homeless. However, Bruni and Sontag point out the risks by letting people live like this; the biggest risk being fire hazard. The authors also emphasize that tenants of these unsafe homes have to surrender to these conditions because they have no other choice. If they make demands of their landlords, they face risk of being evicted.
Bruni and Sontag also include some of the negative opinions of residents living in this neighborhood, who are not living in these illegal apartments. They once moved to Queens because it was a better living environment than its’ surrounding cities, but now it is hard to tell the difference. Bruni and Sontag conclude the article by explaining that this illegal act is likely to continue, as the landlords suffer only minor consequences when they are caught.
Danticat, Edwidge. "New York Was Our City on the Hill."Nytimes.com. New York Times, 24 Nov. 2004. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.
New York Was Our City on the Hill by Edwidge Danticat is about a family of Haitian immigrants living in New York City. Edwidge Danticat was just a young girl when her parents fled Haiti for the United States. Her parents promised her that they would reunite and after living with her aunt and uncle for seven years Edwidge and her brother finally reunited with her parents in New York.
The essay talks about the struggles that immigrants have in this country. Both of her parents worked in a textile factory for minimum wage and her father also had a night job at a car wash just so he could support his family. Their family was not able to afford things like health care so if they required medical attention they usually could not receive any. The article also talks about how much more expensive everything is in America. Life in America for immigrants can be very difficult.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. “Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?”New York Times, Aug 8 2009. Web. 22 Oct. 2011.
In “Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?” an article that was published in the New York Times paper on August 8, 2009, the author Barbara Ehrenreich explains how poor people may be in danger of going to jail. With poor people sitting or sleeping on the sidewalk or in parks, police can take them to jail for loitering. Ehrenreich talks about how the growing poverty in America may force people to commit crimes to help them out tough situations, but will prevent them from getting jobs in the future. For example, there were a few men who would steal from food places just to eat, and one man who actually got arrested for sleeping on a bench because he had not where else to go. These discriminations are getting so large that the jails are going to be packed.
Eighner shows throughout his article that poverty can be hard, and it affects many people from around the world. He compares the average American to any homeless person such as the types of food we eat when one find mold on their food or old milk. Things such as old food do not necessarily matter to a person who has nothing. Also, he describes his own story of becoming homeless himself and how dumpster diving became a kind of scientific experiment; such as figuring out how to get into the dumpster without becoming trapped. “While my dog Lizbeth and I were still living in the house on Avenue B in Austin, as my savings ran out, I put almost all my sporadic income into rent. The necessities of daily life I began to extract from Dumpster” (pg 147). He explains that when the times got hard he would do just about anything to get the basics of what he may have needed in daily life, which unfortunately meant going dumpster diving. Eighner also explains the importance of learning what you are extracting from the dumpster such as food.
Throughout his article, Eighner explains the big differences between homeless and an average American. He shows through this article that anybody can go through a struggle without notice, especially in this type of economy in which many Americans are struggling with.
Glennerste, Rachel, and Michael Kremer. "Small changes, Big Results."Boston Review. Apr. 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2011.
“Small changes, Big Results” goes in depth of the issues that families in poverty face every day. The article explains how families from Kenya, mostly girls, are unable to afford things such as uniforms and vaccinations. The article also explains how girls are being put last in education since it is seen that they do not seem to need it in third world countries. Glennerster and Kremer seek to explain behavioral economics which becomes a new phenomenon in today’s society. “Behavioral economics, seeks to understand deviations from simple rational agent model that has dominated economics for most of its history- why people procrastinate, say, or why American’s don’t exercise or save enough” (par. 3). Glennerster and Kremer also put forth information saying that families are willing to give up things such as schooling if that means they can either save money or make money from not having their children attend primary school. “ In 1997, the Mexican government instituted a “ Conditional cash transfer” program, which provided substantial amounts of money to poor families if they kept their children in school and got them regular checkups” (par. 16). There also was an additional program for families that enrolls and keeps their adolescent girls in school, which increased the schooling population “by 14.8 percent” (par. 16).
Not only does Glennerster’s and Kremer’s article concentrate on the importance of schooling for young children in developing countries especially, but also the health choices being made by these families. Families with low income do not receive the right amount of immunizations that a child or even an adult is in need of. Consequently, these families are ultimately increasing their mortality rates.
Reynaldo, the son of two Mexican immigrants reminds Americans that their ancestors were once considered to be immigrants as well. He explains that many immigrants come to the United States in order to provide a better life for their family as living conditions in their hometown are poor. The article also includes pictures of immigrants living along the border, from Tijuana to Matamoros. A majority of the pictures are of children and the pictures show the daily struggles these immigrants face. Leal says, “Ultimately, my goal is to produce images of who these “aliens” really are; not just faceless demons but humans whose daily struggle takes place just south of a man-made line.”
Leland, John. “Stuck in Bed, at Hospital’s Expense.”nytimes.com. New York Times. 16 Oct. 2011. Web. 19 Oct. 2011.
John Leland’s article “Stuck in Bed, at Hospital’s Expense,” emphasizes the economic struggles among immigrants and health care workers in the United States. Leland explores the life of a 58 year old immigrant named Raymond Fok, who travelled to the United States from China 23 years ago. On his way to dialysis, Fok suffers a stroke and is put in a downtown New York hospital. Even after Fok’s health improved, his stay at the hospital did not end until 19 months, and $1.4 million later; all of which the hospital paid for, except for the $114,000 they were reimbursed with.
The article goes on to say this is the case for numerous people without insurance, and many, like Fok, are undocumented immigrants. Therefore, with no money, no insurance, and ineligibility for Medicaid or Medicare, Fok is stuck in the hospital with no family, friends, or a place to go. Because of their financial situation, his family was unable to take care of him. Leland points out that many of these patients stuck in the hospital belong in less costly facilities such as nursing homes or rehabilitation centers, where they would be able to develop friendships. It is possible for some immigrants, under certain requirements, to qualify for Medicaid or Medicare; however it can take over a year. Leland concludes his essay by pointing out that the debate over the issue of cutting Medicaid and Medicare will likely result in even more difficulties for immigrants to acquire these benefits in the near future, which will create even bigger problems for non profit institutions.
Meacham, Joe. “The New Face of Race.”The NewsWeek Magazine. Oct. 16 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2011.
Meacham’s article shows that Caucasian’s are soon to be the minority group in his article,“The New Face of Race.” The article focuses on the immigrants in our society and how each ethnicity is treated because of immigration. Meacham says, “Every Day, in every corner of America, we are redrawing the color lines and redefining what race really means. It's not just a matter of black and white anymore; the nuances of brown and yellow and red mean more-- and less--than ever. The promise and perils ahead.” Meacham shows how the different races are treated in many stories. A 17 year old boy, Carlos Aguilar, growing up in Birmingham, Alabama explains how it “isn't a matter of black and white.” Aguilar explains how active he is in his community, with the music, people, foods, and clothing. No matter what ethnicity he is, he embraces every culture and dislikes all the negativity that people have about immigrants. One negative experience Aguilar recalls from his childhood was when a classmate asked him if his family came to America on donkeys. Many Americans judge immigrants without even getting to know them. "This is not a futuristic vision; it's here. The young, in fact, are already living in a new country.” With all the different ethnicities in society the younger generations are well aware of immigration. In fact, “By 2010, Latinos will outpace blacks as the nation's largest minority population. By 2020 the number of people of Asian descent will double from 10 million to 20 million. By 2050, whites will make up a slim majority--53 percent.” The government slowly started to notice this on voting polls when there were check boxes for Asians or other ethnic groups. This has changed in past years since the minority groups are becoming the majority.
Some ethnic groups would actually say they are white when in reality they are truly mixed. Different regions of the world accept the term mixed while others will not. Immigrants find it offensive to have to make that decision between what they truly are. When in reality they are multiple cultures because of their grandparents and parents. All the different ethnics want to do is express their true colors. Today in America it is becoming easier for immigrants to express their true roots and not be ashamed of it. For some it is harder but will change with the rapid grow of different ethnicities in America
In “Shift Work,” an article published in the Washington Monthly in April 2006, author Douglas McGray details the hardships an immigrant must endure no matter what geographic location they may be in. He goes on to describe a town just an hour away from San Francisco, where undocumented immigrants are very high yet most people in this town just go about their lives as if they were here legally. McGray talks to a man, Pat Farmer, who is a local police captain. Farmer informs that immigrants coming to this country want help, yet they do not want the risk of being turned in. For this reason, Farmer just coexists with the immigrants and does not get them deported, especially if they are abiding by the law.
In the essay “Two Ways to Belong in America” written by Bharati Mukherjee that was published in “50 Essays” by Samuel Cohen, Mukherjee describes how two immigrant sisters evolved in America for thirty years. Bharati and her sister Mira came to America from India to obtain degrees and then return back to India, but their plans changed as they got married and started lives in America. For thirty years both girls lived in America freely with their husbands and started their careers.
But soon after, their luck changed when Vice President Al Gore created “Citizenship U.S.A,” which meant the girls needed proof that they were legal immigrants to stay in America. The girls described their feelings as “… used…manipulated and discarded” since they were asked to stay to continue their work because they had much talent. Mira was ready to give America a fight. She said, “If America wants to play the manipulative game, I’ll play it, too.” The girls feel as if they would be safer in India now with this discrimination towards immigrants. Bharati explains a time when she was in her husband’s homeland, “Canada, I was always well-employed but never allowed to feel part of the local Quebec or larger Canadian society.” This betrayal made Bharati feel the resentment for America the same as Mira had.
The girls loved the freedom and their jobs that they are very talented at in America; likewise, they decided to stay. For Mira it is easier to accept herself as an “expatriate Indian than as an immigrant in America.” Whereas with Bharati she “needs to feel a part of the community.” In order for her to adopt her new community, she needs to put her old community behind her. This is a hard fact to face but according to Baharti, “the price that the immigrant willingly pays, and that the exile avoids, is the trama of self- transformation.” This transformation is what the immigrants come to America for and need to embrace change for a better life.
In Judith Ortiz Cofer’s essay, “The Myth of the Latin Woman: I just Met a Girl Named Maria,” she tells of the many troubles Latina women like herself face everyday after leaving home. Cofer explains how she receives much unwanted attention everywhere she goes. She describes one such occurrence where she was travelling by bus to London; a drunken Irish man spotted her, and on his knees in the isle, sang his version of “Maria” from West Side Story. While this attention can sometimes be good, many times it is unwanted.
America’s Secret ICE Castles by Jacqueline Stevens is an article about the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE is an agency that handles illegal immigrants in the United States. The problem with ICE is that they have not been going about their business legally. James Pendergraph, former executive director of ICE once stated, “If you don't have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he's illegal, we can make him disappear." The immigrants that ICE prosecutes are housed in one of the many buildings around the country. The buildings are generally office buildings and they bear no markings alluding to ICE. ICE does not release any of their information to the public. Many police departments around the country have enlisted the help of ICE to help clean up the illegal immigrants in their towns.
Wood, Graeme. "A Boom Behind Bars."Bloomberg Businessweek. 17 Mar. 2011. Web.
In Woods piece he explains that immigrants are being treated unfairly even if they are here legally or illegally. Seems to be that it does not seem to matter what your immigration status is; the CCA or Corrections Corporation of America can hold you for any extent of time. He explains that one man had been here legally in this country and the government came and took him away to an immigrant prison. The man Selvin Cardena’s spent a time of three month in this corrections center mainly due to a lack of attendance at a trial, thus showing up on the radar of the CCA.
Woods article details that “ICE pays CCA about $90 a day per person to keep immigrants behind bars and to manage every aspect of detainees’ lives running its prison much as the government does. The main difference is that CCA locks people up for a profit” (par. 4). His article also explains that the CCA in Houston, Texas is being paid by ICE to hold approximately “1000 alleged illegal immigrants while they are process for potential deportation” (par. 7). Mister Wood explicates that the CCA not only manages these immigrants while being housed at these prisons but also manages them until the moment they leave American turf. If these immigrants are from Mexico, they are put onto “white CCA buses with tinted windows and driven to the Mexican Border” (par. 7). If they happen to be from somewhere in which they cannot travel by vehicle, CCA “drives them across the road to the airport, marches them to an airline counter, and watches them fly away” (par. 7). Normally an average stay for an immigrant that comes into the system is around “21 days” (par. 13), but they also report that an immigrant can stay up to “two years” (par. 13) while waiting either deportation or awaiting a release. Overall, Wood goes into detail of the harsh realities of being an immigrant in the United States can be like that especially if you are an illegal immigrant or immigrant that has a criminal record in this country. Toward the end of his article he compares the hotel industry to the CCA model “profits come from filling beds with paying customers” (par. 37). Wood gives an overall explicit look into realities of immigrants that can describe such events that have occurred in their lives.