Literary Criticism “We Call Them Greasers”

1089 words - 4 pages

On a general level, structuralism holds that both individuals and the realities they share are signified and constructed by a series of cultural influences which create meaning. The self is said to be a construct of its environment and selves in combination project meaning onto their experienced reality; a reality which in turn becomes reflective of the shared consciousness. This symbiotic relationship between the formulation of a reality and the nature of a collective allow meaning to be interpreted based on the system of constructed codes which informs it.
The language of Gloria Anzaldua’s “We Call Them Greasers” can be used to disseminate the culturally constructed codes and conventions which influence the realities of both the author, and the poems’ fictional speaker. The poem illustrates the intolerant and brutal nature of border rangers as they sought to rid Mexican border towns of their inhabitants. As well as its language, the subject matter of the poem, too, is telling of the author’s cultural influences, which influence the stance she takes on the subject matter. Anzaldua constructs the poem’s speaker, however, to be a person who holds views which are in staunch opposition to her own. This use of clear contradiction helps readers identify underlying messages meant to be conveyed and understood beyond the text of the poem itself.
The opening lines of the poem, “I found them here when I came / They were growing corn in their small ranchos / raising cattle and horses / smelling of wood smoke and sweat / They knew their betters: / took of their hats / placed them over their hearts, / lowered their eyes in my presence”, shows the subconscious, or fully conscious, sense of superiority the ranger has of himself in relation to the border people. Being of Mexican descent, Anzaldua would definitely not agree with such a notion; however, the prevalence of such an attitude in the society she and others of the same heritage belong to and have experienced makes it an actuality she means to expose as her peoples’ reality. In realizing how quickly I attributed this meaning to Anzaldua’s words, I realized that as a minority, I too am coming from a culturally constructed reality which has, no doubt, influenced the way I interpret meaning. It is probable that someone fortunate enough not to have experienced racially motivated undertones of superiority would not jump to such a conclusion so quickly.
The use of a Spanish word in the excerpt above also indicates Anzaldua’s cultural influences and what she is aiming towards in this work by making the speaker a historically feared enemy of her people. The speaker uses the term “ranchos” in a condescending manner to describe the living spaces of the border inhabitants. Instead of having the speaker use his own language, Anzaldua allows him the opportunity to disrespect not only her culture, but the language of her culture as well. Unfortunately, this type of de-valuing patronization was common to...

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