03 May 2009

Tato Laviera

These are lines from "For Richie" by Tato Laviera:

for we scrambled
our intentions
not to be
ever defined
by the united states

but he knew …
but he knew
in his philosophical
community gatherings

that the united states
lives in ultimate
(me esta saliendo)
in ultimate hell

From the point of view of multilingual criticism, there are at least two noteworthy things about these lines.

First, the use of Spanish between "lives in ultimate" and "in ultimate hell" highlights the ultimacy of the hell that a Puerto Rican experiences, living in lingeringly racist USA (at least, that part of the USA that Laviera lives in).

Laviera, of course, is the author of the famous lines:

i think in spanish
i write in english.

The second interesting aspect of the lines from "For Richie" is the English itself, which is not "Standard American English" (I've often wondered who exactly proclaimed as "standard" one particular dialect of American English!).

Incidentally, Laviera strikes a chord in Filipino readers. Many Filipino literary scholars regard the Philippines as the last colony of the USA (they call it a "neo-colony"), in the same way that Puerto Ricans see Puerto Rico, as in these lines from "For Richie":

that we were
the last colony

for he knew that
puerto rico last
will be first.

Both the Philippines and Puerto Rico are scrambling (to use Laviera's word) to have the dishonor of being the last US colony. Postcolonial literary critics will have a field day with this one!

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