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“Mexicans Begin Jogging”: A Marxist Analysis

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

“Mexicans Begin Jogging”: A Marxist Analysis

Racism and discrimination are prevalent all over the world. These become the inspiration for some to write their poems and other literary pieces. These works immortalize the situation in the past for it to be analyzed during that time, at present, and even in the future. The message of the literary pieces encapsulates the emotions and experiences that the writer or perhaps other people had during that time. Given that, Gary Soto’s “Mexicans Begin Jogging” captures the discrimination done to a Mexican American factory worker who ended up lining up with the illegal Mexican workers since his boss did not believe that he is American.

The text will be read using its formal elements as they work together toward its theme. The poem will be read to check its organic unity. After close reading, the concepts of classism, racism, ideology, and hegemony will be used to examine the text as it inclines to class and racial differences.

Author’s Background

The person behind the poem and the persona himself is Gary Soto. He is of Mexican origin and is a Chicano poet (De Luca, et al, 2003). He was the speaker in the poem “Mexicans Begin Jogging” which was a part of the collection Where Sparrows Work. He was born in Fresno, California to Mexican American parents who got there because his grandparents immigrated to America from Mexico after the Great Depression (De Luca, et al, 2003). He is considered one of the working-class yet one of the best Chicano poets of his time. He has shown his solidarity with the problems of the farmers, factory workers, and urban poor which are the usual themes in his poems and works (De Luca, et al, 2003). He grew up in a factory where his family experienced the disadvantage of being poor. This has been common to many Mexican American families. However, this did not stop him from getting his degree and he even is a lecturer at the University of California. The author’s personal story contributes to the usual theme of the poems that he writes. He may have been from a struggling family but that did not stop him from being an influential writer of his time. He made use of his experience to create pieces of literature that people can read so they may understand what the Mexican Americans experienced during those times. In relation to this, his inspiration for writing the poem was the shortage of field-laborer after World War II wherein the Mexicans were taken as farm laborers around 1960 (Notable Biographies, 2019). This became his source of motivation and theme for the poem “Mexicans Begin Jogging”.

Cultural Context

As for the cultural context, ninety percent of the population of Mexican Americans transferred to the impoverished areas of Mexico in the 20th century (De Luca et al, 2003). This is the initial movement in history. The second phase of immigration happened when the American government permitted Mexican workers to replace the Americans who joined the armed forces (De Luca et al, 2003). However, it should be noted that the United States has a very diverse population and citizens. It is regarded as a melting pot of various races and ethnicity blending in this country coming up with their own culture (De Luca et al, 2003). At present, there is a boundary between Mexico and the United States (Updike, 2013). Political tension is currently transpiring due to the different beliefs and ideologies of the leaders. The concern about the border turns out to be a lasting problem for the citizens of both countries (Updike, 2013). The border has created a big impact on the biological and physical systems given the priorities in the socioeconomic aspect. From this, many of the writers tend to contest the concept that the United States is a melting pot of different cultures since they claim that conflicts among different races still happen which is highly far from the claims that there is a blending of various cultures.

Gist and Close Reading of the Text

The text is about a Mexican American factory worker named Soto who was asked to run by his boss with the belief that he is Mexican. Soto claims that he is American, but the boss doubts him despite his statement that he is American. His boss’ command startles him making him run and line with the illegal Mexican workers as the border patrol is present along with their vans. The very point of this text is that despite him being an American since the Mexicans are being hunted down, his boss and the rest of the people did not believe in him.

This work is important because it portrayed the issue between the Mexicans and Americans during that time which may still be easy to relate to up to the present. It is no secret that Trump would like to build a wall between America and Mexico and the issue of discrimination is suddenly appearing again with the new president in the lead. The immigrants who will be able to read his work will be able to relate to the message of the poem. This is because, despite the claimed fairness and equality in the nation, there are still incidences of racism and discrimination. This is not only on the end of the Mexicans but also other immigrants who have faced difficulties with the way the natives treat them.

It is important since this piece portrays the lack of power and the prevailing goodness in one’s life. This may be the situation of the factory workers in the body of the Mexicans who happened to be Americans but accidentally lined up with the rest of the illegal Mexican workers since their boss did not believe in them. The argument that the author is trying to make it even if he was really American since the people around him were already judgmental about his nationality or race. The author is coming from a raw experience himself since he grew up by the factor and saw how the illegal immigrants struggled. From there, if Soto’s works will be investigated, a recurring theme is evident. He primarily writes about his own life experiences, the struggle of the poor and the working class especially of the Mexicans.

As for the close reading, the poem’s elements work together to send a central theme. The images that were in the poem were intended to vividly tell a story that involved the factory workers’ encounter with the border patrol who were rooting for the illegal immigrants in the area. The imagery included jumping, running, and all action words that one can find in the text. The tension was that the Mexican was a Mexican American and should legitimately stay in the factory, but he ended up piling up with the illegal factory workers since he looked like them. His explanation did not matter since he was judged already in advance.

The irony can be attributed to how he was lightly dealing with the situation. In this situation, he might go to jail and face consequences, but he was delivering it humorously. This can be seen in how he selects his words “Since I was in time, I ran” (Soto 11), “vivas” (17), and “great silly grin” (21). All of these are related to the process of his running away from the border patrol. Another form of irony is the selection of the word “jogging” instead of running which the factory workers just did. Jogging is a form of exercise done by choice in a relaxed state while running is done with panic and rush.

The speaker or the persona, to add more to this, is Soto himself. He characterizes himself as a factory worker in a rubber factory. He knows in himself that he is a legitimate American but unconsciously lines up because he was told to do so. The setting is also significant since it shows how the speaker must comply with what his boss is asking them to do. The ascendancy of the boss is apparent in the poem.

The emphasis on the use of humor in delivering the meaning of the text was highlighted as well since through this technique, the impact was rendered in a way that one will least expect. The lightness of the delivery will lure the readers until they get to realize how heavy the message is. The employee and boss relationship are apparently among the issue leading to a higher level issue – discrimination and racism. If the Mexican illegal workers will be caught, they will be taken by the border patrol and Soto ended up lining up with illegal immigrants.

These elements work together to show how the persona is sending the message across in a comical manner despite the serious nature of the situation. Through the tension, the irony, the character, the point of view, the setting, and the images, the impact of their working as one paved the way to the delivery of the theme. Even if he was Mexican American, he was still Mexican, and he had to run.

Marxist Analysis of the Text

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One of the ways that the text can be read is through Marxism. Since the paper will use a Marxist perspective, the key terms should be defined before employing them in the text. Marxist literary theory is said to be predicated on the concept that literature is a product of social forces and ideology (Tyson, 2006). Social forces involve social class. This is the treatment based on the class of people in society. This is the automatic depending of the treatment as relying on the rank of the person and how much he or she can make. This can be seen in how Soto follows his boss in the poem. He even lined up without thinking since he sees the boss as someone higher than him. The boss is their head who would say if they will still work or not while they were the workers whose mindset is, they could get fired anytime if the boss gets upset with what is happening or if they did not follow.

Another is the alienation concept. It was mentioned that they were working in a factory. Working in a factory puts a person in a condition where the person will feel estranged from himself. By working eight hours a day with routine work, they lose the chance to feel and enjoy life. After work, they just go home tired and end up sleeping afterward. They get stuck in a routine that they forget how to be humans again. They lose the chance to think critically. They end up being like robots in doing their task at the factory every day. This could be the reason why the persona just jumped and started running without even thinking deeply about what he is about to do. He might have become some sort of a robot in the process.

Other concepts attributed to Marxist theory are ideological state apparatus, alienation, and hegemony. Althusser states a distinction between state power and state control. Institutions like prisons, police force, the army, and law courts maintain a state power which are termed repressive structures while the ideological state apparatuses like media, political parties, churches, and the family which foster an ideology is sympathetic to the aims of the state and the political status quo as these work subtly through securing the internal consent of its citizens (Tyson, 2006). These are the dominating forces that manage to control their subordinate class without them noticing it. The dominating force in this poem is the American race as they try to dominate the Mexicans who are within their territory. As a result, the Mexicans submit to this system because it is their territory and they got used to this.

To add more, the apparent ideology will be classism and racism. As mentioned earlier, the treatment of the person depends on perceived superiority and the capacity to earn. If one has a high rank and the ethnicity belongs to the favored ones, there will be no problem with it. Society will favor the dominant and the fortunate ones.

To be more specific, hegemony is a widely echoed concept asserting that a social class achieves a predominant influence indirectly by making its ideological views so pervasive that the classes under it will accept and participate in their own oppression without even realizing it. In its widest sense, hegemony is relevant in societies where electoral politics and public opinion are perceived as significant facts and where social practice is dependent on the dominant ideas addressing and expressing the needs of a dominant class (Williams, 1976). It is in a sense having the feeling of deciding for oneself and having the belief of exercising one’s freedom, but the reality is one is just subscribing to the influence of the dominating ones. This is evident in how the persona follows the boss blindly even if he knows that he does not have anything to run for given that he is American.

In an overall context, the primary concept here is that the persona is someone from the working class who gets dominated by his boss who holds a higher rank than him. This makes him follow his words without thinking twice about it. He has been taken by the hegemony that he will always have to follow. Another is racism. Since he belonged to the race that was being sent away during that time, he was placed in hot water because despite being American, he still looked like a Mexican and no one appears to believe that he is American.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the poem by Gary Soto is a slice of the narrative of the author’s life. It presents the struggle of the Mexican Americans who had to struggle with the border between their countries as well as to how they had to deal with the border patrols. Soto’s life was his basis for creating works like this piece. Aside from this, the existing rift in the border between America and Mexico is already a rich source of inspiration to come up with the text. Soto intends to encapsulate the experiences of Mexican Americans like him as the concept of putting up a wall is being promoted by Trump himself now.

The author managed to jokingly send the message across – they were being singled out. Their race was discriminated against since all the Mexicans were generalized to be illegal immigrants. This is still happening now only not only in their race but also to other races in different places in the world.

With the Marxist reading of the text, Soto showed total submission to the boss since that is how they are expected by society. He belongs to the working class and even if he does not have to follow, he followed because it is how people’s minds work – follow the higher person. This also proved how racism worked. The hegemonic force at that time is the reign of racism and how it affected so many people in the process. It becomes hegemony since people give in to this dominant ideology even without thinking. The persona did line up with the rest of the illegal immigrants just because his mind was conditioned to follow the superior individual in autopilot mode.

This poem intends to challenge its readers to do something about racism in their respective places and countries. This act should not be tolerated since people are involved in the process. Race is nothing to be considered since what matters is how people are interconnected despite the difference in color and in everything.

References

"Gary Soto Biography - Life, Family, Childhood, Children, Parents, Story, School, Young, Son". Notablebiographies.Com, 2019, https://www.notablebiographies.com/news/Sh-Z/Soto-Gary.html.

Bowden, Amber Christine. (2011). “Crossing Borders: Cultural and Linguistic Passage in the Poetry of Pat Mora and Gary Sotto”. Undergraduate Honors Capstone Projects. Utah State University.

De Luca, B. et al. (2003). Books and Bookmarks: Complementary and Link Modules Multiethnic Voices. Loescher Editore, pp. 21 – 56. Print.

Tyson, Lois. (2006). Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. Pp. 29 – 78. Print.

Updike, Randall G. (2013). "The United States-Mexican Border - A Land of Conflict and Opportunity: Chapter 1 In <I>United States-Mexican Borderlands: Facing Tomorrow's Challenges Through USGS Science</I>". Circular, pp. 1-13. US Geological Survey, doi:10.3133/cir13801. Accessed 19 May 2019.

Williams, Raymond. (1976). Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. 113 – 142. Print.

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