When you think of America and being an American citizen, would you consider it a privilege or a burden? In the poems “Child of the Americas” written by Aurora Levins Morales, she describes being an American as a privilege to be celebrated. Meanwhile, in the other poem “The Unknown Citizen” written by W. H. Auden, argues that it is a burden we must bare. Both poems have a unique and different approach to the complexities of our American Identity as they discuss the voice and tone of the speaker, the concept of citizenship, and the assimilation vs. acculturation to make their case. Child of the Americas” is a poem about an American who came from a mixture of various cultures that comprise her heritage, and her identity as an American. Aurora Levins Morales was born in Indiera Baja, Puerto Rico. Her mother, Rosario Morales, was a Puerto Rican, born in Harlem and her father is an ecologist who is of Ukrainian Jewish heritage, born in Brooklyn. With Morales title you can see she makes the word America plural “Americas” this means the poem is not only referring to the United States, but the whole continent. Through out the poem it describes America as a combination of everything and everywhere mix into one.
Also, the word crossroads is referred to Puerto Rico because even though it is an American territory when you go the states to live you are still considered an immigrant. Which most would consider it a burden, but to the writer it is fine because she feels that everyone has background that they should embrace. “The Unknown Citizen” is a poem about the soldiers and citizens that remains were not identified or found, and the government considered them as the unknown citizen. W. H Auden writes this poem with a lot of satire (irony and sarcasm).
Auden’s work is noted for its literary and technical achievements in engaging with moral and political issues, and its variety of tone, most of his poem centrals around political and citizenship. In this particular poem it is more of a monotone, satire poem describing all those unknown citizen that were never found and how the government claimed to know everything because of records. The government found all these records, but no one knew if these citizens were really happy or unhappy. The poem is for those unknown soldiers or people that do nothing wrong and always follow the pattern.
At the end they are all just known as the unknown citizen because they did nothing that would make them stand out from the rest. This poem refers to being an American citizen as a burden we must bare. Morales’ voice and tone throughout the poem is assertive and repetitive in many ways. In the poem it shows how she is sure of whom she is by saying, “I am a child of the Americas” (1). Morales define herself as a child of the Americas because she is not only the child of America, but of all the different heritages and countries that her family is from.
By putting that in her first line it is easy to see how she is strong and knows exactly what she is as a person. Morales repeats by say, “I am a U. S. Puerto Rican Jew” with no hesitation the writer states how she is not only a United States citizen, but a Puerto Rican and a Jew, it is easy to conclude that she doesn’t not like to be considered by only one title (4). Another example of her assertiveness are displayed in lines 15- 16, “I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return. /I am not ta?na. Ta?no is in me, but there is no way back. /I am not European.
Europe lives in me, but I have no home there. ” These three lines indicate how once again she is proud of her different backgrounds because no one is only pure American but a mixture of different countries. Just like the first line that begins with the words “I am” she starts to repeat that all the way through the rest of the poem as well as “I”. The writer knows that she has many ethnicities, but also can admit she doesn’t know those countries or ethnicities as well as she knows her, “Caribe?a” roots (9). “The Unknown Citizen”, is more of a monotone, tedious, no emotional background, and satire.
The poem is an elegy about a man who followed all the rules for society. In the poem, it mentions, “The Bureau of Statistics, union, social Psychology” all government officials that do not know the citizen, but assume they do because of the records they have. The poem never changes the pattern of stating what the citizen has done, such as; “For in everything he did he served the Greater Community, / Except for the War till the day he retired/He worked in a factory and never got fired” the quote states facts without any emotion or personal thoughts of the citizen (5-7).
The poem goes on to say, “He was married and added five children to the population, / Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation” This is when the poem should at least get a little bit more personal by including the name of the wife or the kids, but of course not, it mentions the “Eugenist” which is the study of hereditary in the human race, not once referring back to his kids or his wife (24-25). Until the very end when it asks the audience a question about this unknown citizen using more of a sarcastic tone, “Was he free? Was he Happy?
The question is absurd: / had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard” this goes back to the description of the author as he writes satire poems (27-28). The quote suggests that the government would have known if the unknown citizen was happy based on public records and because he had nothing illegal or something that will stand out as if he was unhappy, the government assumes nothing was wrong. Citizenship is when someone has the privilege and rights to freedom in America this includes to all 50 states and the common wells (known as U. S territory).
When you become a citizen you are not considered an immigrate, or part of any other country, but in this case she was born in Puerto Rico which is known as a common well and when she goes to America they consider her an immigrate. You would think this would upset Morales, but she discusses the opposite; yes, she is an American and “speak(s) English with a passion; it’s the tongue of my consciousness/ a flashing knife blade of crystal, my tool, my craft” (7-8). The writer shows how she is an American because she speaks the language and writes with it, to express herself.
That she is no different than the regular American, but at the same time she states, “I am Caribe?a, island grown. Spanish is my flesh” meaning she may be American, but she recognizes her roots and where she originally comes from (9). “I was born at the crossroads/ And I am whole” this proves that she doesn’t mind being different, to her she is just happy that she can be both because that is what makes her complete (20). On the other hand, Auden talks about citizenship in a different direction.
The poem in itself is talking about so many unknown citizen and how the government speaks of them as a whole and not individually. In this poem the different references the different departments makes anyone who reads this poem realize that not once are you not being watched or tested. In the definition of citizenship the word freedom comes up, freedom is when you do not worry about someone looking at you or watching your every step. In the first line it begins, “he was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be one against whom there was no official complaint” the “Bureau of Statistics” is a government agency that roduces economic data of the society. That is only one of the many listed in the poem. Another government agency that is mentioned is, “For his Union reports that he paid his dues” the union is taxes. Auden describes citizenship as a loss of freedom and how the government has all eyes on you. “Child of Americas” discusses Assimilation vs. Acculturation, assimilation is to take in and incorporate as one’s own and acculturation is the process of adopting the cultural traits, or social patterns of another group.
In Morales poem, you can see it shows both of theses are shown because she not only absorbs the new culture of America, but she also is always in the process of trying to make those new ideas her own. In Morales 18th line she says “my first language was Spanglish” which is a mixture of English and Spanish, but not by speaking, but by creating her own new words in the English language with a Spanish twist. The poet states, “I am Latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent”, she may be American legally, but she is always going to have Latino in her because no one is pure American everyone has a different background.
In comparison to the unknown citizen, once again it speaks of assimilation and acculturation in a very diverse way because the way he follows the rules and never strays from society. Unlike the pervious poem, Auden writes more of how the citizen acculturates to the society as the author declares,” when there was peace he was for peace when there was war he went”, meaning he never puts his own opinion in he mostly agrees with the majority of the population (23).
He never was outgoing or someone who made a scene “his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way” once again the citizen does not stand from the radar he is one to follow and never lead (14). To summarize, both poems have a greater in depth view of the American identity that most would agree with. Morales argues that it is a privilege to be an American citizen and we should all celebrate that we have so many different background and ethnic groups that make every generation different.
Yet, Auden suggest that being an American citizen is a burden we must bare because government has so many things that watch us and always know what we are doing. But having a government that is watching us is better than having nothing to say when it comes time to say something about that person, who was lost or not found. Equally both authors support their argument by describing the tone and voice of the writer, explaining the concept of citizenship and distinguishing the difference between assimilation vs. cculturation. To answer the question I presented in the first paragraph is it a privilege or a burden, I would have to say both, there is always a good and a bad to every view of being an American citizen.
Auden, W. H. “The Unknown Citizen. ” Literature for composition. 9th edition. Sylvan Barnet. Boston: Longman, 2011. 1237-1238. Print Morales, Aurora Levins. “Child of the Amercas. ” Literature for composition. 9th edition. Sylvan Barnet. Boston: Longman, 1107-1108. Print
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