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Queens 1963: Julia Alvarez
Transcript of Queens 1963: Julia Alvarez
Queens 1963: Julia Alvarez
The Actual Poem
clear others are immigrants
at very least, speaker should understand family's experience
lines 60 & 61
Miss Scott complains to speaker's mother, Dominican immigrant who visibly doesn't care
Can you find other ironic moments in the poem?
What does this poem say about racial equality and civil rights in the 1960s?
Characterize the speaker. How old is she? How does she feel about living in the United States?
Is the speaker/poem optimistic or pessimistic about race relations in the United States? How so?
This poem wasn't published until 1993. Is this at all significant? Why or why not?
What's the purpose of lines 36-41?
Other questions, comments, or concerns?
About Julia Alvarez
born in the Dominican Republic
immigrated to the United States at 10 due to political unrest in country
lived in New York City, Queens
immigration and her heritage is a common theme across her writing
new culture and new language sensitized Alvarez to usage of language
poem is based off her actual experience living in Queens as it started becoming multicultural
Diction & Tone
Castellucci, Balakian, Bernstein
mentions ethnic identity (if not implied by name)
foreign dirt on our soles
soles=souls: their foreignness still attached to them more than just physically
Tone: solemn, somewhat bitter
Images & Symbols
lines 4 & 5; line 14
mock Tudor houses
dark man in a suit
line 5, 24, 75-80
line 10, 68
line 25 & 26
line 63 & 64
lines 23 & 24
lines 45 & 46
description of Mrs. Scott
down the street/stopped playing abruptly stopped/in the middle of a note
It was hardness mixed with hurt,
Form & Enjambment
no set rhyme scheme
no specific form: reads almost like a narrative
open verse/free verse
composed of short lines in one long stanza
past tense: speaker reflecting on this time in her life
sentences in poem also short
italics used for emphasis
Enjambment: when sentence continues on next line without pause
used for emphasis
lines 8 & 9
Everyone seemed more American
than we, newly arrived,
foreign dirt still on our soles.
By year’s end, a sprinkler waving
like a flag on our mowed lawn,
we were blended into the block,
owned our own mock Tudor house.
Then the house across the street
sold to a black family.
Cop cars patrolled our block
from the Castellucci’s at one end
to the Balakian’s on the other.
We heard rumors of bomb threats,
a burning cross on their lawn.
(It turned out to be a sprinkler.)
Still the neighborhood buzzed.
The barber’s family, Haralambides,
our left-side neighbors, didn’t want trouble.
They’d come a long way to be free!
Mr. Scott, the retired plumber,
and his plump midwestern wife,
considered moving back home
where white and black got along
by staying where they belonged.
They had cultivated our street
like the garden she’d given up
I completed the tune in my head
as I watched their front door open.
A dark man in a suit
with a girl about my age
walked quickly into a car.
My hand lifted but fell
before I made a welcoming gesture.
On her face I had seen a look
from the days before we had melted
into the United States of America.
It was hardness mixed with hurt.
It was knowing she could never be
the right kind of American.
A police car followed their car.
Down the street, curtains fell back.
Mrs. Scott swept her walk
as if it had just been dirtied.
Then the German piano commenced
downward scales as if tracking
the plummeting real estate.
One by one I imagined the houses
sinking into their lawns,
the grass grown wild and tall
in the past tense of this continent
before the first foreigners owned
any of this free country.
on account of her ailing back,
bad knees, poor eyes, arthritic hands.
Politely, my mother listened—
Ay, Mrs. Scott, que pena!
—her Dominican good manners
still running on automatic.
The Jewish counselor next door,
had a practice in her house;
clients hurried up her walk
ashamed to be seen needing.
(I watched from my upstairs window,
Gloomy with adolescence,
And guessed how they too must have
Hypocritical old-world parents.)
Mrs. Bernstein said it was time
The neighborhood opened up.
As the first Jew on the block,
she remembered the snubbing she got
a few years back from Mrs. Scott.
But real estate worried her,
our houses’ plummeting value.
She shook her head as she might
at a client’s grim disclosures.
Too bad the world works this way.
The German girl playing the piano
down the street abruptly stopped
in the middle of a note.