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I, Too, Sing América by Julia Alvarez

“I, Too, Sing América” is written by the Dominican-American poet Julia Alvarez. The poem is accompanied by a biographical account of the poet’s life. In this account, Alvarez shows how she contains the essence of America that includes diversity and shelters multiculturalism into a singular identity. This poem is an echo of Langston Hughes’ strong piece “I, too”, also known by its first line “I, too, sing America.” Alvarez also alludes to Walt Whitman’s memorable poem “I Hear America Singing” through the text. The poem steps on the path shown by those who visualize America not only as a powerful nation but as a vast sea containing multitudes!

  • Read the full text of “I, Too, Sing América” here along with the analysis section.
I, Too, Sing América by Julia Alvarez


Summary

“I, Too, Sing América” is about how the poet Julia Alvarez sings in praise of America, its diversity, and its inclusiveness. This song fuses the terms of both languages, English and Español. Being a Dominican-born poet, Alvarez thinks the way she thinks of America is not ever thought of. Her composition includes the Latin American taste as well as the North American flavor. Alvarez fuses them beautifully through her exceptional diction. In this poem, her poetic persona talks about how she contains the American essence. She counts the people from both the hemispheres as a family who sing this song with her. The brown, black, and white people sing this song in unison.

Vocabulary & References

  • Plátano (Line 3) – Plátano is a Spanish term that means banana.
  • Marimba (Line 5) – It is a deep-toned xylophone of African origin.
  • Bongó (Line 5) – A pair of small, long-bodied drums, played with fingers by placing them between the knees.
  • Sancocho (Line 6) – A traditional Latin American broth that is serves with several cuisines.
  • “inglés con español” (Lines 7-8) – The phrase means “English with Spanish”.
  • “Ay si” (Line 9) – This Spanish interjection denotes “Oh yes!”
  • Soles (Line 16) – The undersurface of a person’s foot.
  • Tierra del Fuego (Line 17) – It is the southernmost and smallest province in Argentina.
  • Chiriquí (Line 19) – This province is located in western Panama. It borders Costa Rica and the Pacific Ocean. 
  • Yanquis (Line 22) – A citizen of the United States as distinguished from a Latin American. It is a variation of the term “Yankee”.
  • Familia (Line 27) – It is a Spanish term meaning family.
  • Canción (Line 28) – In Spanish, it means “a song”.
  • “el canto que cuenta con toda América” (Lines 35-37) – The phrase means “the song that counts all America”.
  • “Ya llegó el momento” (Line 39) – The meaning of the phrase is “The moment has come”.
  • “ese sol” (Line 42) – It means “the sun”.
  • “Uno-dos-tres!” (Line 46) – It is a popular Spanish term meaning “One-two-three”.
  • “Yo también soy América” (Line 50) – The meaning of this line is “I, too, am America”. It is a repetition of the poem’s last line in Spanish.


Meaning

The title of the poem “I, Too, Sing America” echoes Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too”. Through this poem, Alvarez explains how her song encompasses the diversity of the nation. She sings of America celebrating its diversity and proudly protects it by providing everyone equal opportunity and freedom. Her poem is for both the hemispheres, North America and South America. As she has her roots in the southern parts of the continent and flourished as a literary voice in the northern part, she sings for both nations. She takes pride in her American identity. By singing the song, she showcases it.

Form, Rhyme Scheme, & Meter

Form

The poem consists of 51 unevenly rhymed lines. It contains some Spanish terms that are fused with American English to present an inclusive kind of text to the readers. Through the overall structure of the poem, Alvarez shows the basic essence of America that is fostered for ages.

This poem contains a total of five stanzas. It is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker. Hence, it is an example of a lyric poem. There is not any regular rhyme scheme in this poem. So, it’s a specimen of free-verse poetry.

Rhyme Scheme

As mentioned above, the poem does not contain a specific rhyme scheme. However, readers can find a few instances of rhyming in the following examples:

  • “plátano”, “mango”, “bongó”, and “sancocho” (Lines 3-6)
  • “America” and “América” (Lines 13-14)
  • “Chiriquí” (pronounced as “chee-ruh-kee” and “Mississippi” (Lines 19-20)
  • “cuenta” and “América” (Lines 36-37)
  • “sí” and “bilingually” (Lines 48-49)

Meter

Being a free-verse poem, it does not contain a set meter. Alvarez uses a metrical foot that aptly applies to the idea of the lines. Readers can find the use of iambic, anapestic, and trochaic feet in the text. Let’s have a look at the scansion of the first few lines:

I know/ it’s been/ said be-fore

but not/ in this voice

of the plá/-ta-no

and the/ mang-o,

ma-rim/-ba y/ bong-o

As readers can see, the first three lines consist of both the iambic and anapestic feet. While the last two lines are trochaic.

Poetic Devices & Figurative Language

Alvarez’s poem “I, Too, Sing América” contains a number of poetic devices that make the poet’s ideas more appealing and engaging to readers. Let’s have a look at the important ones used in the poem:

Allusion

The title of the poem is an allusion to Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too”. Alongside that, Alvarez alludes to Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing” as well his “Songs of Myself, 51”. The allusion lies in the idea of America’s vastness.

Enjambment

It occurs throughout this piece. Alvarez uses it to internally connect the lines of each stanza and maintain the poetic flow. Let’s have a look at the following lines to understand how enjambment is used:

I know it’s been said before

but not in this voice

of the plátano

and the mango,

marimba y bongó,

not in this sancocho

of inglés

con español.

Readers can understand how the enjambed lines make them quickly read the following line.

Metaphor

Alvarez uses several metaphors in this poem that include:

  • “voice/ of the plátano/ and the mango” — In this phrase, the speaker is metaphorically comparing the texture of her voice to the fruits mango and plátano (banana).
  • “sancocho/ of inglés/ con español” — It is a metaphor for the language used in the poem. According to the poet, it is alike the Latin American broth plátano.
  • “whole hemispheric/ familia” — Here, the poet metaphorically compares the people living in North and South America to the members of a single-family.
  • “red and blue song” — This phrase contains an implicit reference to the American flag.
  • “I, too, am America” — This line contains an important metaphor. Here, Alvarez is referring to her Dominican-American identity. America, being a multicultural and diverse nation, can be compared to the identity of the poet.

Alliteration

Let’s have a look at the following examples where the poet uses the repetition of similar sounds to create internal rhyming.

  • before/ but”
  • mango,/ marimba”
  • turn/ to”
  • canto/ que cuenta/ con”

Hyperbole

The poet uses hyperbolic language in order to emphasize her ideas on a greater scale. For example, in the following lines, she hints at America’s inclusiveness and vastness in exaggerating terms:

  • “with all América/ inside me:”
  • all of us/ singing America”
  • “the whole hemispheric/ familia”

Personification

The use of personification can be found in the following examples.

  • “soles/ of Tierra del Fuego”
  • “thin waist/ of Chiriquí”
  • “the spine of the Mississippi”
  • “the great plain face of Canada”

The poet personifies “Tierra del Fuego”, “Chiriquí”, “Mississippi” and “Canada” in these examples.


Line-by-Line Analysis

Lines 1-8

I know it’s been said before

but not in this voice

of the plátano

and the mango,

marimba y bongó,

not in this sancocho

of inglés

con español.

The poem “I, Too, Sing América” begins with an allusion “… it’s been said before”. What has been said before? If readers go through the accompanying text before the actual poem, they can understand what Julia Alvarez is hinting at. To clarify, through this line, she is alluding to the poems “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman and “I, Too” by Langston Hughes. Hughes and Whitman talked about what America actually stands for in their poems.

In Whitman’s words, he can “hear America singing, its varied carols” through the voices of her sons and daughters. Whereas, Hughes talks about America that welcomes people from different colors, races, and languages beneath her wide umbrella. Alvarez writes this poem tapping on a similar idea revolving around America.

In the following line, she says the thing has not been said in the voice that she has. What’s different with her voice? The reference lies in her origin. Alvarez has Dominican roots and she explored her real self in America. Therefore, her voice aptly showcases the multiculturalism of America. She is one of the voices who immigrated to this generous nation.

Her voice has the flavor of Latin plátano (banana) and mango. The tune of her song resonates with the musicality of marimba and bongó. She reiterates the fact that no such poems about America are written in the diction she employs. Alvarez compares this Spanish-English fusion to sancocho or Latin American broth. The flavors of different ingredients get mixed into sancocho while cooking. Likewise, in this piece, readers can find the rhythm of Spanish and the stylistics of American English.

Lines 9-15

Ay sí,

it’s my turn

to oh say

what I see,

I’m going to sing America!

with all América

inside me:

“As sí” is a Spanish interjection for the English phrase “Oh yeah!” As readers can sense, the speaker’s voice is filled with enthusiasm. Her turn has finally come. Now, she can voice what she finds in this very nation. With the happiness of her heart and gratitude for her own country, she utters, “I’m going to sing America!”

What does the speaker signify by the term “America”? It is a reference to the inclusiveness and diversity of her nation. She is going to sing about it. Not only that, but her song also features how the concept of America goes beyond the geographical limits and includes both the hemispheres.

In the following line, she uses the Spanish pronunciation of her country’s name. It reveals her multicultural standpoint. She does not see America as a nation dominated by whites. Her country also belongs to all those who are either brown or black. She also sings for everyone who has been residing in America or immigrated there.

Lines 16-23

from the soles

of Tierra del Fuego

to the thin waist

of Chiriquí

up the spine of the Mississippi

through the heartland

of the Yanquis

to the great plain face of Canada

In this section of “I, Too, Sing América,” Alvarez depicts the vastness of “America”. It crosses the official limitations. Her concept of America breaks the limits of the international borderline between North and South America. Alvarez’s América starts from the soles of Tierra del Fuego. It is the southernmost part of South America.

Then it stretches to the “thin waist” of Chiriquí. Here, readers can find a pun in the usage of the word “waist”. It rhymes closely with “west”. Through this reference, Alvarez points to the western coast of Panama, Chiriquí province. Panama is a transcontinental country in Central and Southern America.

In the following line, she refers to the Mississippi River, the second-largest river of North America. It is compared to the spine of a human being. Then she zooms at the “heartland” of the Yanquis. Where is the heartland located on the map? Interestingly, America’s heartland has no geographical boundaries. Generally, the American Midwest is referred to as the heartland of the nation. The term was first used by the British geographer Halford Mackinder.

Through this line, Alvarez refers to the Latin Americans who live there. Besides, her country stretches to the Great Plains of Canada. She compares the geographical feature to a human face.

Lines 24-38

all of us

singing America,

the whole hemispheric

familia

belting our canción,

singing our brown skin

into that white

and red and blue song —

the big song

that sings

all America,

el canto

que cuenta

con toda América:

un new song!

In the third stanza, the speaker remarks about how all those living in both continents sing of a singular nation, America. Alvarez refers to the citizens from both lands as a “hemispheric familia”. She takes pride in being part of this grand family.

In the following line, “her” song becomes “our” song. It displays a shift from singularity to plurality.  The word “canción” is a Spanish term for “a song”. This song belts the hemispheric family. It is sung by both the brown people living in Latin America and the whites of North America. They forget about their race or skin color and be one with the color of their flags, red and blue. The phrase “red and blue song” is a symbolic representation of America as a whole.

In the following lines, Alvarez writes a sentence in Spanish and then repeats the same in English. According to her, the song depicts the essence of America. It includes all the unique features of the country. Like the nation, the song is inclusive, not exclusive. Hence, it is definitely “un new song!” Here readers can find how the poet portrays her diverse self through her diction.

Lines 39-43

Ya llegó el momento,

our moment

under the sun —

ese sol that shines

on everyone.

The fourth stanza is the shortest but not the least important. This stanza reiterates an epigrammatic idea. According to the speaker, the moment has finally come. The moment is theirs to showcase how they represent the country.

The sun shines equally on everybody. In this line, Alvarez uses a metaphor. She compares America to the egalitarian sun. The nation sheltered everyone who badly needed a place to breathe and live freely. It is the essence of America that made Alvarez pen down this beautiful piece.

Lines 44-51

So, hit it maestro!

give us that Latin beat,

¡Uno-dos-tres!

One-two-three!

Ay sí,

(y bilingually):

Yo también soy América

I, too, am America.

The first line of the last stanza contains an apostrophe. Through this line, the poet addresses her country as a “maestro”, the musicians of all the musicians of the world. This line implicitly hints at the idea of Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing”.

Alvarez’s persona urges her country to begin the piece. She seeks the Latin beat of the south and the inspiring songs of her nation.

Then the musical composition begins. Our speaker starts the countdown as if she is addressing this grand event. In the last few lines, she again refers to her bilingual identity by saying, “I, too, am America” firstly in Spanish and then in English. This repetition is meant for the sake of emphasis.

Themes

Julia Alvarez’s poem “I, Too, Sing America” taps on the themes of multiculturalism and diversity of America, identity, and music. The main theme of this piece centers on the multiculturalism and diversity of America. Through her voice, Alvarez speaks of this feature of her nation. She being part of her country is a true representation of this feature. The fusion of the languages (Spanish and English) she knows reflects this theme as well.

Another important theme of this piece is identity. From the title, it is clear that it is a poem about an American’s identity and how she takes pride in it. Besides, the theme of music is another integral part of this poem. Alvarez talks about the inclusiveness and objectivity of song or music and defines her country as a musician. Its people compose their unique lyrics and America tunes the lyrics musically.

Tone

The tone of this poem is tied to the theme. In this poem, Alvarez celebrates her identity as a Dominican-American. Her multicultural standpoint revolves around the generosity and kindness of her country. Through this beautiful piece, she sings in praise of America. For this reason, the tone remains celebratory, uplifting, and joyous throughout.

In the first few lines, the tone reflects the poetic persona’s confidence concerning her composition. She thinks nobody has ever sung of America in the way she does. In the following lines, her tone becomes more confident and joyous. As the tone influences the mood of a work, this poem’s mood reflects the same.

Imagery

Readers can find the use of different types of imagery in “I, Too, Sing America”. These include:

Gustatory Imagery

Alvarez uses gustatory imagery in these lines:

… this voice

of the plátano

and the mango

The idea of these lines is associated with the taste of banana and mango. Alvarez is referring to the sweet taste of these fruits in order to compare it to the quality of her song or her voice. As the poet hails from the Dominican Republic, her voice contains the essence of the land and its fruits.

The line “not in this sancocho” contains another image related to taste. However, this image hints at the fusion of Spanish and English. It seems the poet is comparing the mixed flavor of sancocho to the language of this poem.

Auditory Imagery

There is an image related to the sense of hearing in the line “marimba y bongó”. Here, the poet hints at the sound of these instruments by mentioning their names.

Through this line “give us that Latin beat”, Alvarez refers to the musicality of the Spanish language.

Visual Imagery

Alvarez makes use of visual imagery in lines 16 to 23. In these lines, she depicts the land’s end in Tierra del Fuego, the map of Chiriquí, aerial view of the Mississippi River, the American heartland, and the Great Plains of Canada.

There is another visual imagery in the lines “under the sun —/ ese sol that shines”. Through these lines, the speaker is showing how the sun shines on us equally.

Organic Imagery

In this poem, Julia Alvarez talks about how she encompasses different regions of the north and south in herself. To depict it, she makes use of organic imagery. While reading lines 14-23, readers can sense the ideas of vastness and inclusiveness.

In the last stanza, the poet beautifully conveys the rhythm of the song and her gratitude towards America. These lines trigger patriotic and inspirational sentiment in readers.

Historical Context

The poem “I, Too, Sing América” appears in “Writers on America” published by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs. This collection features 15 different poems celebrating America as a nation of possibilities, dreams, and diverse identities. Julia Alvarez’s poem appears in this piece along with an introductory essay. She shares her long journey from a Dominican dictatorial regime to American freedom. According to her, she discovered her creative self while living in this country. Though it took much from her, it gave her a lot in return. Her gratitude to her nation culminates into a bilingual song that speaks of her devotion to América. Through this piece, she alludes to Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too” and Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” published in 1860.

FAQs

When did Julia Alvarez write “I, Too, Sing America”?

Julia Alvarez wrote “I, Too, Sing America” before 2015. It was first published in “Writers on America” in 2017 by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs.

What is the purpose of writing the poem “I, Too, Sing America”?

The purpose behind writing this poem is to express the poet’s gratitude and satisfaction in being an American. She composed this lyrical piece in praise of her nation.

What is “I, Too, Sing America” by Julia Alvarez about?

This poem is about how the bicultural poet Julia Alvarez sings in praise of America. She defines the vastness and inclusiveness of her country through this piece.

What does “I, Too, Sing America” by Julia Alvarez mean?

The title of the poem is a response to the poems “I, Too” by Langston Hughes and “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman. It means how a bicultural and bilingual speaker sings in praise of America.

What is the tone of the poem “I, Too, Sing America” by Julia Alvarez?

The tone of this piece is celebratory, inspirational, patriotic, and emotive.

What effect is created by the bilingual content of Alvarez’s poem?

The bilingual content of Alvarez’s poem reveals the inclusiveness of America. It fosters diverse cultures and ethnicities.

Who is the audience in “I, Too, Sing America”?

The audience of this piece is the people of North and South America.

Is “I, too, am America” personification?

Through this line, Alvarez personifies America and presents herself as a representation of it. This line also contains an alliteration in “am America”.

Why did Julia Alvarez come to America?

In 1960, the underground activities of Julia Alvarez’s father against the Dominican dictator Trujillo were discovered. For this reason, they were forced to escape the country and immigrated to America.


External Resources


More Julia Alvarez Poems to Explore

  • “Exile” – This poem is about the poet’s departure from her homeland to America, in 1960.
  • “New Clothes”
  • “Woman’s Work”


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