In “Coming Into Language,” Jimmy Santiago Baca describes how he went from being illiterate to learning how to read and write and eventually becoming a poet while spending most of his days in prison. Terrified of not knowing his schoolwork and asking questions, Baca went through school being illiterate, until he dropped out in the ninth grade. Picture books with people of his nationality were the only type of interest. Listening to prisoners read out loud to each other inspired him to learn his own language. In this writing Baca explains to his readers how becoming a writer helped him through the tough years as an inmate in prison.
Unable to express what he felt, Baca rebelled and was arrested before he was eighteen. In prison, he met inmates who read to each other, and through the writer’s words, he was able to imagine he was somewhere else and could be someone else for a moment. Baca stated, “Their language was the magic that could liberate me from me, transform me into another person, transport me to other places far away”(19). After the readings, the inmates went back to their Chicano language, the bilingual words that only they knew. Baca wrote, “Through language I was free. I could respond, escape, indulge; embrace or reject earth or the cosmos”(21). Baca felt comfortable around the inmates, they were people similar to him, the same background and the same upbringing.
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He began to learn and understand the barrio life, where he was from. I think that it was important for Baca to understand where he was coming from. Learning the language of your own can help you understand who you are and in time can help express yourself in ways other than rebellion. Learning and accepting the Chicano language, Baca wouldn’t have to pretend to be someone else anymore. I think for Baca, learning all that he did while he was in prison helped him in many ways that he needed. My uncle has been in and out of prison most of his life, he chose to read the bible and participate in church activities. I think it did not help him in any way that he needed because he is still to this day in prison. He got out a few months ago but went back in the following month.
The prison system is set up for inmates to work while they do their time. After refusing, Baca was sent to maximum security, spending twenty- three hours a day, for months guards and other inmates, mistreated him. After coming out of isolation, Baca said, “I was born a poet one noon”(24). “I wrote to sublimate my rage, from a place where all hope is gone, from a madness of having been damaged too much, from a silence of killing rage”(25). I believe by writing poetry for other inmates to send to their loved ones and in his journal, Baca was able to make it through the rough days of being badly abused in prison. Once Baca learned who he was, writing what he felt and putting it into words helped Baca become a stronger person. My uncle has been in and out of person most of his life, and never has he came home with some kind of journal about what he was thinking and feeling. Sometimes I wonder if he had been writing in one, if he would have been different the last time he came out, putting all his hate and anger in writing instead of hurting himself.
I believe that Baca wrote this piece for young adults who are in a similar situation. Not knowing what you are doing in this world can be frustrating for many. I can relate to Baca because my uncle has been in prison for some time now, and every time he gets out, somehow he ends up back in. He finished school and knows how to read and write. I think maybe instead of reading the bible all the time or lifting weight, he should have written his own story while being locked up. He could have got rid of a lot of anger and hate. Writing is worth trying, especially if you have very little to do.
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