Study Guide

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica Language and Communication

By Judith Ortiz Cofer

Language and Communication

while listening to the Puerto Ricans complain
that it would be cheaper to fly to San Juan
than to buy a pound of Bustelo coffee here,
and to Cubans perfecting their speech
[…] to Mexicans who pass through, talking lyrically
of dólares to be made in El Norte— (10-17)

Our store owner has heard it all—the complaints, the speeches, everything. That's probably because she hears the same things in her store, day in and day out. It's as though people are there simply to bask in the glow of their language, rather than to add anything new to the conversation.

all wanting the comfort
of spoken Spanish, to gaze upon the family portrait (18-19)

Here the poem states the connection flat out: language = comfort. It's the familiar sound of Spanish that lets the shoppers feel like they're back home—if only for a short while.

reading the labels of packages aloud, as if
they were the names of lost lovers; Suspiros,
Merengues, the stale candy of everyone's childhood. (26-28)

OK—this is pretty intense. We've had some strong feelings for Cap'n Crunch in our past, but we've never been moved to read the cereal boxes at the grocery store. These shoppers use their native tongues both to capture the tastes of their youth and to practice the language of their home countries.

of his winter coat, who brings her lists of items
that he reads to her like poetry, (34-35)

This is probably the highest compliment you can pay to any piece of writing: read it like a poem. Even if you're saying "milk, eggs, support hose," treating a shopping list like poetry shows just how meaningful those items are to you. And reading in your home language makes that doubly-important.

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