Study Guide

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica Themes

  • The Home

    Home: it's more than that button at the top of your browser window, gang. It's really what "The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica" is all about. The deli acts as a home away from home, a place where folks can come to be reminded of the homes they left behind. For one reason or another, they've had to say goodbye to the sights, sounds, and tastes of the places where they grew up. That's why the Latin Deli, packed with familiar items, draws in people who are desperate for a reminder of their past. It's like a one-stop cure for homesickness.

    Questions About The Home

    1. Other than the food, what does the deli provide to remind the shoppers of home?
    2. Does the deli really help? Or could it make things worse by reminding people of what they left behind? How can you tell?
    3. What is the store owner's role in providing a home away from home?

    Chew on This

    It's a noble effort, but there's really no such thing as a home away from home. You're either at home, or you're not.

    This poem shows, more than anything, that "home" is just an abstract concept that we carry around in our heads.

  • Language and Communication

    Let's face it: it really wouldn't be a Latin deli without a little Spanish. It would just be a regular deli, serving regular cold cuts to regular people. While that may still be delicious, it doesn't make the point that Ortiz Cofer is driving home in "The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica": language is a part of who we are. The Spanish in the deli—spoken among the clients and read on the labels—provides a way for people to connect with their culture and remember their past.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. Why do you think the shoppers read the food labels out loud?
    2. What is the effect of putting the Spanish words in italics?
    3. Despite all the speaking in this poem, our store owner is silent. Why do you think that is?

    Chew on This

    The poem shows us that language is as much a part of our cultural identity as anything else.

    As this poem demonstrates, if you can't communicate with others, then you'll never truly feel at home.

  • Memory and The Past

    The past, Shmoopers, is behind you—don't look now. Or… is it? Are we ever really free from our past? And, more to the point, do we actually really want to be entirely free from our past? The shoppers in "The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica" don't see their past as something to escape. They see it as a powerful source of their identity, a kind of emotional security blanket that they can turn to when they're feeling estranged by their surroundings. Memories—even canned ones—provide powerful sustenance to keep these folks going.

    Questions About Memory and The Past

    1. Why don't the shoppers in the poem allow for any bad memories of home?
    2. Do you feel that these people are stuck in the past? How might the speaker of the poem answer that question?
    3. How are memories shared—across people, time, and geography—in the deli?

    Chew on This

    The shoppers in the poem are unrealistic in their day to day lives: they're stuck in the past with only their good memories.

    The past is part of the shoppers' identities in this poem, and it is not a hindrance: it is what helps them move forward in their lives.

  • Community

    You can get more than a meal at the Latin Deli. You can get connected. And no, we're not talking about free wifi. We mean the people, people. At its core, "The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica" is a poem that's all about community. In it, we have a group of expatriates who are separated from the original communities of their homes. At the same time, they can come together at the deli to form a new kind of community, one that's bound through the common experiences of homesickness, language, and lots and lots of delicious food.

    Questions About Community

    1. Which do you think is more important to the deli-goers: their connections to home or their connections to one another? What parts of the poem support your answer?
    2. What is the store owner's role in this community?
    3. What is the store's role in this community? Do you think these shoppers would still connect without the deli to go to? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    This poem shows us that community is about two things: people and places. You need both to make it work.

    "The Latin Deli" shows us that everyone needs a community of some kind, and people will gravitate to one in the most difficult circumstances.