Study Guide

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica Memory and The Past

By Judith Ortiz Cofer

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.

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