Study Guide for Yo Soy Joaquin / I Am Joaquin by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales

Co-director and performer, Rodney Garza, explores the many themes present in Yo Soy Joaquin / I Am Joaquin.

Politics of Identity

A central theme that is explored in Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’ classic poem I Am Joaquin is the idea of how we choose to identify ourselves. He challenges Mexican-Americans/Latinos/ Hispanos et al, to assess an honest self-evaluation, come to terms with their history and embrace their mestizaje or culture of mixed-blood, both good and bad.  The central figure of the piece is Joaquin, a walking dichotomy that, although rejected by the dominant society, is both Mexican and American, native and foreigner, oppressor and oppressed. However, the assertion of this duality can be seen as a political act that disavows the hegemony of the power structure. Although the term Chicano is only mentioned once in the poem, I Am Joaquin was considered a partial catalyst of the Chicano civil rights movement. From its onset, this epic poem became a bonding experience-a shared journey by the many that were touched by it.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines identity politics as: “A wide range of political activity and theorizing in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups. Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination.” By this standard, I Am Joaquin could be said to engage readers and listeners in the politics of identity. What is identity? What does identity mean to you? Do you identify with a certain social group? Do you consider associations by social groups as political acts? Is there a difference between personal identity and identity politics?

Politics of Self-Determination

During an interview, Mr. Gonzales once stated, “I wrote I Am Joaquin because I wanted to say something historical about ourselves, something about our present, something about our future. I wanted to inspire young people to understand themselves and to give them a message of unity, a message of what oppression is.” It is no coincidence then that the poem has been read and studied in Chicano studies courses across the U.S. and in other countries.

In analyzing I Am Joaquin in his book, Chicano Poetry: A Response to Chaos, Juan Bruce-Novoa writes, “The insistence on the need to choose raises the poem to an existential level. Choice, the conscious willing of one’s life demands knowledge and active determination.” Undoubtedly the poem has instilled a sense of personal value, regained dignity, ethnic unity, working class pride and self-respect. However, in the state of Arizona, it is part of a list of literature that is not allowed to be taught in certain classrooms. Living in an age when students seem more disenfranchised with the educational system, it would seem imperative to present them with knowledge that may help them determine their own future. Do you think it is fair that only some histories be taught? Why? Why would a poem like I Am Joaquin be a threat to the established order of education?