"Little Sister Born in This Land"
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
"Little Sister Born in This Land"
Childhood is a uniquely rich time, full of exploration and discovery, imagination and creativity. And it is made richer by sharing because that sharing creates a bond, a common thread. In Elías Miguel Muñoz's poem "Little Sister Born In This Land," the speaker appears to be a much older brother who laments the lack of this common thread with his little sister. For you see, siblings who grow up in the same locale and under basically the same conditions will share many experiences even if they are years apart in age. But when siblings grow up in drastically different conditions and places, very little of their childhood will be common to both and the bond, the thread, just isn't as strong or may not even exist. This is the source of the older brother's sorrow in this poem, because his sister was born and raised in a different country and speaking a different language than what he has grown up with. His sister has also grown up with many things to fill her days while he had little but his imagination and curiosity to fill his days.
But his days are not days to be regretted or feel cheated by. To the contrary, they were exciting days when he would venture out on foot, thrilling at the sights and the sensory experiences, like "that warm and always open earth" (67-68). He enjoyed discovery, like "the mystery in the ravines" (29-30) and finding nesting hens and perhaps new life if the hens had chicks. And he is saddened that his sister may never know those same feelings of excitement as shown in his question "Is there anywhere in your childhood a similar feeling?" (22-23). He gives us the impression that her life has become a bit stagnant from being indoors in front of the TV, watching cartoons, instead of being outdoors discovering life for herself. He shares that he feels this will make her, and every other child like her, "a little clown, plastic and ridiculous"(48-49). For plastic does not think, it does not feel, it has no mind of its own. Instead, it is molded into whatever form it is poured into. She will become whatever she allows herself to be poured into, even if it is a clown to be laughed at, someone following the crowd instead of leading the way. He remembers days spent pretending to be a "brave corsair" (32) fighting off "evil pirates" (31) and of being a hero, if only to himself. It hurts him to think that she has "only the joy of Disney heroes" (41-42) that come from someone else's imagination and not her own. How can she ever become self-confident if she never faces and vanquishes a foe, even if only in her own mind? How can she break out of the generic mold and become all that she, as an individual, could be except by reaching deep within to find that particular spark that makes her unique.
The brother is dismayed that things fill her life, keeping her from herself, and that twist of tradition that has allowed this to happen. He feels her childhood has "suffered the mockery of expensive toys that the deceptive ghost of December brings to you" (58-62). The toys are a mockery because they are costly yet of little benefit to the child. Some may improve hand/eye coordination or thinking skills but do little for the rest of the child, leaving the child soft and weak instead of toned and fit, and some do no good at all. Calling Santa the deceptive ghost of December, the brother seems to indicate that he feels the true meaning of Christmas and the faith it represents has been lost. That instead of focusing on the greatest gift ever given to man, people now focus on self and the desire for things, which are soon tired of and tossed away when it is discovered that they are deceiving and don't bring real happiness after all.
His childhood days and toys were simpler and his wants were much fewer. He obviously had a few purchased toys as shown by his description of "toys made of tin" (28), but he also made some of his own, "taking lessons for carving men out of stone" (33-35). And I'm sure that at some point, a stick became a sword and a towel or piece of cloth became a cape as he battled the evil pirates. These were joyful times for him and he wishes that it could be the same for his sister, but he is powerless, he "cannot invent another childhood for you, cannot offer you mine" (52-54). So she will continue to grow, just as she has, in tune with a world so very different from his. Three times in the poem he states that she is slipping away, "slowly and lovingly," indicating that despite a loving relationship, they are growing farther and farther apart. She moves forward in a world of things and technology, space flights and expensive toys: the world of her childhood. He, on the other hand, is standing still in the world of his childhood. This standing still causes frustration as he longs "to hold you and explain a thousand things" (4-5). Perhaps he has not embraced technology and the ever-changing world, has not tapped into the wealth of the Internet. Perhaps he clings to the simple. Or maybe it is a language difference, hinted at here with "Each time you intrigue me with your riddles, with your words, that will always be foreign to our experience" (12-16). She has grown up speaking a different language than he so there may be a wall of words in the way, words that don't translate well back and forth. Maybe they can't speak their hearts.
Regardless of where the blame, the heart of the problem lies, with him or her, both or neither, he says "it isn't a reproach sister, little sister born in this land." Maybe this is solely to reassure her that he does not disapprove of her, that he does not blame her for the ever increasing chasm between them, but rather that this land is at fault. Maybe it is also an expression of resignation to the idea that they were born worlds apart and that their paths were not meant to cross as he desires and that life was forever meant to be without the common threads of a shared childhood.
Muñoz, Elías Miguel. "Little Sister Born In This Land." New Worlds of Literature: Writings from America's Many Cultures. Ed. Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter. New York: Norton, 1994. 152-154.