Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Place To Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca

A Place To Stand is a memoir written by Jimmy Santiago Baca, on the subject of his troubled childhood, his maturation into an adult life of crime, and his discovery of poetry as an outlet. Baca is one of many children to mexican immigrants, as a child he lives in an illiterate and impoverished area in California. His mother leaves him and his sibling for an American man sending his father into a drunken depression. Baca's life quickly spirals down a road of drug dealing and homelessness. In an unfortunate circumstance, he finds himself in the middle of a police raid that turns into a shoot out and he is sent to prison for the attempted murder of an federal agent. It is obvious that it was not Baca who pulled the trigger, in fact he had no gun, but because of his life of poverty and crime and his Latino nationality, he is sentenced to years in a maximum security prison without parole. While serving his time in prison he is threatened, attacked, beaten, and is ultimately forced to kill to survive. He begins to doubt God and to doubt the goodness in life when his long time girlfriend leaves him, his best friend joins the KKK, and his mother alienates him as her child because he looks Mexican. When his life is falling apart, a church going man becomes penpals with him in jail and teaches him to read and write. At the age of 21, Jimmy Santiago Baca learns to read in jail and this small feat changes his life. Through his penpal he meets a woman who will later become his wife, and she sends him poetry from famous American writers. Baca discovers his hunger for poetry and begins to write his own poetry and this allows him to survive prison and move on with his life to become the do-good authour he is today. Today, Baca runs charities and travels around the nation speaking to impoverished youth about the goodness in life and the healing powers of simple hobbies like reading and writing.

Here is a poem from the novel (this happens to be my all time favourite poem).


is a question of strength,
of unshed tears,
of being trampled under,
and always, always remembering you are human

Look deep to find the grains of hope and strength,
and sing, my brothers and sisters

and sing. The sun will share
your birthdays with you behind bars,
the new spring grass

like fiery spears will count your years,
as you start into the next year;
endure my brothers, endure my sisters.

Topic Questions:

1. Baca bases his whole novel on his hard life and his overcoming of obstacles to become a better person. Many people say that it is possible to change one's entire personality, other people say it is completely impossible. After reading this summary of the novel and seeing how he has changes his perspective, do you think that it is completely possible that this could happen, or do you believe that his criminal instincts are still lurking underneath his do-good character?

2. Baca grows up completely illiterate. In one instance, he signs a contract on the subject of his jail sentence and he has no idea what it says. Once he learns to read it's as though his whole life has turned around and he begins to see the good in life. He soon discovers poetry and this becomes his sole outlet in life. As stressed as we teenagers are, what is/are your outlets to life that keep you sane?


Nick E. 13-14 said...

2. Being a teenager will diagnosed General Anxiety and Depression, I found myself stressed sometime to the point where it all just kinda makes me break down. But the one thing that keeps me sane (to certain extent :P) is music. Music makes sense when nothing else does. I could sit in my room all day and play guitar and not worry about one thing. If life could be spoken through music, people would make more sense to me (... if that makes sense O_o) but yeahhh, music is the cure to all diseases :-)

Megan D. 11-12 said...

2) I agree that the teenage years are exceedingly stressful. The constant school work coupled with the constant struggle to find out who you want to be can really take its toll. As for my main outlet for stress, reading and playing music/ listening to it has always managed to help keep me calm when I feel like my world is a little unsteady. When I feel stressed reading about another world or expressing my emotions through my viola really help. I also agree with Nick that music tends to make sense even when people do not. =)

Cieran B. 5-6 said...

1. People may say that it is impossible to completly change ones personality but in fact it is completly possible. Near death experiences, depression, and mid life crisis are all great examples of how it is possible. Cause when you have a life changing experience it makes you compleltly rethink your life.

Cassie M 11-12 said...

Well I'm gonna be real original here and say that music, reading,and excerise are the best outlets for stress. Whether it's practicing, listening to, or performing music it helps a lot. People NEVER make sense, but music always does. And just recently, I went camping to get away from college stress, and that helped a lot too. Something about being in the mountains is just so refreshing.

Justin B. 11-12 said...

I know that when I am stressed my favorite thing to do is to read my favorite blogs (The Consumerist, Engadget, Autoblog) and watch some light hearted youtube video from The Key of Awesome. There is just something relaxing about reading about the latest amazing innovation in the world of technology or reading about something extremely stupid that a corporation did.

As for if someone can change their personality, I believe that someone's personality can change based on their life situation. I think that if Mr. Baca's life were to return to a state that was very similar to what is was when he was a criminal then he could revert to his criminal ways. I like to think that what a person is like is based greatly upon the situation that they are in at the time. One of my favorite TV shows (give it a chance people) said it this way "Trained soldiers may run screaming when they actually get into combat and people who have never held a gun in their lives might turn out to have ice in their veins"

Heather M. 13-14 said...

My teenage and high school years have been very stressful lately and sometimes overwhelming. When im stressed and feel like i have so much on my mind, i just try to do anything to keep my mind from worrying about everything. Being with my friends or just doing something fun and not work related definately helps me to relax and keep me sane, without worrying about all the stress and everything i have to deal with.

Eric M. 11-12 said...

It's definitely possible to Chang e your personality, you just need the right circumstances. The author grew up in a totally horrible situation. That being said he was not born some kind of evil person. He was born into a preordained life that he wasn't able to escape from until he received outside help. Now he's blossomed into his true identity, as a good man and a poet, all because he was given the opportunity to turn his life and personality around.

LeahS11-12 said...

I'm going to agree with most of the people who have commented in saying that music is a major outlet for stress. There are billions of songs in the world and at least one can fit your mood at any moment. And if you can't think of one, you can always write your own. I've also found that drawing or making some other form of art, whether it's photography, painting, or whatever floats your boat can really help you pour your guts out and relieve all of your stress. Sometimes, I don't even notice I'm stressed until I've drawn something that literally shows me what I was trying to portray. I'm babbling, I know. But I know for a fact that if I was like Baca and didn't have literacy to read poetry (if that was my outlet) I'd probably go insane.

Kyle P. 13-14 said...

I believe people can change certain aspects of their personality, but they can't change their most basic and natural traits.

Megan L.11-12 said...

I asked my parents and people who are older than our generation, and I'm finding that music really only helps our generation. My dad says music makes him more stressed because there's too much noise in it...well dad, it is music. :P
Justin: That's the most original answer ever haha. I would have never though that blog reading is stress relieving. I agree with you that the environment really changes someone's personality. I can honestly say I know what that's like because I am not entirely the same in Mentor Ohio as I was in Hawaii and it's just because living in Hawaii with completely different people and completely different philosophies change how I react to people.

Megan L.11-12 said...

I agree with Kyle as well, it's like the environment can change the way a person is, but they're still the same person. In my example of me, when talking to my friends in Hawaii I act differently but I'm still the same pessimistic, go with the flow person as I am here, there are just certain things that are different.

KatherineS13-14 said...

1) I think that your character is always there, and you will never completely change it. However, in this case, I believe that his good personality was always there, and he was forced to do those bad things to survive. He saw no other choices and did what he did because he had to do it.

Hannah L 13-14 said...

I agree with what Nick said. Music is a great thing for stress, but also like Baca poetry is another outlet. Anything that brings you your own little world helps to get rid of stress. Another one for me is taking a walk. Physical activity is always helpful when dealing with stress. I can't say it always fixes it but it always helps it some way, even if it's only a little.

Mrs. Sherwood said...

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