Tension to Attention: Tradition Vs. Modernity in Rene Estela Amper’s “Letter to Pedro, U.S. Citizen, Also Called Pete”

5 Dec

By examining the tension embedded within its lines, “Letter to Pedro, U.S. Citizen, Also Called Pete” by Rene Estela Amper sends us into the tug war between tradition and modernity. As the persona reveals to his addressee,

Pete, old friend,
There isn’t really much change
In our hometown since you left.

he actually heralds the changes in their hometown. The label “Pete” used by the persona in contrast with the phrase “old friend” represents the ironies that follow. Reading closely the stanzas, one can cull out the different images that symbolically intersperse with one another as the clash between the old and the new becomes apparent in every line. For instance, the image of Simeona, the cat and the recollection of the persona about her burial and the image of the bulldozer ramming down the road convey the pervasiveness of modernity and progress to the idyllic ways of the barrio people, especially the children.

In the third stanza, the image defies gender role, which is actually a manifestation of modernism, wherein, women assert their rights in the patriarchal society. This idea is symbolized by the lines

A steel bridge named after the congressman’s wife
now spans the gray river where Tasyo, the old
goat, had split the skin of our young lizards
to make us a man many years ago.

The steel bridge with the congressman’s wife may be compared to the women as empowered (signified by the steel bridge) individuals and splitting “the skin of our young lizards” to the pain young boys have to undergo in order to become men.

Furthermore, modernity proves to have its downside also. It can hamper one’s freedom. Modernity doesn’t ensure us the liberty to enjoy what we want to do. It becomes a “barbed wire fence” that drives the birds away. Indeed, technology snatches us away from the simple pleasures of life like “shooting the birds with slingshot or spending the summer afternoons we loved so much doing.” Now, most of us would spend most of the time in front of the television or surfing the internet.

The poem’s tension lies in the contrasting images and the motifs embedded in the lines. The persona presents the “then” and the “now” respectively, implying a direction or arrow which steers from tradition to modernity. It leads the readers to pay attention to an important issue of globalization. Here, the persona favors change. The irony in the first stanza creates an impact only when the readers realize that what he is cataloguing in the proceeding stanzas is actually the changes that take place in his hometown. The poem commences with the persona extending his regards to Pete’s American wife and tells him how his cock-eyed Uncle Islaw “now calls himself Stanley/after he began wearing the clothes you sent him last Christmas.” Is there really much change? By giving attention to the metaphors, we find fault in the persona.

The fact is, there IS really much change in their hometown since Pedro left. And the greatest change is actually how the persona aspires to become a U.S Citizen, how Islaw considers himself “American” and Tasyo, the old goat, prides himself of having Pedro as a U.S. citizen by sending the latter’s “lizard his warmest congratulations.” The hometown represents tradition. Modernity, the United States of America.

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