Judith Ortiz Cofer is a Puerto Rican whose writing often examines the conflict and the beauty of cultures mixing together, as people immigrate to America. Though she exhibits a strong connection to her Latin heritage, she often seems to also resent that part of her life. There are many standards and expectations in the Puerto Rican society which Cofer writes to subvert, viewing them negatively. As a Puerto Rican woman, Cofer often disagrees with the limits and expectations placed on a woman in Puerto Rican society, and this attitude is the subject of much of her work. In “Claims,” the speaker describes “Grandmother.” Cofer uses this poem to illustrate a family and describe an individual, as well as telling the reader about parts of Puerto Rican culture, such as its views on women’s roles and on sexuality.
On the surface, “Claims” is a poem about a Grandmother’s life. She has grown old, like a used, weathered “Bedouin tent.” After spending her life as a wife and mother, “Grandmother” finally has a chance to reclaim her own life. “Grandmother” seems to have been submissive, accepting her role throughout life to sacrifice herself for others, while all along wishing for her freedom. She considered each of her children a burden, but an acceptable one. She “had made a pact / with man and nature” to live as a wife and bear and raise children. She kept her pact, waiting for the day when her children would leave the nest and her husband would pass away. In “Claims,” Grandmother’s time has come and her real self, the person she wants to be, is returning, like the sea rising with the tide. One can imagine the sand when the tide is out, as it is claimed by people and animals. The sea seems to be...
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...poem, completely separated from the rest of the thought— “she is claiming back her territory.” One can find several emotions in that one line, from hostility about the time she sacrificed to relief that she can finally claim her time back.
In her work, Cofer presents many issues of Puerto Rican society. She challenges gender roles and takes steps to unite the two cultures she lives in without losing either one. “Claims” tells several stories—the story of an old woman’s life and of a female’s place in Puerto Rican society, for example. It has vivid imagery of the old woman, of the ocean, and of shipwrecks. “Claims” defends a woman’s right to be herself, rather than a slave of society and of her family. In this poem, Cofer once again challenges the expectations and limitations placed on women by society. It is a complicated work with many layers of meaning.
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