18 pages 36 minutes read

Judith Ortiz Cofer

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica

Fiction | Poem | YA | Published in 1993

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Symbols & Motifs

The Woman

The poem’s deli owner symbolizes home, divine power, and poetic inspiration. This singular woman and her store offer a safe haven for customers from Latin American countries. They find familiar products, their mother tongue, and a communal environment at her deli. The woman herself is also “a family portrait” (Line 19), a figure of the customers’ past in their native countries.

Cofer calls the woman “the Patroness of Exiles” (Line 7) and portrays her with almost religious reverence. It’s no accident that the second image in the poem is the “plastic Mother and Child magnetized” (Line 2). Like the Virgin Mary, the woman is a saint, perhaps even divine. She “preside[s]” (Line 1) as a peaceful authority. She listens to her customers as if they are praying to her about “their dreams and their disillusions” (Line 23). She encounters people “whose needs she must divine, conjuring up products […]” (Line 36). This language reinforces the supernatural aura around the deli owner and her power to minister to her community. If the woman is a saint, the store is her cathedral.

Moreover, the woman is a muse figure and an artist in her own right. The immigrants who visit her store stay and talk, weaving language together about their hopes and what they’ve lost.