Skip to Main Content


Writing Prompt

Paper #3 Topics:
José Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal

Write a four-to-five-page essay on one of the following topics. Make sure you have an arguable thesis that outlines the goal of your essay and that lends itself to an original reading of the literature. To support your ideas, provide specific evidence from Citizen Illegal. Use MLA citation format and include a works cited page.

*Note: You will be required to include 3-4 total quotations from two secondary sources.
You may choose one from a list I provide, and you will be required to find the other on your own.
Please do not add in the secondary texts until after your own ideas and insights about the primary text are secure and clear.

1. Citizen Illegal is a book rich in odes and celebrations, especially of Olivarez’s Mexican American culture. Choose at least two examples of an ode or celebration and, using your secondary sources, analyze their implications within the book as a whole.

2. Why do you think Olivarez ends Citizen Illegal with the lines “‘Guapo,’ I say. It is my new name. It is my old name. / It is my only name”? Support your answer by analyzing at least two poems from the collection concerned with names and self-definition.

3. Citizen Illegal centers on Olivarez’s struggle between two cultures as the US-born son of Mexican immigrants. Analyze at least two pems where Olivarez considers attempting to assimilate into white, dominant American culture. In your reading, why does he resist assimilation?

4. Create your own topic: There are many themes within Citizen Illegal we’ve only had time to touch on, including complex family relationships, classism, and Olivarez’s relationship with the divine. If you think you have a good idea for an original paper, write a working thesis and email it to me by 8pm on Wednesday, March 22. The thesis should touch on at least two poems from Citizen Illegal. RD 1: (annotated bibliography, intro + first 2 body paragraphs):


© , Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Rutgers is an equal access/equal opportunity institution. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to direct suggestions, comments, or complaints concerning any accessibility issues with Rutgers websites to or complete the Report Accessibility Barrier / Provide Feedback form.