I am an African American who was adopted by a white family. Although I have more good memories than bad ones of my childhood, sometimes I felt like an outsider. When we had a family gathering, my grandmother on my mother's side did not acknowledge me at all. She would talk to everyone else in my family but I would be completely ignored by her. The poem "Family Ties" brought those childhood memories back up for me. It's strange to think that I could feel such an intense reaction from a light-hearted occasion, but it appears that I'm not the only one who felt like an outsider in her own family. In Jimmy Santiago Baca's narrative poem "Family Ties," the narrator uses several "plot twists" to contrast what he believes a family should be, and what he gets, instead – alienation and disappointment. .
It is amazing that Baca starts his poem exactly how I was feeling in the beginning of a family gathering. The poem begins optimistically. The narrator seems happy to see the next generation in his family, taking joy in sinking his hands into their lives. Case in point, he says, "I play with a new generation of children, my hands in streambed silt of their lives/ Freshly shaved and powdered faces of uncles and aunts surround taco and tamale tables." The description of his aunts and uncles as "freshly shaved and powdered" sounds slightly mocking, but at least at this point, in a good-humored way, the way that anybody might make fun of their aunts and uncles because they are familiar with them. The audience might have thought that this poem was going to be happy and enjoyable until Basa says, "I feel no love or family tie here." Suddenly the audience's opinion of the rest of the poem up to this point must change. The narrator, who up until then had remained a passive observer of the party, breaks the poem in half by interjecting his short but powerful opinion.