Black Hair

Gary Soto

‘Black Hair’ by Gary Soto is a contemporary poem that offers an introspective look at a child watching a baseball game.

Gary Soto

Nationality: American

Gary Soto is an American poet with 30+ poetry collections.

His most famous poem is Oranges.' 

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: The adults in a child's life can inspire the formation of an identity

Speaker: An unnamed child at a baseball game

Emotions Evoked: Abandonment, Hope, Resilience

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

This poem reflects on the isolation of a child who does feel accepted in his community, and the impact a positive role model can have on overcoming that isolation.

This introspective poem uses the everyday experience of a child to reflect on isolation and alienation in a community. While Soto expresses that children are not immune to the harsh realities of the world, he presents a hopeful view on overcoming negative self-perception.


‘Black Hair’ by Gary Soto serves as the opening poem for the anthology of the same name. In the work, an eight-year-old child attends a baseball game to see his idol, Hector Moreno. Through his admiration for Moreno, the speaker can learn to accept who he is.

In ‘Black Hair,’ Soto offers an introspective look at ideas of acceptance through the lens of Mexican American child. The child, who represents Soto, feels alienated in his community due to his physical characteristics. The poem opens with a description of a baseball game, a favorite pastime for the speaker. We’re introduced to Hector Moreno, a Mexican baseball player whom the speaker admires. For the remainder of the poem, Soto reflects on the impact of positive role models on a child’s self-perception.


The main themes of ‘Black Hair’ are alienation and self-perception. The speaker feels isolated in his community due to his Mexican heritage. As a Mexican American child, Gary Soto felt difficulty fitting in with his predominantly white community. In the poem, the figure of Hector Moreno, a baseball player of Mexican descent, represents what the speaker hopes to achieve and the affirmation he seeks from his community. Through his admiration of Hector, the speaker can begin to accept who he is.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

At eight I was brilliant with my body.
In July, that ring of heat
We all jumped through, I sat in the bleachers
Of Romain Playground, in the lengthening
Shade that rose from our dirty feet.
The game before us was more than baseball.
It was a figure–Hector Moreno
Quick and hard with turned muscles,
His crouch the one I assumed before an altar of worn baseball cards in my room.

Three stanzas make up this introspective poem about idols. Soto begins his poem by positioning himself as an eight-year-old child attending a baseball game in July. The opening line, “At eight I was brilliant with my body.” presents a sense of innocence and wonder that is often associated with childhood. The stanza continues to describe the environment that the speaker finds himself in.

The speaker notes the heat of the day, facing it head-on to sit in the bleachers. The speaker also refers to the “dirty feet” he and the other children have. Despite the less-than-favorable conditions of the day, the speaker is focused only on the excitement of the game. The second half of the first stanza identifies Hector Moreno, a baseball player of Mexican descent, whom the speaker admires.

Immediately the speaker lets us know that the game is more than it appears. The framing of the baseball game as a symbol of the speaker’s self-acceptance is a recurring theme in the poem. The final line of this stanza refers to an altar, evoking the idea of religious practice. Religious idols are objects of worship, and this word choice exemplifies the reverence that the speaker feels for Moreno.

Stanza Two

I came here because I was Mexican, a stick
Of brown light in love with those
And mother was the terror of mouths
Twisting hurt by butter knives.

The speaker continues voicing his admiration at the beginning of the second stanza, explaining that Moreno embodies the qualities that the speaker wants to achieve. As a Mexican American child, the speaker looks up to Moreno because he can see aspects of himself in the baseball player. For the speaker, Moreno represents the idealized version of himself. The speaker describes himself as “in love with those/Who could do it”. Though presented in the context of the baseball game, we know from the first stanza that it’s beyond that. Hector Moreno, a player of Mexican descent, has succeeded in the speaker’s view.

The speaker wants to emulate that success but does not have the self-confidence to do so. He continues by acknowledging these insecurities. The speaker describes his physical characteristics, framing them as burdensome in some way to his success. He references his titular black hair, a quality that alienates him and makes him feel different from many of those around him. The ending of the second stanza shifts away from the baseball game by discussing the speaker’s parents and his home life.

The speaker’s description of his parents is contrasted by his view of Hector Moreno. While Moreno is a positive role model for the speaker, his parents are not. Soto’s father passed away in 1957 when Soto was five years old. The speaker’s father is dead, absent from his life, and his mother is implied to be verbally abusive.

While brief, this section serves to remind the reader of life’s harsh truths, despite the baseball game’s optimism and bravado. This reinforces the central theme of acceptance of identity. The speaker idolizes Moreno because, unlike his parents, Moreno is a Mexican adult to that he can look up to. From the description of his physical characteristics, it’s clear that the speaker does not have self-confidence, likely fostered by the absence of his father and the toxicity of his mother. Where these figures fail, Hector Moreno remains an inspiration to the speaker, allowing him to find value in who he is.

Stanza Three

In the bleachers I was brilliant with my body.
Waving players in and stomping my feet
Beautifully, because we were coming home
To the arms of brown people.

The third stanza begins by returning to the baseball game, mirroring the opening line of the first stanza, “At eight I was brilliant with my body.” with “In the bleachers I was brilliant with my body.” Now, the brief respite to speak on the realities of life has ended, and we’ve returned to the present. The speaker continues, describing the energy and emotion that he feels in the bleachers.

The speaker is invested in the game, cheering on the players and sweating in the July heat. “White shirts” is likely referencing the color of the uniforms worn by the players. “And bit my arm through the late innings” references an action that is often done when someone is excited or anxious. Soto reminds the reader that while the speaker’s home life may have been difficult, being able to experience the baseball game allows him to enjoy the moment. The intensity of his excitement is apparent.

The final part of the third stanza describes Moreno’s skill as a baseball player and the speaker’s desire to emulate him. As Moreno rounds the bases, the speaker imagines that he is the baseball star everyone is cheering on.

In his imagination, the speaker notes his face is flared, full of the pride and confidence that he hopes to achieve. He again describes his black hair, but this time he refers to it as “beautiful” instead of the relatively negative view of his physical characteristics shown previously. In those moments rounding the bases, he too is a winner, loved and admired by his community. The speaker’s insecurities and the alienation he feels can be remedied by acceptance and affirmation from those around him.

The wonder and naivety of childhood, while the thought of as protection from the difficulties of life, do not make children immune from difficult concepts like self-confidence or feelings of isolation. In Soto’s mind, adults in a community should serve to foster affirming and welcoming environments, so children can feel comfortable with who they are and their place in the community.


What is the significance of the speaker’s black hair?

The speaker’s black hair is a representation of his identity as a Mexican American child. In the poem, we see the speaker’s hair initially described as a factor in his feelings of alienation. Through his admiration for Hector Moreno, the speaker can accept that his black hair is one of the characteristics that makes him who he is. In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker describes his hair as “beautiful,” recognizing it as something that connects him to his community.

What is the tone of ‘Black Hair’?

‘Black Hair’ is written with a nostalgic tone that invokes the childlike sense of wonder the speaker experiences at the baseball game. Briefly, in the second stanza, the tone shifts to a harsh look at the speaker’s home life. The third and final stanza returns to the excitement of the baseball game before ending on a hopeful note as the speaker imagines himself receiving the acceptance he desires.

What is the purpose of ‘Black Hair?’

Like many of Soto’s works, ‘Black Hair’ serves as a reflection on the daily experience of a Mexican American. The poem, in particular, focuses on the alienation that children can experience in a community where they don’t feel accepted.

What type of poet is Gary Soto?

Gary Soto is considered a contemporary American poet. His works focus on realism, based on his experiences and the world around him. His works are introspective, allowing Soto to express his emotions through his realistic storytelling.

Similar Poetry

If you enjoyed ‘Black Hair’ by Gary Soto, you might enjoy other introspective poems.

  • Poetry by Pablo Neruda – is an introspective free verse poem about the author’s discovery of his love of poetry.
  • Icarusby Edward Field – is a somber poem about Icarus in the modern world, alienated and upset that his life has become one of conformity.
  • They Feed They Lion by Philip Levine – is a bleak free verse poem about the alienation and oppression of Black Americans who moved during the Great Migration.

Poetry+ Review Corner

Black Hair

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Gary Soto (poems)

Gary Soto

'Black Hair' is one of Gary Soto's most popular works, opening the anthology of the same name. It serves as a great example of Soto's style, using introspective language to analyze the impact daily experiences can have on an individual.
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20th Century

This poem is well representative of 20th-century contemporary poetry. It does not overly rely on explicitly stating ideas, instead inviting the reader to extract meaning from the work. The introspective nature of the poem is typical of the exploratory themes of 20th-century poetry.
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This poem is a great example of contemporary American poetry. Like a majority of Soto's work, this poem is a reflection on the daily experiences of Mexican Americans. Soto often drew inspiration from his own experiences growing up in California.
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Coming of Age

This poem does a good job of expressing the nostalgia that often comes when reflecting on one's childhood. Through the speaker, Soto is able to present the feelings of alienation experienced by a child that does not have a strong connection to their community. However, through the speaker's idol, Hector Moreno, the speaker begins to understand that their physical characteristics give them identity.
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This poem shows the formation of identity through the medium of the speaker's thoughts on the baseball game he's watching. Initially, the speaker feels isolated and resentful of their physical qualities and the lack of affirmation in his home life. However, by recognizing the similarities between himself and Hector Moreno, a baseball player, the speaker begins to understand that he can be proud of who he is.
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The speaker in this poem feels abandoned and alienated by their community. Though this emotion is prominent in the first two stanzas of the poem, the final stanza shifts to a more positive outlook on the future and what the speaker hopes to achieve.
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'Black Hair' initially presents the idea of hopelessness to the reader, as the speaker is unsure of their place in the larger world. However, the influence of a positive role model in the speaker's life allows them to imagine the affirmation of those around him. 'Black Hair' ends with a hopeful outlook on what the speaker hopes to achieve.
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One of the themes of this poem is staying true to oneself, despite the often harsh realities of life. It shows the reader that there is always a reason to hope and that what we seek can often be easier to grasp than we realize.
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While the location for this poem is a baseball game and features a baseball player, the poem is not about baseball itself. Instead, 'Black Hair' uses the admiration the speaker has for baseball player Hector Moreno to comment on self-perception.
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Being Yourself

The central theme of 'Black Hair' is accepting who you are. In the poem, we see that the speaker, a child, initially views himself in a negative way and feels isolated from those around him. However, being able to watch the success of their hero allows the speaker to view himself as capable of the same success.
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One of the central themes in this poem is the necessity for children to feel supported by their community. Without this support, children can often feel isolated from those around them.
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One of the messages in this poem is to be true to oneself. Initially, the speaker views his physical characteristics are what isolates him from the admiration and success he seeks to achieve. Being able to see similarities between himself and his hero allow the speaker to appreciate these physical characteristics instead.
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Free Verse

This poem is made up of three stanzas. Stanza one is composed of nine lines, while stanzas two and three are composed of ten lines. There is no consistent rhyming pattern between lines or stanzas, which reflects the speaker's train of thought.
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Matthew McDaniel Poetry Expert
Matthew is an accomplished poetry expert with a strong educational background, having minored in Slavic and Eastern European literature for his MS degree. He has demonstrated expertise in East Asian literature, specializing in Japanese and South Korean works.

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