Hidden Chapters in U.S. History: The Violence against Mexican Americans
Beginning with the feature that follows this introduction, Somos en escrito Magazine will unfold a series of works by Mexican American writers and other voices that bear witness to the history of violence perpetrated against Mexican Americans over the past 170 years. We plan to feature writings in varied formats: essays, memoirs, poems and book excerpts.
In doing so, we declare common cause in the national outrage toward the abuse of police authority and inhumane actions under the color of law and share in the determination among Americans of all backgrounds to bring about change.
Mexican Americans have common cause with other peoples of color in the U.S.A. on many levels. Despite our living in a society which is rapidly diversifying, the relentless assault for generations in order for white supremacy to prevail persists: people of color continue to be the brunt of mindless, premeditated oppression and violence.
In 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the U.S. war against Mexico, the Mexican American was born. Under the Treaty, former Mexican citizens who chose to remain in the U.S. beyond a year automatically became U.S. citizens. Gradually, Mexican Americans, also known today as Chicanos, have evolved into a prominent economic and political force, especially in the Southwest.
However, school textbooks, scholarly histories, and the entertainment media have casually glossed over certain chapters of Mexican Americans’ history, if not ignored or distorted it altogether. Much remains to be written to tell the whole truth about their experience, but this Special Edition of Somos en escrito Magazine will share new writings and existing escritos to reveal the story.
Besides the obras of established authors, we also invite memoirs from Mexican Americans who wish to add to the testigos, to bear witness in their own words, to the violence and oppression against Mexican Americans. We hope to publish recollections of family stories, letters, or writings, which may date back decades, even generations, which could help open new chapters in America’s history.
With the advent of phone and body cameras, more and more incidents have been caught of police officers in the act of fatal assaults on Black people. Once in a while as an aside, politicians or cable news pundits mention Latino or Brown peoples as victims as well of police brutality. Rarely does anyone add any depth to the comment. Our guess is that a reference is just an after-thought, just to make sure no color or minority is left out.
The fact is that in a society where social, economic and political presence depends heavily on access to mass media and internet driven “apps,” Chicanos have far less access to such exposure and attention. Thus, they are unable to express a narrative which is their own and which reflects the contributions that Mexican Americans have made to the U.S.A. This Special Edition is intended to help give voice to that narrative.
The features will cover more than 170 years: first the latter half of the 1800s—starting in the mid-1800s in the gold fields of California where the “forty niners” laid claim to mines by killing or driving Mexicans off their claims; then in the early 1900s the concerted destruction of Mexican Americans’ lives along the U.S.-Mexico border through brutal lynchings and shootings of Mexican Americans innocent of any crime by the Texas Rangers; and White U.S. servicemen’s attacks against barrio youth during the WWII years. Shift to today’s digital videos of Chicanos struck down by police gunfire, to the subtlety of systemic racism carried out in segregated educational systems, denial of access to adequate health care, proper nutrition and decent housing, and finally to the even more insidious attacks against culture, language, and history as a means of destroying self-esteem, group cohesion, and social relevance.
If you are a Chicana or Chicano writer interested in adding to the whole truth, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Armando Rendón Executive Editor
Reflections of violence in a pool of blood
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
With sirens blaring, amid red and blue lights as far as the eye can see, I am face down handcuffed with a fractured skull, blood gushing from my forehead on a cold street in East LA. My body is paralyzed, but my head is throbbing. I cannot see what is going on and I cannot raise my head. I hear shouting, but it is faint as I have also lost my hearing.
I can actually get a glimpse of what is going on by looking into the reflection of the pool of blood that has formed in front of me, but the only thing I can see are Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy boots frantically running in every direction as they are chasing many hundreds of youngsters enjoying the cruising and lowriding on the legendary Whittier Boulevard on this Friday night.
With each heartbeat, the pool of blood expands. Just moments ago, I had been photographing the merciless beating by a dozen deputies of a young man in a sarape, who was simply calling out to his God in the middle of this same intersection. And now I find myself here, facedown bleeding, not completely sure how I got in this position.
I now realize the pool of blood functions as a TV monitor. All of a sudden, I see myriad images flashing before me in the reflection. I see a fusillade of arrows greeting three ships that have come from across the ocean, committing genocide, stealing land and putting human beings in chains. The images fast forward and I am seeing the lynching of Indigenous, Black, Brown and Chinese peoples. I am now seeing white mobs, led by sailors, attacking mostly Mexicans but also Blacks in Zoot Suits in LA during World War II. I see Bloody Christmas with LAPD officers continually and viciously attacking a half dozen Mexicans in jail (1953).
I am also seeing deputies viciously attacking students in 1968 at Garfield High School and LAPD officers attacking students at Roosevelt during their historic walkouts for better schools. I now see Sheriff’s deputies and LAPD officers rioting, violently attacking thousands of peaceful anti-war protestors with riot sticks on the Boulevard, a few blocks down at Laguna Park in 1970. Next, I see the subsequent 1970 execution of journalist Ruben Salazar at the Silver Dollar Café by an LA Sheriff’s deputy on that same day, a few blocks down from where I am and a few blocks from where I grew up.
In the same pool, I see 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez executed by a Dallas policeman playing Russian Roulette on his head in 1974. I now see a vicious beating of Rodney King in 1991, the trials and the massive resistance and I hear the chants of: “No Justice; No Peace!” In 1996, a truck full of migrants is being chased by police on a freeway. When the vehicle stops, people scatter but police deliver a vicious beating to several of them, including Alicia Soltero. A helicopter captures this live on television in Southern California.
I close and then reopen my eyes. No, I am not dreaming. I am living a nightmare as I am now witnessing Michael Brown being gunned down in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. I am seeing mass Black-led protests across the country, heroically fighting for dignity and justice and I vaguely can hear: “Hands up, don’t shoot!” I now see an officer in 2017, gun down a great-grandfather with a crucifix in hand, Francisco Serna, from Bakersfield Calif. I see 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland being gunned down by police officers (2014) and also 13-year old Andy Lopez of Santa Rosa, California, also gunned down by officers in 2013. Both had toy guns in their hands. I see Eric Garner in New York and Luis Rodriguz in Moore, OK, utter their last words, months apart (2014): “I can’t breathe.”
I also hear Michael Barrera in Woodland, California, in 2017, and a cacophony of other voices also shouting: “I can’t breathe.” I see Allen Locke in 2014 gunned down a day after attending a Native Lives Matter rally in South Dakota and I also see Jeanetta Riley, a Native woman with mental issues in Idaho, also being gunned down in the parking lot of a hospital (2015). I see Sandra Bland’s life extinguished, while fighting for her dignity.
And I hear: “Say her name!” And that’s when I see many more hundreds of faces and hundreds of names of people racially profiled and terminated. I see Eric Salgado, Monica Diamond, Jesse Romero, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks. Stop!
And now, I am seeing something utterly revolting; an officer is inhumanely pressing his knee on a handcuffed and subdued Black man’s neck, George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as he utters: “I can’t breathe.” While doing so, he calls out for his mama, and then, as has been observed, the world sees his spirit exit his body. Again, there are Black-led mass protests everywhere and this time, the majority of the country now acknowledges the meaning of Black Lives Matter.
I need this nightmare to stop! Suddenly, I come back to consciousness, again, finding myself handcuffed on that cold street. The boots and the hell I am witnessing before me is part of my conscious state, though barely the beginning of my living nightmare; for the rest of my life I will see the world of violence through that same pool of blood.
And that world of violence has included becoming aware of thousands upon thousands of cases of police brutality, just since 2014, including many hundreds that have been videotaped.
Even though I was charged with trying to kill the four deputies that almost killed me, I eventually won both the criminal trial and my lawsuit, seven years later. Some things I never forget. Of the many blows to my body, the last one was to my forehead, in-between my eyes, leaving me with a scar in the shape of a “T” that I bear to this day. And what one of the deputies told me when they first put me into their squad car was: “You act up and I will finish the job.”
I ended up in the jail wing of LA’s General Hospital, where I learned that I had been charged with eight counts, primarily of assaulting and attempting to kill four Sheriff’s deputies. Amid several additional death threats and many subsequent arrests and countless incidents of harassment, I won two legal cases as a result of the assault against me. The first case was won after some 30 court appearances when the charges were finally dropped. Seven years later, I won again, a lawsuit against the LA County Sheriff’s Department, against the four deputies that almost took my life.
Despite these victories, I do not believe in the U.S. judicial system. And it isn’t simply because the deputies themselves never stood criminal trial for attempting to kill me, but because for all these years, I have come to know of many thousands upon thousands of other cases of police abuse, and I’ve seen every one of them through that pool of blood. And in all those cases, law enforcement officers, in effect, continue to live behind a legal wall of impunity, protected not simply by their own (higher ups), but also by the nation’s judicial system – which rarely prosecutes officers – and by the politicians that uphold this system of impunity. Contrarily, who does get prosecuted when this violence occurs are usually the victims of police abuse.
The mainstream media, television and Hollywood have also been historically complicit in this impunity. These institutions have historically created stereotypes that have demonized, dehumanized and criminalized people of color. Through the years, they have told us who the good and bad guys are, who deserves to live and who deserves to die. In a sense, they did not create the stereotypes, but perhaps took those ideas from those that believed they were sent by God to this continent, who brought their religion to this continent, with strange notions of who is human and who is less than human and who is deserving of full human rights and who is not?
Actually, all of society’s institutions are complicit. However, in the modern era, the mainstream media has always had a special role in all of this. For instance, I have pored over the numbers (Killedbypolice.net), and what I come up with are that between 2014-2020 – in total, some 6,500 people have been killed by law enforcement. 2014 is the year Michael Brown was killed. During these same years, between 1200-1400 brown peoples, mostly Mexicans/Chicanos, often labeled or mislabeled as “Hispanics/Latinos,” have been killed. These are the ones you never see on national TV or hear about during this national conversation.
The killings take place nationwide, but most have been concentrated in states such as California and Texas, the two states with the greatest number of killings every year, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. Because of the inconsistent way they are counted and classified nationwide, my own research tells me there has always been a great undercount, ranging from 20-33%, in large part because they end up in all of the racial categories, including “unknown” and many with names such as Sanchez or Garcia remain “unidentified (Washington Post Fatal Force Report). In effect, akin to the dirty wars in Central and South America from the 1970s-1980s, these casualties are “disappeared.” Regardless, with such an alarming number of killings, they remain a national secret.
Personally, I do not see the resulting obliteration of facts and silencing of voices as accidental. Either that or the mainstream media and government are being lazy by resorting back to a 1950s black and white view of the world, one that does not correspond to 2020. Generally absent from these national discussions are Indigenous peoples, who coincidentally are the peoples proportionately most impacted by police abuse in this country. They should always be at the table for these conversations. So, too, missing are Brown peoples, who are also greatly impacted by this violence. These three communities/peoples have been subjected to these violences on this continent, literally since 1492.
Through that pool of blood, I know about that historic violence against the three communities mentioned here – Indigenous, Black and Brown – that come from communities in which their/our bodies and communities are racially profiled. I’ve seen it; I’ve lived it. More importantly, these same communities continue to be targeted by this violence today.
While writing this, through that same pool of blood, I saw that 18-year-old, Andres Guardado, of El Salvadoran origin, was killed by Compton, Calif. by Sheriff’s deputies (6/18/2020). Purportedly he was on his knees when he was shot. The Sheriff’s department says he was armed and running away when he was killed. And the people protest. And closer to my home, in Tucson, a video surfaced after two months, capturing the death in April of Carlos Ingram Lopez, at the hands of Tucson Police. Handling a medical emergency as a criminal matter caused Lopez’s death, which, along with the investigation, was intentionally withheld from the Mayor/City council and the public until June. As he was dying, he called out to his grandmother for help: “Nana. Ayudame.”
In all of this, what is most important is not national media coverage per se, but that the pandemic of killings of Indigenous, Black and Brown peoples has to stop. That all the killings have to stop. If “saying our names” contributes to the end of this living nightmare, then the national media should acknowledge this reality.
Seasoned civil and human rights organizers and experienced researchers know this reality: it is the mainstream media that continues to paint the world in black and white. Also, it appears that the media has settled on a formula in which race issues correspond to Black peoples; Immigration corresponds to Brown or “Hispanic/Latino” peoples – despite the fact that a large percentage of migrants are Black – and Indigenous peoples get casino stories, if they are ever covered at all. And during the Covid-19 crisis, Asians have once again re-emerged as the “Yellow Peril.”
One thing we know is that regardless of the issues, the leading indices re violence, health, employment, education, incarceration, housing, wealth, etc., Indigenous-Black and Brown peoples consistently are always on the bottom. Such is the case with issues of law enforcement violence and killings.
In these tumultuous times, society now seems finally ready to tackle its historic and systemic racism. In doing so, it must learn to probe deeper. Society has to begin to understand the significance of 1492 and its relationship to the violence we are living today. Failure to see that will represent both a distortion of this nation’s true roots, and it will also result in the obliteration and silencing of the communities mentioned here.
Looking through that pool of blood, it is easy for me to see this. The truth is, if that is what it takes, there’s plenty of blood in the history of this country/continent for those who take the time to read an actual history book.
By the way, I did and am still acting up.
Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez is an associate professor at the University of Arizona and is the author of several books, including Yolqui: A Warrior Summoned from the Spirit World: Testimonios on Violence (2019). The book is both a memoir and an examination of violence against Indigenous, Black and Brown Peoples.
Mapping Violence: The Numbers Reveal More of the Truth
We share this link below as a public service to introduce our readers to a detailed mapping project that tracks death at the hands of police and provides graphic depictions of the date collected as well as breakdowns of the data by various factors. https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/
The section below, titled Police Violence Report, further breaks down the data, providing details of the victims by race or ethnicity (“Hispanic”). https://policeviolencereport.org/
CALL FOR MORE TESTIMONIES We open the Somos en escrito pages to receive other writings on the history of violence experienced by Mexican Americans. We are interested in particular to hear testimony from individuals about incidents going back in their family history. If you have written declarations even better. Send your information to email@example.com so we can respond.
Tuesday, November 11, 2020 marks one of the saddest days of my life. On this day, we—the Mexican people on both sides of la frontera and our allies—lost a legend: the one and only, Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones (JGQ).
We lost one of the greatest intellectuals not only in the Americas, but also the world. The fact that JGQ was born a Mexican in el sur (Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico) and died a proud Mexican/Chicano in el norte (Los Angeles, California) in a time when the Mexican continues to be otherized, marginalized and pejoratized serves as a grim reminder of this great loss for la raza.
For over 50 years, JGQ dedicated his life to uplift the people of the sun through his superior scholarship, dedicated mentorship, political actions and eloquent words. While his contributions are many, for the sake of space, here go a few: wrote classic books and articles on Chicana/o history, labor, politics and culture; helped establish the theoretical foundations of Chicana and Chicano studies, along with the living legend, Rodolfo “Rudy” Acuña, whom JGQ fondly admired; taught and mentored thousands of students who became leaders in their own right; supported and participated in countless political actions for social, economic and racial justice; lead co-author of El Plan de Santa Bárbara: A Chicano Plan for Higher Education; co-founded UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC); co-founded CSRC’s Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies; NACCS (National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies) Scholar Recipient, 1990; and wrote eloquent prose—something that escapes most academics.
Did I mention that he also wrote beautiful poetry?
“My father’s land / is crossed / ribbon like / by stone fences / the wither in the sun / White stones that glisten in the sun, / Stones that ballast a sea of brown hills. / My father whip laid them, / My mother’s tribe fed them.”
—Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones, 5th and GRANDE VISTA (Poems, 1960-1973), Colección Mensaje, New York, 1973, p. 61.
One word: brilliant!
Like in the case of another brilliant Mexican in el norte, Gloria Anzaldúa, JGQ provided us with a powerful voice against a racist American system that has attempted (and failed!) to erase our history. JGQ took the ashes of our once burnt history by the European colonists (and their inheritors) and created scholarly books, peer-reviewed articles, essays and eloquent poems in elite spaces limited to the best and the brightest Western Civilization has to offer. He has done so—and continues to do so—through his publications, speeches and memories without succumbing to fear or forgetting where he came from.
Dr. Álvaro Huerta and Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones (circa 2015).
As I reflect on JGQ, there are no words that I can conjure to heal the immense pain that I’m feeling. I cried when I first heard the terrible news on Tuesday morning and have been struggling to maintain my East Los Angeles composure ever since. I think I lost my street cred! I’m sad because I won’t be getting random calls from JGQ at odd hours when he has something on his mind. I’m sad because I won’t be receiving mail packets of his latest manuscripts for me to review or help get published.
“No worries, Juan, I’ll make sure that the last two manuscripts you sent me will see the light of day!”
Given all that he has done for me, I’ve always heeded his friendly and warm requests. That’s what familia is all about.
I first met JGQ in 1985, when I started UCLA as a freshman, majoring in mathematics, from East Los Angeles—a place where JGQ also hails from. I must say that I was originally shocked to see a Chicano professor at an elite university. Since most of my K-12 teachers were White, I never knew that Chicana/o professors even existed. I was equally shocked when JGQ assigned us books written by brown scholars. Many moons later, I’m following the example of the great Chicana and Chicano authors that I read in JGQ’s classes, especially his fine works.
Speaking of historians, I’ve always wondered why history professors assign at least 5-6 books—300+ pages per book without pictures!—to read in a quarter or semester? I only read one book—John Steinbeck’s The Pearl—throughout my dysfunctional K-12 education! While JGQ practiced this norm, he made it clear to us that the study of history represents a serious subject. When he walked around North Campus at UCLA, he was always carrying several books on one hand and numerous student papers to grade on his other hand.
Constantly thinking, reading and writing, he was oblivious and impervious of his surroundings. One day, for instance, while taking a small seminar on historiography with JGQ, I, along with my classmates, waited for him to teach and lead us in discussion/dialogue for about 30 minutes after class started. We then formed a posse to rescue him from his office, where we found him in a deep state of writing.
As I’ve said before, while JGQ was stoic, like my late Mexican father, once you scratched beneath the surface, he was a sweet and caring teddy bear. That said, during my initial encounters with JGQ, I was intimidated. Over 30 years later, I can still recall knocking on his office door on the 6th floor of Bunche Hall, where he would gruffly say, “Yes!” My response? “Hello, Mr. Quiñones…I mean, Professor Quiñones, I want to talk to you about my paper. I’ve never written a 10-page paper and don’t know how to start. Heck, I’ve only written one 2-page paper, triple spaced, in my entire life!”
Once I got to know him, I learned to announce myself. “Hello, Quiñones, this is Álvaro. I need to ask you some questions about the readings.” Often, I would go with my fellow student activists or MEChistas, where we minored in “JGQ Studies,” just to hang out and talk about politics or sports. He wasn’t fond of small talk or chisme. Also, he rarely talked about himself or how he grew up, especially as one of the first Chicanas/os to pursue higher education when he first entered the university. He never took credit for all of his accomplishments. Instead, he would always credit the collective efforts of the committed educators, youth, activists and other agents of social change throughout the Chicana/o movement and beyond.
In terms of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán) at UCLA during the mid-1980s, whenever we organized a protest on campus or in the community, we could always count on JGQ for his unconditional support. For example, when we organized a hunger strike at UCLA—one of the first, if not the first at UCLA and at any UC campus—in defense of undocumented immigrants (November 11-19, 1987), we knew that JGQ had our back. When we didn’t show up to class, he didn’t scold or hector us. He encouraged us, teaching us a key lesson that I pass on to my students and colleagues: knowledge comes from practice!
Later, when several of us, as former UCLA students, became community activists and organized Latino gardeners against the City of Los Angeles’s draconian leaf blower ban during the mid-1990s. (City penalties for Latino gardeners caught using a leaf blower? Misdemeanor charge, $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail). To challenge this racist law, we sought help from JGQ to lobby Council Members—like Mark Ridley Thomas, Jackie Goldberg and others—who voted for the ban on December 3, 1996.
On a more personal level, when I got married to Antonia Montes—fellow MEChista, educator, activist—in 1992, I invited JGQ. To my surprise, he showed up. Since then, we became homeboys (and later colleagues), where he counseled me throughout my graduate studies at UCLA (M.A.) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D.). He supported me without reservations when I was on the academic job market. Whenever I experienced racial micro-aggressions or academic hazing or pinche bullying by senior faculty, I never flinched since I knew that I could count on my academic homeboy, JGQ, like in the case of the late Dr. Leo Estrada.
In short, JGQ was/is my professor, mentor, homeboy, fellow activist and colleague. He taught me/us that we, as Chicanas and Chicanos, also have history—a proud history that must be taught in K-12, higher education and our communities.
“The point of learning about Indigenous past is not to relive past practices, or to propose one essentialization over another, or to be immobilized by history. The first stone to demolish the old presidio is our own consciousness.”
—Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Indigenous Quotient/Stalking Words: American Indian History as Future, Aztlan Libre Press, San Antonio, Texas, 2012, p. 39.
Left to Right: Adrián Álvarez, Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Antonia Montes, Álvaro Huerta, Ruben Lizardo and Leonor Lizardo; wedding of Antonia and Álvaro (March 28, 1992)
Despite our generational divide, we shared many similarities: Mexican roots; native sons of East Los Angeles; doctorates from the University of California; veteran activists; practitioners of respect and confianza (something absent in the academy); lovers of music (e.g., oldies), art (e.g., Mexican/Chicana/o art), food (anything Mexican), drink (e.g., mezcal), culture (our own) and sports (e.g., boxing); readers of poetry; educators and mentors; and, our defense of los de abajo, where he paved the road for me and countless others to emulate…
“Human issues can be resolved with humanistic solutions. Immigrants are not strangers; they are family.” --Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones (Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate Towards a Humanistic Paradigm 2013, foreword, p. 14)
Moving forward, while I’ll humbly do my part to maintain and expand his shining legacy through my lectures, writings and musings, I only wish that I was able to tell him in person four magic words before his passing: “I love you, Juan!”
Rebranding Chicanismo into collective thought and a cultural paradigm
By Armando Arias If it is the task of the scholar to truly make an original contribution to the existing scientific knowledge in one’s respective field, Ernesto Mireles has done so in a most eloquent way in his book, Insurgent Aztlán, an elusive quality for most academic writers, but which we can clearly recognize through his own insurgent writing and analyses of selected anti-colonial works. He sheds new light on the other side of American society today, the side we call “Aztlán.”
You may even call what he does a “rebranding” of the Chicano discourse into a new vernacular that causes one literally to think differently. As a metaphor for heaven on earth, Insurgent Aztlán as suggested by Mireles is almost too directive a heavenly place to be for change agents. In short, his book recasts the value of real knowledge through a confident insurgence of its very own.
His forging of ideas only makes for newer ideas thought of before but never quite so articulated. This is what is so essential about this work; perhaps it should have been titled “Essential Writing for an Insurgent Aztlán.”
Mireles’s writings should not be taken lightly as it causes a cognitive shift not only in the manner in which we translate words into new emotions and feelings, but also how it is that we come to new cultural interpretations of what we already know. His work has the capability of causing a revolution, a scientific literary revolution, because his ideas, whether you agree with him or not, are inarguably accurate. During an era in which the truth is attacked as “fake news,” there is nothing fake about his presentation. Mireles’ work, coupled with current efforts to draft a Blueprint for social action for the next 50 years, has already begun to generate progressive thoughts: We want to build a think tank, virtual in nature (for now) to enable a population to organize its cultural and intellectual needs to survive into the next half century—the first cycle of a long dynasty. It is important for this population to survive and flourish, because it holds the future of western civilization, however we define it, in its DNA, that is, as a mestizo people, in it is embedded the necessary genetic elements necessary for survival of the human race and it is also a cultural resource unlike any other (more vibrant than already decaying cultural and genetic populations).
From a social psychological perspective, what Mireles’s work does is cause a fundamentally different consciousness for everyone, not just those with a proclivity for social change. He is a restless thinker that will make you restless, too. Xicano resistance writing is as powerful an idea as the might of the pen; be aware, however, that you run the risk of becoming fixated and lose your objectivity the way newly created knowledge causes us to do. He clearly knows that within a historical context, the different spelling of politically charged words like “Chicano Power” alter reality, and are “…indicative of distinct past and present politico-cultural periods for Meso-Americans in the United States.”
Simply stated, his words will raise the self-esteem and consciousness of those who engage them and may very well also contribute to forming and affirming a national identity that is sorely needed at this time and cause a collective search for Latinos everywhere. We should consciously intend to change the consciousness of Mexicamerica from being virtually frozen in time intellectually to a nation focused on the future as the motivation for change today. One way to interpret the 52 year Azteca cycle of life is that it was intended to compress time for those in that time zone, you might say, and force introspection, creativity, united effort and action. In much the same way, looking forward 50 years impels collective thought; as it may in fact provoke collective action and necessarily, collective searches for identity, as the very nature of the collaboration is itself a means continually to alter the paradigm, to take action with intent, concientizados.
As an insurgent himself, Mireles is asking “How do we preserve a way of life and an outlook on life with those odds facing us?” He refers, of course, to our own culture and history. Another 50 year anniversary celebration was the one commemorating the Chicano Moratorium, which first took place August 29, 1970. Ruben Salazar died that day. Events like these should be held with the future in mind, redirecting our energy and our purpose to prepare for the next 50 years. It’s important to remember people and events after some years have passed—Ruben would have been 90 years old were he still alive, and I truly believe he would be championing the Blueprint intent and writing in its behalf as well.
In this book, Mireles reminds us of the importance to document how we managed to make it this far, but I truly believe that right now we are called to remember the future, that which lies ahead of us and that which only we can engage. Unless we do, whatever it was that the past 50 years accomplished or whatever events marked a turning point in Chicanan consciousness, the impulse—like surges of power which can cause a blackout or sudden spurts of action—must be understood as impelling us forward, not standing still.
Mireles clearly understands as does Paolo Freire that in order to create a pedagogy of the oppressed one must speak the same language as the oppressed, and, he adds, change it by making it stronger. He recognizes the weak form of oppression as weak language and the stronger much more effective form to transform oppression is by improving upon the sparkling interchange of new ideas. He is never lost in time, but he does well in reaching a new theoretical dimension—this is what is essential about his paradigm for looking virtually to the past and future simultaneously.
How do you write such a treatise unless you call it more than a stroke of genius? It is a companion book not only to the Chicano bible by Armando Rendón, Chicano Manifesto, it is more so the combination to unlocking the potency of Rendón’s Blueprint for the Next 50 Years, and beyond into future 50-year cycles. Even idle millennials will get excited about learning new truths in Mireles’s voice; he is one of them, but with a conscious connection to a soul born of social change.
Where did he come from? How did he come to know to design such a tool in this work so as to uplift the under-educated by drawing on their deprivations? It seems we are all under-educated, because we have to learn to think and speak within the new paradigm that Mireles has fashioned. This can lead to a core curriculum for training organizers and organizing trainers, that both provides a new language and new ideas as a product of collective effort, even of thought born from the pain of past Latino/Chicano generations. Through it people are trained as distributors of the new thought; they’re organizers really and will be spread around to create other centers of training of organizers.
That’s kind of the notion embedded in the think-tank being proposed in the Blueprint, a university for creating organizers that can bring people together to infuse them with a sensitivity, even passion, for fashioning the future of the Americas, at the very least. We are envisioning a core which we call organizing (pedagogically) as the stem along which concerns are assigned for mobilizing. Instead of “teachers” we are training (mobilizing) organizers who would use the training to "organize" more people as trainers, and so on. Get it? The paradigm is structured around the re-definition of organizing and mobilizing.
This work will spark new transformative cultural interpretations and will act as a manual for turning all that we thought we knew on its head – by design. We look forward to new incarnations of past Western written works in the form of Tomas Sawyer, Brave New Mundo, Alicia in Wonderland, or a series of Aztlán based books like: The Wizard of Aztlán, Democracy in Aztlán, Ideology and Utopia in Aztlán, Occupied Aztlán. Aztlán may live in people’s heads, but with Mireles’ work we can move it to the center ring and guarantee that the center will hold well into the future, for instance, contributing to new versions of the #MeToo movement.
Let this be a corrective pathway for us all to learn from and apply at all levels of American society today. In this Aztlán we will respect all ideas; we will fall into alignment, that is, Guillermo Bonfil-Batalla’s concept of permanent confrontation, now that is “heaven on earth.” Mireles says “Aztlán has always been an articulation of cultural reinforcement that – by establishing indigenous origins – allows Xicano/as to press colonial oppressors for civil rights and equal treatment under the prevailing laws.”
We must make this book available to all to a point where no one can graduate from high school without full knowledge of this work and its author. It is clear from Mireles’ writing that anti-colonial insurgencies are also capable of organizing, have charismatic characters and can lead a vast and major charge in a symbolic crusade. Lastly, we have to think beyond the present; we have to break the box down, not just think outside it. The sense that many others around the country also feel the impulse to look to the future is shared by the small cohort of Chicanans who have begun meeting regularly to build on the Blueprint concept and evolve a core of ideas and strategies on the organization and mobilization of our gente forward. Yes, let’s celebrate looking ahead 50 years. This is part of our mission, to spread the concept and make Mexican Americans as a people and a nation commit to creating new memories and achievements moving forward.
Armando Arias, Ph.D., is a professor and founding faculty member in the division of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Global Studies at CSU Monterey Bay. He often writes for Somos en escrito Magazine in his column, Chicano Confidential.
President Jimmy Carter congratulates Armando Rodriguez, whom he appointed to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1978. Armando's wife of 71 years, Beatriz, was at his side.
My tocayo, Armando Rodriguez, probably got to know and serve under more U.S. presidents in his lifetime than any other Chicano among us. I met him in 1967 when he and his wife, Beatriz, had newly arrived in Washington, D.C., as my family had. According to his book, From the Barrio to Washington, which I featured in this magazine back in 2008, I learned that both of us and our families had been living in Sacramento, California, at the same time and were recruited in the same year, but had not met as yet.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, then president, had ordered federal agencies to beat the sage bushes throughout the Southwest to recruit Chicanos and Chicanas to join the ranks of federal workers. I got a job at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as a press officer. Tocayo got a job running the HEW Office of Spanish Speaking American Affairs. Happily, our paths crossed many times during his several stints in the capital. He will always be a dear friend.
His obituary, which appeared in the Associate Press News, follows:
Armando M. Rodriguez, a Mexican immigrant and World War II veteran who served in the administrations of four U.S. presidents while pressing for civil rights and education reforms, has died.
Christy Rodriguez, his daughter, said Wednesday her father died Sunday at their San Diego home from complications of a stroke. He was 97. He had been ailing from a variety of illnesses in recent years, she said. Born in Gomez Palacio, Mexico, Rodriguez came to San Diego with his family as a 6-year-old in 1927. But he was forced to return to Mexico after his father was deported during the mass deportations of the 1930s during the Great Depression. A young Rodriguez lived in Mexico for a year before the family could return.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, some of his Mexican immigrant friends fled to Mexico to avoid military service. Rodriguez, however, joined the U.S. Army. “It was not a difficult choice,” Rodriguez told the Voces Oral History Project at the University of Texas in August 2000.
Following the war, Rodriguez graduated from San Diego State University and worked as a teacher and joined the Mexican American civil rights movement after witnessing his fellow Latino veterans being denied house and facing discrimination.
He led Southern California’s Viva Kennedy campaign, the effort to increase Latino voter support for John F. Kennedy’s presidential run in 1960. Rodriguez founded a chapter of the veterans’ American GI Forum civil rights group in San Diego as a junior high school teacher.
President Lyndon Johnson appointed him chief of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Office of Spanish Speaking American Affairs. President Richard Nixon later named him assistant commissioner of education in the Office of Regional Office Coordination.
Rodriguez returned to California to become the first Latino president of East L.A. College. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Rodriguez continued to serve on the commission under President Ronald Reagan until stepping down in 1983.
Later in life, Rodriguez continued to advocate for educational opportunities for Latinos. But Rodriguez told the Voces Oral History Project that he had always wished he had been able to do more.
“The legacy you leave is what you were worth while you were here,” Rodriguez said.
Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team.
Final page of Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, showing date and signature (twice) of Nicholas Trist, U.S. negotiator
Introduction to the Draft Blueprint for the Next 50 Years
Distributed on this 170th Anniversary of the Signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
By Armando Rendón The attached document derives from the panel on Chicanismo in the Americas held November 17, 2018, during the conference commemorating the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing held 50 years ago in San Antonio, Texas. Drafted by Armando Rendón as a working document, it reflects as faithfully as possible the comments and general sense of speakers and participants on the panel* that a blueprint is needed for us to address unresolved issues of the past 50 years, confront new concerns of today, and employ new strategies to deal with evolving changes that are sure to arise over the next 50 years. Fifty years ago, at the height of the Chicano Movement, would have been the ideal period to look ahead to the next 50 years and to establish an oversight committee, so to speak, to lay a framework for addressing issues then current and what might lie ahead. Diverse interests, limited financial and communications resources, and geographic distances among the various parts of the movement made it virtually impossible to organize and develop a long-term plan in the 1970s. However, the communications media we now have at hand facilitate meetings via audio or video conference calling, and the exchange of documents and ideas in moments. We also now have the experience and training of a variety of activists, scholars and experts in pertinent fields to draw upon for practical advice, research skills, writing and communicating capabilities that were unknown 50 years ago. The blueprint is intended to allow for input and enhancement from all parties who commit to serving as part of a drafting committee, working title: The Next 50 Years Committee. How to organize the committee, how it and the various working groups would relate to each other among many other details would be part of the follow up discussion. The draft should eventually evolve into a working document that smaller, focused groups of activists and experts can discuss and convert into action, setting timetables and deadlines as appropriate, maybe in increments of one, five or ten years, culminating at the end of the next half century. In other words, the drafting committee’s task is to improve on the model blueprint and then distribute and promote its use as a plan of action. This latest draft can be shared as widely as anyone wishes. The concept requires that at least one person commit to taking a lead role on a particular issue and recruit/join others of like interest to evolve a more detailed action plan (part of the overall blueprint). Minimally, each group should also commit to aligning with updating the drafting Committee on its progress. The blueprint contains specific issues, but is not exclusive of other concerns which may not be listed or have yet to arise. Suggestions for additional issues should be submitted to the drafting committee as the project in order to incorporate them into a “master” document. Of course, meetings can take place in person or via electronic means. Rendón commits to serving on the drafting committee if it becomes viable and continuing as the editor of the blueprint as long as he’s needed. The draft follows, for your consideration:
BLUEPRINT FOR THE NEXT 50 YEARS (Working Title) DRAFT First Draft November 26, 2018 Revised December 27, 2018 Revised January 31, 2019
A half century has passed since the height of action and attention raised nationally by the Chicano Movement, a social justice activism driven by the realization among Mexican Americans of the racist and discriminatory treatment they had suffered at least since the birth of their ethnicity, their status as a “nationality,” with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February, 2, 1848. That document concluded the hostilities brought on by the U.S. invasion of Mexico two years earlier, but the cessation of conflicts quickly evolved into a concerted and relentless campaign to deny to the Mexicans who remained behind the new border any of the rights and privileges otherwise guaranteed by the Treaty. The Treaty is the most important document to the past and the future of Mexican Americans, because not only does it mark the origin of our ethnicity but it remains a living document due to the essential human rights it contains, rights which have been affirmed under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in San Francisco in 1945, and regionally for the Americas in the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man adopted by the Organization of American States in Bogotá in 1948. Important decisions have reaffirmed land grant ownership and common land uses, as well as religious rights asserted by American Indian tribes, using the Treaty as precedent. By these expressions of the rights that pertain to each person because of their nature as human beings, we Mexican Americans assert our right to be recognized as a people under the guidelines of international jurisprudence and the traditions of the world’s nations from time immemorial. With this understanding in mind, we first present our grievances as the Mexican Americans of the United States of America:
Whereas, the government of the United States has failed to ensure and provide the basic protections guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and
Whereas, the private institutions and the political bodies of the States of the Union have historically denied equal protections and equal access to achieving equality of educational, economic and political opportunity, and
Whereas, the existence of individuals and organizations have been allowed to proliferate whose sole purpose, under the banner of white supremacy and white nationalism, is to maintain control of the institutions of government and withhold from us the rights all Americans should be able to exercise, and
Whereas, as a people, we seek to preserve and share certain values which, although they might not make us unique among the community of nations, together they exemplify values which manifest our nature as a people: our respect for elders, our love and dedication to our children, our peculiar facility as a bilingual-speaking community, our cultural traditions in music, the arts, and food, our acceptance of the role as stewards of the earth, and our loyalty to our country shown by the willingness of our men and women to fight side by side with other Americans in defense of the country in conflicts dating back to the Civil War, and
Whereas, we must break free from the present-day dependency on entities of government and strive to overcome the efforts by persons and groups in American society who seek to oppress us as a people, we must avoid the tendencies of human institutions to take on characteristics of the oppressor and to lose sight of our frailties by continually re-examining our motivations and allegiance to the principles of democracy and individual freedom, social justice and fair play throughout our community, and
Whereas, because we recognize the need to commit our lives and resources to addressing and resolving concerns which relate to our identity and essence as an indigenous-hispanic nation of Mexican (mestizo) heritage,
Therefore, We commit ourselves to the following plan of action as a guide and blueprint for the next 50 years to address the inequities and lack of recognition which have suppressed our development as a people and as full-fledged citizens of the United States of America. The timeline for achieving certain goals will differ for each area of concern or interest, but ultimately we Mexican Americans will have perfected our identity, will have forged protections of our cultural values and traditions, and become full-fledged citizens of the Americas.
GENERAL AREAS OF CONCERN The concept driving the blueprint is that we look beyond broad issues such as education, health, human rights, employment, wealth distribution, political involvement, the environment and so on, and look at concerns which affect Mexican Americans (as well as other indigenous-hispanic groups) where we should apply our own worldview and traditions to address, improve, or resolve. With the next 50 years in mind, we should think broadly and long-term, even beyond immediate issues, as we began to do during the anniversary U.S. Civil Rights Commission conference in Novermber 2019. Please review the draft list of issues that follow for an idea of what the blueprint envisions. A recommended format is provided addressing certain issues which pertain to Mexican Americans, for example, advancing our literature and arts, forming alliances with other indigenous tribes in the U.S.A. and the rest of the southern continent, and creating a process for us to name ourselves as an aspect of preserving our identity. The blueprint is open to suggestions and even more specific areas for action.
Education: Creating or applying new pedagogies at the family level emphasizing our cultural values and traditions
Stewardship of the earth: Involvement in addressing climate change
Keeping Alive The Chicano Movement and Chicanismo
Self-Governance: Development of Community Organizations to address concerns specific to Chicanan barrios and our community as a whole
Full political participation: develop programs to increase political awareness and activism from childhood years, reviving “civics” classes
International relations: form a working group on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to study and arrive at applying it to current Chicanan concerns
Alliance with all American Indian tribes: charge a commission to research the indigeneity of Mexican Americans and to recommend ways we can approach other indigenous peoples to join forces in mutual cultural and social action
Building relations with other indigenous-mestizo peoples of the Americas
Forming collaborations with other indigenous-hispanic ethnic groups in the U.S.: create closer bonds through regional and national discussions toward greater interaction and mutual support on common goals
Address the growing social and health concerns due to an aging population: study and recommend culturally relevant approaches to improving the health and means of treating our Chicanan elders
THESE ISSUES ARE ADDRESSED BELOW IN SAMPLE FORMATS, WHICH CAN SERVE AS STARTING POINTS FOR IN-DEPTH DEVELOPMENT AND ADAPTATION OF THESE AND OTHER ISSUES.
PRESERVING OUR IDENTITY AS AN INDIGENOUS-HISPANIC (MESTIZO) PEOPLE Submitted by Armando Rendón Since the 1970s, we have been labeled as “Hispanic” or “Latino” by agencies of the federal government. The only name we have bestowed upon ourselves is Chicano. The word has origins, according to some sources, in the early 1900s as a shortened version of Mechicano—it may have been born in song or on the railroad lines or in the fields. The sense of a unique identity entailed in the name, Chicano, is what gave the Chicano Movement its essence as a radical departure from the past but imbued with the past. It is the reason that the philosophy behind Chicanismo continues to thrive because it is still evolving; it should be renewed continually through a process of small encounters each year leading up to national symposia every five years. The Chicano Movement is still very much alive and can only survive by adapting to evolutionary changes in human understanding. We should adopt a process of concientización, whereby groups made up of community activists, scholars in various disciplines, political leaders and professionals in business, health, philosophy, writers and artists, and so on examine the principles of Chicanismo and revitalize its relevance by reaching out to barrios and enclaves of our people throughout the country. The nature of these encounters should become fields of study in our schools that incorporate elders/teachers of the barrio reaching out to youth/students. We must bring an end to the use of Hispanic or Latino by forging our own name, building on how we perceive our own identity, and how our language and history can guide us in arriving at a name, which proves acceptable to all indigenous-hispanic people regardless of politics, gender or language, as long as it is derived organically and logically from our nature, history and worldview. Step 1: Call to Chicanans (my placeholder for a possible name) willing to commit time and resources to form a planning working group, conduct a series of small conferences around the country dedicated to arriving at the recommendation of a name, or names, within a set timeframe. Step 2: The working group would set a time line for convening a first gathering (including in person and using phone/video facilities) to launch an effort to ensure a diversity of members, set dates for further meetings, and initiate guidelines for a national inquiry. Step 3: The working group would set a deadline for deciding on a name, although it would most likely arrive at two or three optional names for people to consider. The main duty of the group would be to recommend one name and publicize it for broader consideration and, hopefully, acceptance. Step 4: Submit the name by which to identify us indigenous-hispanic Americans to the U.S. Census Bureau for inclusion in the 2030 Census.
(MORE DETAILS TO COME)
FORMING ALLIANCES WITH OTHER INDIAN TRIBES UNDER THE TREATY OF GUADALUPE HIDALGO (Some background: In the 1980s and 1990s, I participated in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo project that was launched by the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), a non-governmental organization (NGO) made up of American Indian tribes, provided legal counsel to an indigenous Xicano organization on human rights and international law issues, have belonged to a men’s Chicano-Indio spiritual group, and witnessed the recognition of Chicanans as American Indians by other Indian tribes, notably the Hopi, the Navajo and the Tohono O’odham. In 1985, as a legal counsel to the IITC, I presented an intervention (statement) at the UN Commission on Human Rights annual conference in Geneva asserting that Proposition 187 that had passed as a referendum on the 1984 California ballot was in violation of international laws and treaties, including the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. At the fifth annual international conference hosted by the International University in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in August 2018, I pointed out to an audience of scholars from various disciplines assembled around the theme: Latin America: Traditions and Globalization, that for Latin America, let alone Mexico, to evolve as a major player in the phenomenon called globalization, it should not ignore, but rather embrace con un gran abrazo, the 40 million indigenrous-hispanic Americans of Mexican heritage who have survived generations of cultural abuse, attempted genocide, and discrimination, stronger than ever.) The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo should be declared a living human rights document, providing human rights protections to persons of indigenous-hispanic (mestizo) background in the United States of America as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, globally by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in San Francisco in 1945 and regionally in the Americas by the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man adopted by the Organization of American States in Bogotá in 1948. The Treaty recognizes the people of indigenous-hispanic origin as an ethnic group authorized by treaty to have international standing with the U.S. Government and the community of nations, and thus serves as a formal link with other treaty based tribes. The Treaty can serve as the basis for seeking a wide variety of reparations to compensate the descendants of the Mexican population of the territories which were annexed by the U.S.A. as a result of this monumental land grab and the subsequent violation of the rights of the Mexican population who are still protected under the Treaty. We shall seek to establish formal alliances with the other Native American peoples in the U.S.A. and beyond into the rest of the Americas. We Mexican Americans/Chicanans are an indigenous-hispanic tribe, that is, of mestizo origin. We number upwards of 40 million persons, another probable 10 million persons of undocumented status, for a total population of 50 million. According to the U.S. Census, theAmerican Indian and Alaska Native population made up about 2.0 percent of the total population in 2016; by 2060, the percentage will rise to 2.4 percent. There were 567 federally recognized Indian tribes in 2016. Over the next few decades, the Chicanans can become one with the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Our goals are mostly the same, respect for and preservation of our culture and language, access to educational opportunities, the full benefits of decent employment and proper health care, and so on. The Chicanans, the Mexica, Mexican Americans, whatever we decide to call ourselves cannot only form these alliances, in unity with our Mexican familiares, but eventually become a contributing force in turning this country of our birth, and of choice for many of us, into a multi-cultural and multi-lingual nation meriting recognition among the community of nations.
(MORE DETAILS TO COME)
FORGING ALLIANCES WITH INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN THE AMERICAS Submitted by Armando Rendón An indisputable truth that arose from the artistic roots of the Chicano Movement and then became a principle of Chicanismo was our link as indigenous-hispanic people to our ancient native roots in all the the Americas, Aztecan, Mayan, Incan, and specifically the Mexica, the raiz word from which Chicano is derived. However, we failed to recognize and strengthen our blood ties to the indigenous peoples of the Southwest, such as the Comanche, the Apache, the Coahuiltecos, the Kickapoo, etc., who are our relatives, our ancestors, among the very people whose blood we share, in some cases their direct descendants. Some of us reclaimed our descent over the years, either acknowledging tribal lines which had been forgotten or denied, or learning through DNA analysis of our link to specific tribes. Having lost a half century when greater attachments could have been forged with other Indian peoples, we must now formally and actively seek out alliances and working relationships with Indian country, which connotes all of the United States of America. This will entail a long-term process—long lost relatives often take time to make amends for being away so long and to create bonds of culture, language, and traditions where they have not existed for generations. The bonding will need to include learning our common history of resistance as peoples treated as conquered by the Anglo society, exchanging knowledge about our values and beliefs, sharing the sense of guardianship for the Earth Mother that we hold in common, and forging alliances to achieve mutually beneficial goals of social justice, political representation and certain rights under international law such as treaty rights and national sovereignty. This would not be a one-sided venture, because for decades certain individuals and organizations have been collaborating with each other to recognize the fundamental indigeneity of Chicanans and to raise awareness of the need for unity among indigenous peoples in the U.S. We need to bring about a greater realization of our indigeneity and our blood relationship to American Indian tribes through education, social and cultural exchanges and community building. The Mexican Americans, we believe, can become within the next half century full members of the family of indigenous nations within the U.S.A and the Americas. Step 1: Have the Next 50 Years Committee authorize a commission to expand and forge ties with the rest of the indigenous peoples in the U.S. Step 2: Call for others to join the Commission. Step 3: Set a target date for an initial meeting to set out procedures, short-term and long-term goals and objectives, a timetable, and address logistical needs. Step 4: Convene the first meeting using Internet media. Step 5: After one year, report on the initial findings and progress to the Committee. Step 6: Initiate during this first year contacts with indigenous peoples in Mexico as a starting point for stronger relationships. Step 7: Work with existing organizations such as the IITC, AIM-West, and the AIGIN to make initial contacts and lay the groundwork for more specific collaborations through discussion, literature, and the arts.
(MORE DETAILS TO COME) Three additional areas proposed for inclusion in the blueprint: CHICANISMO AS A WORLDVIEW Chicanismo should become a formal area of study in various disciplines including philosophy, history, psychology, sociology among others toward the goal of being officially designated as a distinct culture within the USA. Scholars already working in these fields should devote research and writing to enhance our knowledge and appreciation for Chicanismo, this integral but largely ignored worldview within the broader American society.
EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY AND INNOVATION The cultural, linguistic, economic, political and other contributions of the Chicano people to the U.S.A. should become integral components of public school curricula in all the publicly funded schools nationwide. Scholars, researchers and practitioners focused on the education of Chicanada youth should be recognized for the vital nature of their work in advancing Chicanismo, preserving and imparting cultural and social values, improving scholastic attainment and completion of educational and vocations goals.
CHICANAN LITERATURE AND THE ARTS Chicanan literature should be given its rightful place as an integral part of American literature rather than a sub-genre of U.S. writing or offspring of Latin American writings. Mestizo writers could form an alliance nationwide to bring greater attention to the works of mestizo authors, poets and essayists. We should strive to establish an open access depository for our writings in every genre. Chicanans should encourage, support and promote our community’s writers. We should strive to enhance the literacy levels among our communities and make literature and the arts available in barrios and rural areas as well as in major urban centers. Artists in music, dance, the fine arts should be recognized as vital to the development of the Chicanan culture and celebrated and promoted in every way possible. Submitted by Armando Rendón February 2, 2019
*Panel members included James Barrera, Mario Compean, Martha Cotera, Jose Angel Gutierrez, Carlos Hernandez, Ignacio Perez, Armando Rendón, and Angela Valenzuela. The key questions follow. Attach a copy of this page or copy and paste into an email to Armando Rendón, firstname.lastname@example.org
Do I accept the draft as a working document and commit myself to developing the concept and recruiting others to the effort? Yes ______ No ______ If you have a specific interest among the issues listed, or wish to recommend one or more other issues, please note here: ___________________________________________
Armando Rendón is editor of Somos en escrito Magazine. He was a Public Information Officer with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at the time of its 1968 hearing. The photo shows a couple publications he produced for the Commission that were on exhibit at the conference.
A life-long friend and colleague, Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, has passed away today; he is now one with the universe as he was one with so many of us in life.
Felipe invented Chicano literature because, as I see it, his studies into the early writings by Chicanas and Chicanos provided not only a scholarly basis for the field as a genre of American literature but inspired many of our indigenous-hispanic writers to put pencil or pen to paper, pick out letters for a manuscript on the old manual typewriters, and today tap out a poem or novel on a laptop while commuting back and forth from a job.
We go way back to 1972, when an ambitious young man (I think we were all something like that then) named Dan Lopez got the idea for a print magazine he called, Nuestro. The project was ahead of its time and folded in a few years, but Felipe and I were recruited by Dan to help make the magazine go, Felipe as editor and I as a freelance writer and photographer. We struck up a friendship and kept in touch over the years.
I learned much later that Felipe had dropped out of high school in 1943, yet wisely took advantage of the G.I. bill to get a BA at the University of Pittsburgh in 1948, then a Master’s degree in literature at Texas Western College in El Paso, followed by his Ph.D. in literature at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in 1971. He eventually earned a post-doctoral degree in Management and Planning for Higher Education at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business’ Harriman Institute in 1973.
It was when I launched Somos en escrito Magazine in late 2009 that we hooked up again. So much of what Felipe wrote about Chicanismo from the literary aspect had not been broadly circulated that he found Somos a perfect vehicle to inform a new generation, and I gladly partnered with him in publishing as much as I could of his stories and literary critiques. I intend to work with his wife of many years, Gilda Baeza-Ortego, a scholar in her own right, to reveal other works he might not have yet offered to us.
Felipe’s early service as a U.S. Marine during World War II—a feature on his tour of duty that took him to China accompanies this eulogy to him—served him well in recent years when he battled a variety of illnesses, such as the shoulder replacement he underwent earlier this year. I had invited him last spring to join me and a couple other Chicanan writers for a panel on Chicano literature to be presented in Cuernavaca in early August. I knew he was not at his healthiest but how could I not first ask the father of Chicano literature to address a conclave of international scholars on his favorite topic?
He had accepted my invitation in a flash, but as it turned out, Felipe’s health failed him and he had to cancel the day before his and Gilda’s flight to Mexico. For sure, only a very severe ailment could have forced him to bow out. The other two panelists, good friends of his as well, Rosa Martha Villarreal and Roberto Haro, and I stepped up to present his “Cuernavaca paper” on his behalf. (Click on the link to read de Ortego y Gasca's Cuernavaca paper: FelipeCuernavacaPaper)
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca lived a long and eventful life, leaving among many other contributions to Chicanismo and society in general, a legacy as a visionary scholar. Who would have guessed that today we would have the breadth of writing by Chicana and Chicano authors, in every genre and on every topic. He invented the Chicano Renaissance so he himself deserves to be called a Renaissance Chicano.
May you rest in peace, old friend.
Armando Rendón is founder/editor of Somos en escrito Magazine.
A Chicano Christmas in China
U.S. Marines in Tsingtao, China, during Operation Beleaguer (1945-49)*
By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca
This is a story about a Christmas in China after World War II and how the world changed for me as a consequence of that Christmas. Hard to believe that almost six decades have passed since VJ Day (Victory in Japan, August 14, 1945) and the end of hostilities for World War Two. By Christmas of 1945 the war had been over more than four months, just after President Truman had authorized dropping an atom bomb on Hiroshima on August 6 and one on Nagasaki on August 8. I felt ancient at war’s end. War has a way of maturing youngsters, growing them up quickly. There is also a mantle of invincibility that cloaks the young, woven of equal parts of arrogance and ignorance, strands of curiosity, and large patches of naiveté. It’s a wonderful time of life: full of joy one thinks will last forever; full of agony that seems interminable. I was a Sergeant of Marines then, filled with the exuberance of victory marking the end of a life and death struggle between the forces of good and evil, a struggle that claimed 50 million lives worldwide. I was 19 years old that August and the fates had kept me from harm thus far. Just two years earlier, on my 17th birthday, I had enlisted in the Marines, during the dark, grim days of the war when victory appeared implausible and the fate of democracy hung in the balance. The San Antonio of 1941, where a branch of my mother’s family settled in 1731, was a place of “brown blood and white laughter” as I wrote in a poem years later, remembering the city’s segregated schools and its English-only rules. Though the war transformed the city economically, a different kind of war would vanquish the barriers that had made San Antonio a divided community and strangers of Tejanos in their own land. At war, Tejanos showed their mettle, Boys became men. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) suspended its annual conferences for the duration. On the home front, Mexicana Americans built planes, subs, and gliders; handed out donuts and coffee to America’s youth training at Fort Sam Houston, Kelly, and Lackland Air Force bases in San Antonio. Many became air raid wardens. On the West Side, Tejana mothers placed gold stars in their windows. On the day of infamy, I wondered if I could pass for 17, hoping the war would wait for me. I tried to enlist in the Army in 1942 but was turned away because I was too young at 15 for military service they told me even though the country was desperate for troops. I got as far as the physical before I was found out and turned away with an admonishment veiling a smile and an encouragement to try again next year. Did I know, they asked, that I had flat feet? By next year, I thought, there would be no glory left. But I waited, toughing out the 9th grade of school. I should have been a Junior but instead I was a high school Freshman, two years older than my classmates because I had repeated the 1st grade and had been held back in the 4th. I started public school as a speaker of Spanish in segregated schools and didn’t improve until I made it to the 5th grade. In January of 1943 I tried enlisting in the Navy but was rejected because of “color blindness,” not because of my age. When I turned 17 that year, I tried the Marines, color blindness, flat feet and all. They accepted me, and after boot-camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, I was assigned to the Marine Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina, from where I was sent to the 8th and I (Eye) Marine barracks in Washington, DC. From there I was ordered to the Marine barracks at Air Station Quantico, Virginia, from where I shipped out to the Pacific. After a stop at San Diego and Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands, I was part of the tail-end of the last campaigns in the Pacific. When Japan surrendered, American GI’s in the Pacific were grouped into those who had earned sufficient points for immediate return to the states and a victor’s welcome, and those who didn’t. Wartime service was after all for the “duration” and the war was not officially over until December of 1946 even though the fighting had ended more than a year earlier. Troops not returned to the states were massed into a force of military occupation for Japan and those headed for mainland China as an army of liberation to disarm the Japanese troops in China and to oversee their evacuation. China had been occupied by the Japanese since the 30's and at the outbreak of hostilities had interned the 4th Marines who had been stationed in Shanghai. China would be freed at last. The hop from Okinawa to Shanghai was short. On that rain-washed day I did not know my journey to China would mark the beginning of my search for America. An early day harbinger of Battlestar Galactica, the rag-tag fleet of American ships trailing up the Yangtze River toward Shanghai was heralded with cheers of jubilation and gratitude by the Chinese. “Ding hao!” they shouted. “Ding hao! Good, good!” But that mood quickly soured when the hive of sampans crowded the spaces between the ships and the smiling Chinese held out their hands for some token of largesse signaling our arrival. What turned the scene ugly was when the Captain of the U.S.S. Monrovia ordered the fire hoses turned on the Chinese clambering up the sides of the ship trying to get on deck. The Chinese were eager to greet us, but that greeting was met with disdain by those Americans who saw the Chinese as nothing more than “gooks” and could not differentiate them from the Japanese. The force of the water hoses sent the Chinese back into the mass of sampans, some of them falling into the water through the spaces between the flat dugouts. The scene became a melee when the sailors decided malevolently to aim their hoses at the people on the sampans. The Chinese were bewildered. Why would a liberating force treat them that way? Chinese women screamed as their babies were flushed out of their hands by the force of the water from the fire hoses. What should have been a celebration became a melee of confusion and grief. That was not our finest moment. Those images have remained with me ever since. Little wonder we lost China to Mao Tsetung in 1948, forced to take our troops to Korea. I was gone by then. I left China in 1946. But the specter of that moment did not deter me from savoring the experience of being in China, the land of Cathay, of Marco Polo and Genghis Khan. The Yellow Sea washing against a land already ancient when the sailors of Colón flitted from fleck to fleck looking for Cipango (Japan) was not yellow but emerald green in the time of my youth when all my dreams were green. Years later I would realize what a profound effect that experience in China had on me. My stay in Shanghai was brief. My outfit moved on. I was assigned to temporary duty with the 6th Marines in Peking and Tientsin. I was posted to duty with Marine Air Group (MAG) 24, First Marine Air Wing at Tsingtao, a key airfield in the Japanese occupation of the Shantung Peninsula just across from Korea. Tsingtao is a port city and at war’s end was once more bustling with the hum of international trade. In Tsingtao (which sounded like Chingdoh) I was looked upon with puzzlement. Was I an American Chinese? A Migua Chinee? They had never seen a Mexican American before. Yes, I nodded, good-naturedly. “Ding hao, ding hao!” Good, good! the Chinese responded with smiles of approbation. Was I the first Chicano in China? No. Twenty-five years later in El Paso I would meet a Chicano, Cleofas Callero, who had been a China Marine in the years between the World Wars. There were probably others before him. Some 30 years later, Carlos Guerra, the journalist from San Antonio would travel to China. So would Patricia Roybal of El Paso and her husband Chuck Sutton, heir of the publisher of The Amsterdam News. And in the 80's Rudy Anaya, the Chicano novelist, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, would venture to China and record his impressions in a work entitled A Chicano in China. My affection for the Chinese was regarded with mischief as word spread that the Sarge was a Chink-lover. Fortunately, hierarchy and rank are powerful investitures in the military, especially the Marines. The troops may have disliked my affection for the Chinese but they took orders from me, like them or not. Every day I dressed down some troop for dissing the Chinese. They were not our beasts of burden, though we employed them on the air base as if they were. In China, American forces rode roughshod over the Chinese, acting more like Alexander’s Macedonian soldiers than emissaries of freedom. The Chinese quickly saw me as a friend. I was invited into their homes. I became good at ping-pong. I went everywhere with confidence. American troops in China, as almost everywhere else, did not carry currency. Instead we were issued scrip—paper money backed by the U.S. Armed Forces. Chinese money was out of the question. With inflation, Chinese money was almost useless. GI’s collected it as souvenirs or for prospective wallpaper. The brothel of “white” Russian women in Tsingtao preferred goods for their services. Cigarettes were most preferable. Chinese merchants accepted scrip which they exchanged for currency. In Peking, Chiang Kai-shek was struggling to stabilize the monetary woes of the country. One evening, not long after I arrived at Tsingtao, the base responded to a fire alarm in the city. The British Officer’s Club had caught fire and needed help in putting out the blaze. The fear was that the fire would spread into the city and become harder to control. From the airbase, three runway fire trucks with foam screamed into the night roaring toward the glow of the fire in the distance. As NCO of the day, I was responsible for dispatching the fire trucks. The old China Marines used to tell stories about Chinese fire drills which I didn’t understand until the night of that fire in Tsingtao. What confronted us was both risible and tragic. Attempting to put water on the fire were Chinese firemen struggling with old-fashioned wheeled water pumps. One man pumped while the other directed the hose barely trickling onto the fire. The Chinese firemen smiled politely as they greeted us. We ushered them out of the way, and quickly funneled a sheet of foam over the fire. We had arrived just in time. Though the Chinese firemen could not have contained the fire, their efforts had given us sufficient time to get there and to put the blaze out. I recognized that the caricature of Chinese ineptness was compounded by their lack of available technology. Mao Tsetung recognized that lack also which is why he launched the Chinese Revolution. China had to enter the modern age despite its legacy as a victim of colonialism. The week before Christmas some of the men in my troop wondered if we could find a Christmas tree in the hills beyond the air base. “Whadaya think, Sarge?” “Sure, why not?” We weren’t prohibited from going into the hills, though we were counseled to be careful. The Chinese Communists had been massing in the North and there were reports that some of their units were heading south. I checked out a truck from the motor pool and with a patrol of men headed toward the rise of hills some four or five miles west of the base. Once there, we headed off-road toward a clump of Chinese pine trees and settled on a good-sized tree that we chopped down quickly and loaded onto the truck. As we were ready to mount up and head back to the base, one of the men called out, “Sarge, take a look!” Coming out through the trees were a number of platoons armed with carbines and wearing drab uniforms with no insignia. The one who seemed to be the leader came up to the truck, surveyed it, walked around towards the front where I was standing, all the while with his finger on the trigger of what looked like a rapid-fire carbine. His men stayed at a distance but with fingers at the ready on the triggers of their weapons. We had brought axes not weapons. I was the only one with a sidearm. I beseeched my men to stay calm. I could see they were nervous. But they were seasoned men. I mustered a subtle smile as the leader of the hostiles acknowledged me and proceeded to inspect the cab of the truck. On the passenger side of the cab lay the book in Spanish I had been reading off and on for some time: La Vida Trágica, The Tragic Sense of Life, by the Spanish philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno. Picking up the book, the leader of the armed men who by that time we had all surmised were Chinese communists, asked: “Y este libro, de quién es? Whose book is this?” I was startled by the expression, little expecting a Chinese to speak Spanish, at that moment and in that place. “Mine,” I said. “Es el mío.” “Hm,” he murmured, pursing his lips, studying me intently for a moment. He put the book back on the seat of the cab and mustering an equally subtle smile motioned his men back into the anonymity of the woods. Before disappearing into the trees, the leader turned and with a most subtle smile, waved. I waved back wanly, relieved that the incident turned out as it had. “What was that all about, Sarge?” one of the men asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know.” Years later I would know, years after I had acquired a structure of knowledge into which to fit that experience. One day, epiphanously, I understood the significance of that moment in North China and the Christmas tree incident of that December. By then the homecoming parades had all been held and the heroes all properly heralded. The United States was almost back to normal. Uniforms with plastrons of medals had been hung in closets for a day when they would no longer fit. I was ready to begin my search for America. The roots of that search lay in China where I saw “the others” and saw myself in them. Though I had grown up in a segregated society I had never thought of myself as “the other.” But the war changed me and the way I was to see myself in the context of the United States. I learned that no matter that Mexican Americans had won more Medals of Honor than any other ethnic group in America’s defense, we would have to fight far fiercer battles to secure for ourselves and our children the fruits of American democracy. Though I had completed only one year of high school, nevertheless on the GI Bill I went to college after the war at the University of Pittsburgh where in text after text I studied I did not find myself nor my people. I did not find my people in the texts I studied at the University of Texas either where I pursued the Master’s degree in English. They were also not in the texts I studied at the University of New Mexico where I completed the Ph.D. in English renaissance studies, American literature, and Behavioral Linguistics. And because I could not find Mexican Americans in those texts, my life’s work became a crusade for their inclusion. In 1947 the city of Three Rivers, Texas, shamelessly refused to bury in its municipal cemetery a Mexican American GI whose body had been exhumed in the Philippines and brought home for a hero’s burial. Adamantly the white city power brokers would not yield from their decision. At that point Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson approached President Truman on the matter and he directed that Felix Longoria be buried in Arlington Cemetery among the valiant of the nation. Out of that incident emerged the American GI Forum, a separate organization for Mexican American veterans, an organization I joined. Since then, numerous like incidents have necessitated creation of many separate Mexican American organizations. It didn’t need to be that way. Once, we were all brothers-in-arms. In my search for America, I have often thought of that young Chinese communist who bade me good luck in a language my country sought to strip me of. I have thought often of that China of so long ago. Once, I harbored thoughts of returning to China to look for that young man who had perhaps read Unamuno’s Tragic Sense of Life−in Spanish and who at that moment may have seen me not as a Migua Chinese but as a literary kinsman. Who was he? And how had he come to learn Spanish? Was he perhaps a child of a Chinese Communist who had participated in the Spanish Civil War of the mid ‘30’s and was now a Maoist? Hm? The question has remained pervasive for me during all these years. Thinking back—over the years—the gains have been worth the struggle. Mexican Americans did their part in World War II. And in subsequent conflicts as well as prior wars. This is our country, too, for we are in the land of our ancestors when this part of the United States was Mexico; and when it has called, we have served. But I’m still looking for America, in the nooks and crannies of those years since VJ Day, the end of World War II, and that Christmas in China.
On August 2, 2018, what might have been the first encounter between Mexican academics and Chicano writers took place in Cuernavaca, Morelos, México, at the Fifth Annual International Conference on “Latin America: Tradition and Globalization in the 21st Century,” hosted by the Universidad Internacional, in coordination with St. Mary’s College of Moraga, California. Professor Álvaro Ramirez, a member of the Modern Languages department at St. Mary’s, the organizer of the conference, asked Armando Rendón, the Somos en escrito editor, if he would be interested in assembling a panel to discuss Chicano literature at the conference. Seizing the opportunity for a first encounter with mexicanos on the subject, Rendóninvited three Chicanan writers to speak on the nature and scope of Chicanan literature and its symbiotic relationship to Mexico in particular and the Américas in general. In order of their presentations, they were Rendón, Rosa Martha Villarreal, Roberto Haro, and Felipe de Ortego y Gasca. Illness kept Dr. Ortego from attending at the last minute but his colleagues stepped in to discuss the main themes of his essay.
The presentations are published here as separate features,but under the title, “The Cuernavaca Papers”
The Chicano of the Americas
By Armando Rendón
The intent of my remarks is to lay the first few bricks to a bridge between Mexico and the rest of Latin America into the United States. It’s a notion that has threaded my thoughts going back to the early years of the Chicano Movement, the latter 1960s—that the way to span our two-fold worlds is through literature and the other cultural media. In mid-1970, I was in the final stages of completing Chicano Manifesto, the book that has served as a touchstone for many Americans in addressing and understanding issues which impelled the Chicano Movement and the underlying philosophy of chicanismo. After 300 pages of trying to portray what it meant to be a Chicano, I asked, not knowing the answer as I wrote the words: “What does this kind of multicultural intuition promise for the future of the Chicano, of the United States, or of the world.” I remember the answer coming to me out of the blue. I wrote: “Fundamentally, I see the Chicano as the prototype of the citizen of the Americas a century from now.” –We’re halfway there! I went on to develop this thesis, but in no way did I mean that everyone would be a Chicano or Chicana in 2070, but that through the process of osmosis, rubbing cultures together, learning each other’s language, getting to know each other, contending against each other, an “assimilation or distillation” would occur which would allow for our better angels to prevail. Then I ran across this quote from Walt Whitman, written 87 years before my “prophecy:” Speaking of 1880s America, he stated: “Character, literature, a society worthy the name, are yet to be established. To that composite America of the future, Spanish character will supply some of the most needed parts. No stock shows a grander historic retrospect, grander in religiousness and loyalty, or for patriotism, courage, decorum, gravity, and humor.” (From a letter dated July 20, 1883, Camden, NJ., 135 years ago almost to the day) The term, globalization, had not been invented yet in 1970, let alone 1883, but Whitman foresaw that the force of contact, of cultural abrasion, and inter-dependency with its neighbors to the South would serve the Anglo American society best by civilizing it, unless whites succeeded in wiping out the indigenous peoples and Hispanic colonizers, who had preceded the European incursions.
Here’s what I figure: Whitman did not define what he meant by “Spanish:” we probably all looked alike to him even though by the 1880s, Mexico was a mestizo nation. The Chicano embodies that mestizo character Whitman perceived but also has the advantage of having lived and survived in the belly of the beast at least since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the invasion by the U.S. of this, our mother country. Of course, Mexico and all the countries to its South have borne the savagery and greed of its neighbor to the North for centuries. But generally, Latin America, as a geo-political montage in the Western Hemisphere, has not had to cope with the threat and familiarity of the White Anglo society on a daily basis, generation after generation. This is where the Chicano comes in: we know the Anglo American society better than it knows itself. It does not know us yet, us Chicanos, Latinos, Hispanics, whatever they may call us. Remember the terms, Latino and Hispanic, were stamped on us by government agencies. Today, certain demagogues, in the shadow of racists going back to the likes of James K. Polk, have painted Latinos, to use the most generally familiar term, as invaders, murderers, rapists, though “there are some good people.” Thus, the indigenous-hispanic character is persistently portrayed as immigrant, ignorant and debased, racially inferior, unable to deal with lofty affairs, let alone help to run the country. Mr. Whitman, where are you? ¿Dónde está?
Walt Whitman, 1887
In spite of the demeaning history books, of ill-intentioned political motivations, of a racism evolved over half a millennium at least and sustained for the sake of maintaining white supremacy, we have survived. We have contributed great minds, awesome musicians and artists, terrific baseball players, and significant literary works. We are about the task of civilizing America, never mind its current leaders. Which brings me to my central point: The notice about this conference suggested that Latin American literature basically ends at Mexico’s border with the U.S. I’m here to make a case for the fact, as I see it, that Latin American literature, broadly understood, extends into the U.S.A. The potential exists for “Latin America” to grow even stronger politically, economically and culturally by recognizing not only the presence of Chicanas and Latinas in the U.S. but our growing influence on America and the significant role we can play in the evolution of an even more glogal presence for the peoples of Latin America. For future conferences such as this one, perhaps the emphasis should be placed on uniting the Latin Americas through the arts, culture and literature. The Chicano, I believe, is the link to the future for a stronger collaborative effort. Or, put another way, there can be no role for Latin America in a globally connected world without embracing and coalescing with the indigenous-hispanic peoples in the U.S. How can Mexico, let alone Latin America, engage in affecting the nature and direction of globalization, if it skips over the 61 million indigenous-hispanic Americans of the U.S.A. We have been the principal driver of U.S. demographic growth since 2000, accounting for half of the population growth in the U.S. And about two-thirds of these are of Mexican origin. Our median age in 2015 was 28, up from 25 in 2000, but Whites had the highest median age, 43, in 2015. (From Antonio Flores, Pew Research Center, September 18, 2017) What we here propose is that a beginning point is in the written word, in literary endeavors, in inter-American tertulias. It is in poetry, the novel, the short story, and critical writing that greater understanding and collaboration can evolve. To sum up, while we are concerned with globalization as a geo-political phenomenon and worldwide evil, I urge that Mexico –perhaps at this most timely change of leadership here– look to the north and refocus its view of Chicanos and Mexican Americans as partners, compatriotas, and joint creators of a new society, a new global standard of “patriotism, courage, decorum, gravity, and humor.”
Armando Rendón, a native of San Antonio, Texas, is the author of Chicano Manifesto (1971, 1996), author of the award-winning The Adventures of Noldo book series and the founder/editor of “Somos en escrito The Latino Literary Online Magazine.” He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
On August 2, 2018, what might have been the first encounter between Mexican academics and Chicano writers took place in Cuernavaca, Morelos, México, at the Fifth Annual International Conference on “Latin America: Tradition and Globalization in the 21st Century” hosted by the Universidad Internacional, in coordination with St. Mary’s College of Moraga, California. A few months prior, Professor Álvaro Ramirez, a member of the Modern Languages department at St. Mary’s, the organizer of the conference, had asked Armando Rendón, the Somos en escrito editor, if he would be interested in assembling a panel to discuss Chicano literature at the conference. Seizing the opportunity for a first encounter with mexicanos on the subject, Rendóninvited three Chicanan writers to speak on the nature and scope of Chicanan literature and its symbiotic relationship to Mexico in particular and the Américas in general. In order of their presentations, they were Rendón, Rosa Martha Villarreal, Roberto Haro, and Felipe de Ortego y Gasca. Illness kept Dr. Ortego from attending at the last minute but his colleagues stepped in to discuss the main themes of his essay. There’s already a good chance that another encounter between Chicanan and Mexican writers may be part of the agenda for the 2019 conference at UnInter.
The presentations are published here as separate features, but under the title, “The Cuernavaca Papers”
Forging a literature of opposition in which the periphery becomes the center
By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca Prologue
Literature is not the product of a vacuum, nor is a literary text a divine inspiration as John Milton rhapsodized. Literature is work. It’s a strand in a bundle of strands that comprise human activity. As such it is engendered by factors in a complex matrix of cultural production. And equally complex factors determine a reader’s response to a text, depending on cultural affiliation or association. No one reader is privy to the reading of a text.
To understand a literature, a text, one must consider the backgrounds out of which a literature emerges. Writing is a cultural act surrounded and impacted by historical forces. What is written depends on the motivations of the writer. As readers and critics, we cannot accurately discern those motivations, we can only approximate them. More to the point, however, is the question: What is Mexican American Literature? Simply, it’s literary production by Mexican Americans, literary production which before the Chicano era had been marginalized by the hegemonic forces of the American literary establishment and its minions. Ortego, “Mexican American Literature: Reflections and a critical Guide.”
1. Backgrounds Mexican American/Chicano literature is as American as apple pie. It draws its parentage from the homeland of Chicanos which now constitutes the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and parts of Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma, states that once were part of northern New Spain and identified as “the Mexican Cession”—that part of Mexican territory sundered by the United States as a booty of the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-1848) and ratified by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. All this by way of establishing the bona fides of Mexican Americans many of them now identifying themselves ideologically as Chicanos—a self-designation of protest, resistance, and opposition (see Ortego, “Forging a Literature of Opposition”). Terms of identity have become significant (see “Masks of Identity: The Space of Liminal Possibilities,” latinoopia.com/Bravo Road with Don Felipe, July 2017) But they are Mexicans ethnically and Americans (U.S. citizens) politically and geographically. The conquest generation of Mexican Americans did not cross a border to abide in the territory they lived in; the border crossed them. Many of their families settled in that territory from the time of Spanish exploration and subsequent settlement with the growth of population spanning almost three centuries before the U.S.-Mexico War. To think of them as immigrants is historically erroneous. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo clearly bestows American citizenship upon those inhabitants of the Mexican Cession who chose to stay within the territory of the Mexican Cession (actually their homeland). Those who chose not to stay moved into the newly designated though restricted space of Mexico as Mexican citizens. Those who stayed became Mexican Americans. Unfortunately there is no accurate count of the Mexicans who remained within the territory of the Mexican Cession. Jingoist American historians claim the territory was wild and inhabited only by renegade and uncontrollable Indians. This was the message of Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1893 Frontier Thesis arguing that the growth of the United States was its “westering tradition” that tamed the wild and uninhabited west. This vision lost track of the theretofore population centers of San Antonio, El Paso, Santa Fe, Tucson, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Monterrey, San Francisco, the San Luis Valley of Colorado and the hundreds of smaller settlements that dotted the landscape between these larger population centers. Fantasy histories of the Mexican Cession rise to the risible. More likely estimates by Chicano historians and demographers suggest a population of 3 million including indigenous populations. It would be an egregious error to conclude that Mexican Americans were passive in defending themselves against Anglo American aggression and discrimination. In post-conquest New Mexico they struck for better wages and working conditions, they formed private and parochial schools to overcome the deplorable education offered them by the American government. To protect themselves from violent oppression they organized Las Gorras Blancas for vigilance regarded by whites as marauders. Admittedly the population growth of Mexican America had to include a migration stream of minimal density from Mexico to the United States much like the migration stream of “return” by Palestinians to their biblical homeland. The population growth of Mexican Americans to the current 40 million is not due solely to the fertility and motility of the conquest generation. Three factors have spurred that growth: (1) the migration stream of minimal density, (2) the million and a half Mexicans who fled north from Mexico to the United States during the destabilization of Mexico and the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1921, (3) the million Braceros who harvested American crops during World War II from 1942 to 1962 and form the basis for the 40 million Mexican Americans in the current census count.
Mexican farmworkers during the bracero program
In that 60 million total count of Hispanics and Latinos in the 2010 Census two-thirds (40 million) are Mexican Americans. That is not a trifling figure. Yet they are the least publicly visible in the media, politics, and education. In the public schools of the states of the Mexican Cession they are the largest demographic group being taught by the standards of the colonial curriculum, denied information and knowledge about their history, culture and language (see Ortego “Montezuma’s Children”). In this regard, laws in states like Arizona and Texas have been unduly harsh and apodictic comparable to what I have called “the Mexican Dixon Line.” Recently, however, there has been a break in the hardline stance of the Texas State Board of Education in not approving a Mexican American Studies course for Texas schools. The course was finally approved to the cheers of Texas Mexican Americans. The course has been too long in the offing, especially in Texas. In Arizona a federal judge ruled that banning Mexican American Studies in the state was unconstitutional and that, moreover it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. This victory was the result of concerted efforts by Mexican Americans everywhere but certainly in Arizona and texas with Librostraficantes--a book-smuggling operation to take banned books into Arizona where they have been forbidden by a state imprimatur.
II. Opening Salvos
Vis-à-vis harsh and apodictic laws, in 2010 I wrote:
There’s a nativist streak in the American psyche that emerges periodically to unravel the constitutional gains of American society, moving the nation more to the right—in a sort of dance macabre of the American national zeitgeist; in other words: something akin to an American Nazi Party (with the word “Nazi” being short for “National”). What has kept this Nazi zeitgeist at bay has been the vigilance of Americans working to create “a more perfect union,” committed to the preservation and process of democracy as articulated in the American Constitution. What is little cogitated is that democracy is a process. Ortego, “Arizona Goes Bonkers.”
This brouhaha erupted over the context of the instructional materials in the Mexican American Studies courses in the Tucson Independent School District. Both the Superintendent of the Tucson School District and the state Superintendent of Public Instruction proclaimed that the material was inflammatory and harkened sedition and insurrection. In toto it was thoroughly un-American. Nonsense! The aim of Mexican American Studies was and is to acquaint students (principally Mexican American students) with the history of Mexican America as detailed in the preceding section. In the summer of 1969 at the request of Louis Bransford, Director of the fledgling Chicano Studies Program I developed a course on Mexican American/Chicano Literature at the University of New Mexico (Ortego, 2007). I was a Teaching Fellow in the Department of English finishing up the Ph.D, in English. It was the first such course in the country. Research for the course led to my dissertation on Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature (1971) first study in the field and to the essay on “The Chicano Renaissance” published in Social Casework, May 1971. The article attracted considerable attention immediately, and is considered a seminal essay in the field—it has been included in a number of readers and anthologies, though surprisingly the piece was ahead of the curve of the Chicano Renaissance though no journal of English accepted it for publication. Recently, as a guest panelist for the Western New Mexico University MEChA (Chicano Student Organization) Forum on the Status of Education for Chicanos, I mentioned in my commentary that my PhD dissertation was on Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature at the University of New Mexico in 1971, first study in the field. It occurred to me to explain why I chose that topic. Easy! Because no one else had and I wanted to quaff my ignorance. I was 40 years old when that revelation hit me. There I was a Mexican American knowledgeable about British and American literature with a respectable bibliography in the field but totally bereft about Mexican American literature--I had studied Mexican literature. Ahem! Mexican literature is not Mexican American literature (Ortego, “Mexicans and Mexican Americans: Prolegomenon to a Literary Perspective”). Therein lies the rub! During 123 years since the U.S. War against Mexico (1848-1971) why had no history of Mexican American Literature been undertaken? Bits and pieces had been penned by various Mexican American scholars but no “grand sweep” had appeared. That lacunae was and still remains a mystery. As a population, the assimilation rate for New Mexico Mexican Americans grew apace, the traditional ways held sway, The English language and American mores inched along depending on the strength of the Anglo-Hispanic contact. In the main the two cultures did not coalesce—no assimilation though acculturation had established a toe-hold. Anglos saw Mexican Americans as a mongrel race; Mexican Americans saw Anglos as uncouth and boisterous. Anglos called them Greasers. Mexican Americans called themselves Hispanos. By mid-20th century the American Census referred to them as Hispanics. Despite the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo Mexican Americans were not welcomed nor wanted. They were outrightly caricatured and demonized.
In 1856, W.W. H. Davis, United States Attorney for the state of New Mexico wrote a propos of his experiences with Mexican Americans that “they possess the cunning and deceit of the Indian, the politeness and the spirit of revenge of the Spaniard, and the imaginative temperament and fiery impulses of the Moor.” He describes them as smart and quick but lacking the “stability and character and soundness of intellect that give such vast superiority to the Anglo-Saxon race over every other people.” He ascribed to them the “cruelty, bigotry, and superstition” of the Spaniard, a marked characteristic from earliest times. Moreover, he saw these traits as “constitutional and innate in the race.” In a moment of kindness, though, Davis suggested that the fault lay no doubt on their “spiritual teachers,” the Spaniards, who never taught them that beautiful doctrine which teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Ortego, Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature, pp 68-69.
This was the opening salvo for Mexicans now Americans confronting a new language, a new political system, and a new modus of education. What they faced would turn Odysseus pallid. But it was what it was—obstacles to be surmounted—a sort of Navy Seal crash course for Demi Moore as G.I. Jane. Through thick and thin Mexican Americans have shown their mettle and survived. And like Joaquin in Corky Gonzalez’s poem: W shall survive! No! We will survive!
III. Crux of the Struggle
More to the point, during my Ph.D. studies I was developing a field-theory of literature by which could compare literary production by genre across the globe. That’s when periodization of Mexican American literature dawned on me (see Periodizaton Chart) and enabled me to see the historical sweep and development of Mexican American literature. What became apparent was that the literary tradition of the Conquest Generation changed little during the period from 1848 to 1912, the year New Mexico acquired status as a state (64 years). Just as it had before the U.S.-Mexico War, Mexican American poetry abounded in the newly reshaped Mexican American homeland—identified later by Chicanos as “Aztlan” (mythical homeland of the Aztecs). Hispanos kept diaries; maintained assiduous correspondence with geographically distant friends and family, established community newspapers, wrote tracts, memoirs, and plays with regular performances. All the while they maintained and preserved the historic texts. There was no lull of intellection. They were becoming bilingual, holding on tenaciously to their culture and language. In the process, the inevitable cross-fertilization of English and Spanish gained ground to the consternation of linguistic purists who dubbed that emerging patois as Spanglish, little realizing the historical linguistic phenomenon taking place, unaware that many languages are the product of linguistic blending—English, Spanish, French, Italian. Unaware of these auguries, Mexican Americans had no prescience that their lexo-cultural experiences would become foundational features of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s.
Protesting the sale of boycotted grapes
The Chicano Movement began long before 1960. It started the day Father Martinez of Taos, New Mexico, railed against the American invasion of northern New Spain (Mexico) which came to be known as the Mexican American War—in reality the American War against Mexico—President Polk caterwauling about aggressive Mexican trespass onto American soil at Brownsville, Texas—a trumped up ploy disguised to cloak the long simmering ambitions of the United States to secure by fair or foul the Mexican land mass that became known as the Mexican Cession—more than half of Mexico territory seized as a prize of war. Treachery, treason, and temor on both sides carried the day for American victory in the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-1848). The American villain of the piece was President Polk. The Mexican villain of the piece was Santa Anna who headed the Mexicangovernment on 11 occasions as Mexico's president, four times before becoming a military-backed dictator. Santa Anna accepted $15 million dollars and agreed to settle all claims of U.S. citizens against Mexico. In 1853 the United States negotiated the Gadsden Purchase for $10 million extending the U.S.-Mexico boundary line to its present southern site. This extension included the people living on the Gadsden Purchase. Again, as in the Mexican Cession there are no real figures as to the size of the population. All the statistics are guesstimates. If “Spain in America is a more substantial subject than England in America as the historian Charles Gibson commented, then it stands to reason that the “substantial” population of the Mexican Cession plus the population of the Gadsen Treaty would include more than weavers, hunters, and gatherers. The fruits of the golden Age of Spain reached every corner of Spanish settlements. All knew who Juana Inez de la Cruz was. In terms of literary output, Spain in America is indeed a substantial subject. That substantialization was everywhere present in New Spain and its northern frontier and was everywhere present in those frontier settlements when Spain in America became the Independent Republic of Mexico. Most of the literature of this period consists of memorials, reports, and correspondence. Old folk plays like Los Pastores were produced regularly in town squares. Poets read their works and the works of established Spanish poets in selected areas of marketplaces. Cuentos (stories) were popular but not novels or tales of wizardry banned by Spanish imprimatur as outrageous and salacious. Here and there literary bent gave rise to newspaper publishing. Father Jose Antonio Martinez, Curate of Taos, for example, published the newspaper El Crepúsculo (the Dawn), the first newspaper in New Mexico as a forum for dissent (North from Mexico, 118). More contemporary plays by the Mexican playwright Juan Ruiz de Alarcon reflected the consciousness of new-worldness, according to Anderson Imbert (130) 22, infused with a colonial Mexican character reflecting the new society. Though Mexican Americans strove to become part of the American mainstream in their own way they were nevertheless regarded with disdain by a sizeable segment of the Anglo American population crowding the territory of the Mexican Cession. Inevitably Mexican Americans were becoming strangers in their own land. Statehood did not buoy their aspirations. Mounting racial antagonism led to the creation of the Alianza Hispano-Americana in 1895 some 10 years before the creation of the NAACP—so much for the proposition of Hispanics riding the coattails of African Americans. Major public figures of the time included the New Mexican folklorist Aurelio Espinosa, Napoleon Vallejo and his father Mariano Vallejo, last Mexican Governor of California. Miguel Antonio Otero was the 16th Governor of New Mexico Territory from 1897 to 1906 appointed by President McKinley and in later life the author of several books on Western lore, among them The Real Billy the Kid. In 1916, a collection of Vicente Bernal’s poetry, Las Primicias (First Fruits) was published to rave reviews about Bernal’s command of the English language dubbing him a man of “double portions” as a bilingual Hispano. But all was not serene in El Dorado. By 1912 Mexican American communities along the U.S.-Mexico border had trebled—shades of future portents. El Paso, Texas, became the gateway to the American Midwest—especially Chicago which today has a Mexican American population of some 400,000 pressed in the Pilson Area, once a predominantly Middle-European neighborhood.
IV. Forging a Literature of Opposition
Invariably social and political dissatisfaction leads to a rupture prompting some physical action intended to remedy the aggravation. Most often that remedy engenders political results that may or may not resolve the aggravation but allays momentarily the inconsequential results of the unsatisfactory remedy. This was the ponderable situation of Mexican Americans in post-World War II America. Of the 16 million American men and women in the armed forces during the war (1941-1946) Between 250,000 and 500,000 Hispanic Americans (mostly Mexican Americans) served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, out of a total of 12,000,000, constituting 2.3% to 4.7% of the U.S. Armed Forces. The exact number is unknown since, at the time, Hispanics were not tabulated separately, but were generally included in the white population census count. They fought in every major American battle of the war as marines, airmen, soldiers (including WAACS) and sailors (including WAVES) earning more medals of honor than any other ethnic group. Mexican Americans served in the American armed forces during World War II despite their progenic status as a conquered people in an internal colony of the United States(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hispanic_Americans_in_World_War_II). Essentially, Marvin Lewis is correct when he explains that Chicano literature “did not evolve in a vacuum.” It does represent, as he points out, “the culmination of cultural dynamics that have been in force on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for many decades”—a clear progression from Mexican (1848-1912) to Mexican American (1912-1966) to Chicano literature (1966 to the future). The emergence of Chicano literature in the 1960’s was a response to the domination of Chicanos by the centers of political powers in the states. Chicano literature was excluded from the American literary canon. A homologous fracture between exclusion and selection in the American literary canon depreciated the value of certain texts because they were produced by outcast groups like African Americans, women, Chicanos, and other minorities. In 1966, a group of Mexican Americans from the periphery (the Quinto Sol Writers) chose to define themselves as Chicanos in the presence of an already established image of them from the center. By that act, Chicano literature sprang into being as a literature of opposition, determining its stance in terms of its distance from the center, staying clear of the center’s destructive gravity and its ontology of domination. Such an affirmation was, in fact, a statement of renewal—thus, “the Chicano renaissance.” Ortego, “Forging a Literature of Opposition” I agree now as I did then with Walter Ong that most Americans “share a highly standardized culture” (3). Indeed as Americans we all share a common base of culture under-pinned by shared technologies. In my youth there were differences, of course, between the various ethnic groups. While tortillas were a staple in our house during the period I was growing up in the United States, tortillas were not staples in non-Mexican American households. My mother made them at home; today I buy them at the supermarket and “everybody” eats tortillas. Although now I also eat bagels and various kinds of breads that in my youth we regarded as Gringo food. The remains of traditional Mexican culture in the lives of many Mexican Americans are now only memories as technology and shared space homogenize all of us. To be sure, there are still differences. I continue to speak Spanish though my children don’t. Today the things that make me “Mexican” and American are more subtle than they once were. Only physiognomy identifies me as a child of blended Indian and Spanish genes. Many Mexican Americans look like the rest of dominant America and are not perceived as Mexican Americans. The most prickly consideration anent American literature raised by Walter Ong’s essay is that “one cannot teach everything” (6). Why not? We just need to make space for the literatures of the others. Who says that in teaching American literature we need to read ad infinitum the words of Sarah Kemble Knight’s journey to New York? There is much in the presentation of American literature that we can whittle down to make room for other American literatures, including Chicano literature as part and parcel of American literature rather than as something foreign. Per the dictum of the Latin dramatist Terence: “homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto (I am human; nothing human is foreign to me).” The 1970 edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature included no Chicanos. It was to be another 20 years before a Chicano writer made it into the Norton. As concluded in Searching for America in 1973 and as is still the case today, the absence of Chicano writers in such widely used anthologies of American literature perpetuates the distortions that have rendered Chicano and minority writers invisible. The one anthology that has made progress with inclusivity is the Heath Anthology of American Literature edited by Paul Lauter and which includes Hispanics on its editorial board. There is, unfortunately, condescension in Walter Ong’s Introduction. His imploration for inclusion of Chicano writers in American literature is prompted with expressions of validation based on improving the well-being of the body Americana rather than calling attention to the agency of literary value in minority and Chicano literatures. He does say, however: A minority literature often negotiates for its own identity with the majority culture and constantly redefines itself, ultimately bringing the majority culture to define itself more adequately, too. (3). As it was in the beginning, this is the stance of Chicano writers today.
Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ph.D., (Renaissance Studies/Chicano Studies) is Scholar in Residence (Cultural Studies, Critical Theory and Public Policy, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English (Retired), Texas State University System—Sul Ross. He lives in Silver City, New Mexico. Felipe is especially recognized as the earliest proponent of what he called, The Chicano Renaissance, based on his seminal studies of Chicano literature.
For Works Cited and Consulted, click here to continue.
V. Works Cited and Consulted
Imbert, Enrique Anderson, Spanish American Literature: A History 1492-1910, Detroit, 1969.Ong, Walter, “Introduction to Three American Literatures,” Edited by Houston Baker, Modern Language Association, 1982.Ortego y Gasca, Felipe de, “Mexican-American Literature,” The Nation, September 15, 1969 _____________________, Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature (Diss,),University of New Mexico, 1971. _____________________, “The Chicano Renaissance, Social Casework, May 1971. _____________________, “The Mexican-Dixon Line” (reprint from El Grito) in Voices: Readings from El Grito, Octavio Ignacio Romano-V., editor, Quinto Sol 1971. _____________________, We Are Chicanos: Anthology of Mexican American Literature (Editor) Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster), 1973. _____________________, “El Renacimiento Chicano” (translation of “The Chicano Renaissance” The Journal of Social Casework”) in Aztlan: Historia Contemporánea del Pueblo Chicano, Mexico: Secretaria de Educación Publica, 1976. _____________________, The Chicano Literary World--1974 (editor with David Conde), Albuquerque: National Education Task Force de la Raza, 1975. ERIC 101924. Reprinted as a Special Issue of De Colores, 1 No. 4, 1975. ______________________, “Chicanos and American Literature” (with Jose Carrasco, reprinted from Searching for America) in The Wiley Reader: Designs for Writing, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1976. ______________________, Special Issue on Chicano Literature, English in Texas(editor), Summer 1976. _____________________, “Chicanos and the Pursuit of a Literary Identity,” English in Texas, Summer 1976. _____________________, “Prolegomenon to the Study of Mexican American Literature,”English in Texas, Summer 1976. _____________________, Milestones in Chicano Literature (A Guide and Reading List), Austin: Texas Council for the Humanities, 1982. _____________________, “Are There U.S. Hispanic Writers?” Nuestro Magazine, April 1983. _____________________, “The Cross and the Pen: Spanish Colonial and Mexican Periods of Texas Letters (monograph) Washington, DC: The Hispanic Foundation, 1985. _____________________, “Chicano Literature: From 1942 to the Present” in Chicano Literature:A Reference Guide, Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1985. _____________________, “American Hispanic Literature: A Brief Commentary,”ViAztlan, (International Chicano Journal of Arts and Letters), Part I, January-February 1985; Part II, March 1985; Part III, May 1985. _______________________, “Mexicans and Mexican Americans: Prolegomenon to a Literary Perspective, The Journal of South Texas, Spring 2005. Posted on Somos Primos, January 2016. _______________________, “Mexican American Literature: Reflections and a Critical Guide,” From Chicano Studies: Survey and Analysis (3rd Edition) edited by Dennis J. Bixler-Marquez, et al. Kendall/Hunt, Dubuque, Iowa, 2007. _______________________, “Mexican American Literature: A Survey of Genres,”Chicano CriticalReview, December 2006. Prepared for the Sabal Palms Lectures, University of Texas at Brownsville, Summer 2004. _______________________, “Chicanos Writers and the Art of the Novel,” Somos en escrito: the Latino Literary On-Line Magazine, November 12, 2009; posted on Pluma Fronteriza, December 22, 2010. Updated July 26, 2011. _______________________, “Arizona Goes Bonkers.” From Heritage of America Foundation, June 3, 2010; posted on Immigration, Education, and Globalization: US-Mexico, June 21, 2010; Newsdrome, June 30, 2010; posted on Somos Primos, July 2010. _______________________, “Forging a Literature of Opposition,” Somos en Escrito: The Latino Literary Online Magazine, February 11, 2010; April 2017. _______________________, “The Art and Practice of Mexican American and Chicano Fiction,” Somos en Escrito: The Latino Literary Online Magazine, December 26, 2017 _______________________, “Some Cultural Implications of a Mexican American Border Dialect of American English, Studies in Linguistics, Volume 21, 77,October,1970. Reprinted in Introduction to Chicano Studies edited by Livie Isauro Duran and H. Russell Bernard, Macmillan, New York, 1973. Reprinted in Bridging Two Cultures: Multidisciplinary Readings in Bilingual Bicultural Education, edited by Marta Cotera and Larry Hufford, National Educational Laboratory Publishers: Austin, Texas, 1980. _______________________, “Which Southwestern Literature and Culture in the English Classroom?” Arizona English bulletin 13 No. 3, 15-17, April, 1971. _______________________, “Sociopolitical Implications of Bilingual Education,”Educational Resources and Techniques, Summer 1972. Reprinted in Mano a Mano (5:1, February 1976), publication of the Chicano Training Center, Houston, Texas. Reprinted in Developing the Multicultural Process in Classroom Instruction: Competencies for Teachers, University Press of America: Washington, DC, 1979. ____________________, “Another Heaven, Another Earth: American Literature and the Chicano Experience,” Presentation to the Human Relations Department of Kansas City, KS, August. 1978. ERIC/CRESS Document ED178244. ____________________, “Towards a Cultural Interpretation of Literature,” ViAztlan: Inter-national Journal of Chicano Arts and Letters, April-May, 1986. ____________________, “Chicano Literature: Shaping the Canon” (Monograph), Caravel Press, 1990. ____________________, “Mexican American Literature: A Survey of Genres,” Prepared for the Sabal Palms Lectures, University of Texas at Brownsville, Summer. Chicano Critical Review, 2004. ____________________, “Mexicans and Mexican Americans: Prolegomenon to a Literary Identity Journal of South Texas, Spring. Reprinted in LatinoStories.com, July 28, 2009. Prepared for the 2002 U.S.-Mexico Cuernavaca Transculturation Program, Texas A&M University—Kingsville. ___________________, “Chicano Literature and Genesis of the Term The Chicano Renaissance: Reflections on Provenance, Production, and Posterity,” Remarks on the occasion of being honored by the XIII Annual Multicultural Conference, San Antonio College; and receiving the Premio Letras de Aztlan Award from the National Association for Chicano and Chicana Studies, Tejas–Foco, San Antonio, Texas, April 24, 2007. Included in Immigrant Rights Are Civil Rights: Cultura, Arte y Comunidad, edited byRoberto R. Calderón, Lorenzo García, David Molina, Mariela Núñez-Janes, and Denis Paz, Denton, Texas: National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, Tejas Foco, __________________, “Reflections on Chicanos and the Teaching of American Literature,” atinoStories.com, June 23. 2008. __________________, ”Chicanos and the Art of the Novel, Pluma Fronteriza, December 22. 2010. __________________, “Adios Chaucer, Adios Shakespeare: Americanizing the English Department and its Curriculum—A Latino Perspective,” Pluma Fronteriza, Part 1, April 20, 2011; Part 2, April 21, 2011. Posted on LatinoStories, May 20, 2011. posted on la-manogroups. com, May 20, 2011. ________________, “If George Washington’s My Father, Why Wasn’t He Chicano?” Presented at the Forum on Confronting Race and Ethnicity, Western New Mexico University, February 21, 2012. Posted on Pluma Fronteriza, March 1, 2012. Posted on Educational Equity, Politics, and Policy in Texas, March 2, 2012. Posted on TLAKATEKATL, March 7, 2012. Posted on Somos Primos, April 2012
PERIODIZATION OF MEXICAN AMERICAN / CHICANO LITERATURE: ROOTS AND TRADITIONS
By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca
While Chicano Literature is identified as such only since the “Chicano Renaissance (1966-1975), the literary tradition of Mexican Americans stretches back to the beginning of the major civilizations in the Americas (Aztecs, Olmecs, Toltecs, Mayas). The literature of Pre-Columbian Mexico is as much part of Mexican America as the Medieval literature of England is part of Anglo-America. This approach divides Chicano Literature into two periods: (1) Roots and (2) Traditions.
I. AUTOCHTHONOUS MEXICAN ROOTS / SPANISH PENINSULAR ROOTS (0000-1521) The works of this period are antecedently part of the literary roots of Mexican Americans. The book of Chilam Balam and the Popul Vuh, works of the Americas before Colon and Cortez, are as important to Mexican Americans as are, for example,El Cid or Don Quixote. This period reveals how these two literary roots figured in the development of Mexican literature and how, in turn, they have influenced Mexican American literature about the concept of Quinto Sol.
II. SPANISH COLONIAL ROOTS (1521-1821) This period includes those works of the Spanish Colonial presence in Mexico and what is now the Hispanic Southwest of the United States, works of the period whose focus deals not with Mexico but with some part of what is now the United States, comparable to the works of the British Colonial period (1607-1776) which are now considered American literature.
III. MEXICAN NATIONAL ROOTS (1821-1848) Continuation of the previous period except that the geography of the above is now controlled by the Republic of Mexico. The focus here is on literary production in what is now the American Southwest before 1848, the northern Mexican borderlands.
IV. EARLY MEXICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE: The Period of Transition (1848-1912) Just as American literature really begins in 1776, so too Mexican American literature begins in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (February 2) and the American acquisition of Mexican territory (now comprising the American Southwest) and the inhabitants of the severed territory. This is a period of transition for Mexicans–now Americans–towards a bilingual and bicultural lifestyle reflected in their literature–the literature of the Conquest Generation.
V. LATER MEXICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE: The Modern Period (1912-1960) The beginnings of this period (the Modern period of Mexican American literature) coincide roughly with the beginning of the Mexican Civil War (1910-1921) and the exodus of one-and-a-half million Mexicans to the United States. In this period, Mexican American literature, the literature of the Assimilationist Generation, is characterized more by its pastoral impulse than by its efforts to come to terms with the realities of Mexican American existence.
VI. THE CONTEMPORARY PERIOD AND THE CHICANO RENAISSANCE (1960-present) Publication of Pocho (1959) marks the beginning of the Chicano period of Mexican American literature, writing characterized by a stridency drawn from the Chicano Movement (1960). The appearance of El Grito magazine in 1967 marks the beginning of the Chicano Renaissance. The Quinto Sol writers are regarded as the vanguard of this literary movement.
On August 2, 2018, what might have been the first encounter between Mexican academics and Chicano writers took place in Cuernavaca, Morelos, México, at the Fifth Annual International Conference on “Latin America: Tradition and Globalization in the 21st Century” hosted by the Universidad Internacional (UnInter), in coordination with St. Mary’s College of Moraga, California. Professor Álvaro Ramirez, a member of the Modern Languages department at St. Mary’s, the organizer of the conference, asked Armando Rendón, the Somos en escrito editor, if he would be interested in assembling a panel to discuss Chicano literature at the conference. Seizing the opportunity for a first encounter with mexicanos on the subject, Rendón invited three Chicanan writers to speak on the nature and scope of Chicanan literature and its symbiotic relationship to Mexico in particular and the Américas in general. In order of their presentations, they were Rendón, Rosa Martha Villarreal, Roberto Haro, and Felipe de Ortego y Gasca. Illness kept Dr. Ortego from attending at the last minute but his colleagues stepped in to discuss the main themes of his essay.
The presentations are published here as separate features, but under the title, “The Cuernavaca Papers”
La Pluma y el Corazon
By Roberto Haro
The northward movement of Latinos from Latin American countries, and especially Mexico, to the United States caused the development of a literary subculture that continues to evolve. A significant part of this process is the creation of a window, a portal through which the Latino community views the larger society, and where America can also see into the Latino community and culture. While other ethnic and racial groups in the US have influenced American literature, only one or two have created a unique window through which the expression of ideas and emotions is available for comparison and exploration by the country of origin and the immigrant nation.
Non-Latino American writers like Maxine Hong Kingston, Sherman Alexi and James Baldwin come to mind as new world writers that explore the intermix of native and different/ external cultures. Yet, for the most part, the unique, viable and impressive Chicano subculture remains tangential to traditional American historians, literary scholars and critics.
They do not fully understand or appreciate the important subculture that reflects Mexico and how it has joined with American social and cultural factors to construct a new identity; the Chicano. While the different US environments and provincial cultures influence and condition that identity, there is an overarching communality in America that binds together Chicano society and culture. And Mexican antecedence plays a major role in the development of this identity.
Just down the road from UnInter sits this capilla; dating to early 1500s
There are numerous terms now used, some for political convenience like Hispanic, to identify the Chicano. Labels like Spanish-speaking, Mexican American, Hispano (used in New Mexico and Colorado), and even the comprehensive Latino and Raza exist. However, Chicano is a preferred term for several reasons that will not be explored here. Suffice to say that it remains the most popular identifier because of the ideological message it carries.
Mexico among the world’s nations developed a unique literary identity that examines with intense scrutiny what it means to be Mexican. In the Americas, from colonial times until the late 1960s, North American scholars and literary critics favored and praised writers who emulated the literary traditions of the Iberian Peninsula.
But gradually, Latin American writers and poets, like Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Juan Carlos Onetti and Pablo Neruda were recognized and celebrated for their new literary perspectives. In Mexico, Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes prepared impressive works that revealed a new literary orientation and style built not on European values, but on those of the people of the Americas.
The unique literary expression of Mexico was carried north to the United States by Mexican immigrants. Gradually, the immigrants who traveled north made a place for themselves in the US and began to express in voice and printed word their experiences. However, the writings of Chicanos have not received the attention and consideration of social scientists and literary scholars in both countries, especially in the fields of literature and communications. So far only a few prominent Mexican writers, like Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes, ventured impressions, images and narratives about the experience of Mexicans in the US.
What it means to be Chicano (male and female) in the US can be traced to the preliterate expression of Mexican immigrants using graffiti to communicate ideas and feelings, and to musicians who sang about their experiences. The corridos were musical expressions by Chicanos that told stories about their lives in the US. Gradually Latino poets and writers started to formalize their thoughts and feelings to represent their status in the US.
As Chicanos were a minority in America, their early expressions often were cautious forms of self-identity and impressions of what it was like to be marginalized by a dominating culture. However, some Chicano writers like Oscar Zeta Acosta and Raul Salinas used indirect aggression in their writings to challenge the larger society that ignored or repressed Chicano literary expression.
The image of the Chicano could not be suppressed, however, and in his seminal work, I Am Joaquin,” Corky González described what it was to be Chicano. Luis Valdez in a theatrical mold used the image of the Pachuco to convey a similar theme, albeit as an evocative persona in a fixed time.
There followed Chicano poets like Alurista, building on the contributions of artists like Corky Gonzalez and Luiz Valdez, writing with a new sense of urgency and using colorful and passionate terminology that added to the mystique of the Chicano as a new American person. Writers like Rudolfo Anaya and Sandra Cisneros contributed to the narrative and gradually made important gains and recognition among a wide audience and thereby influenced traditional US scholars and literary critics.
Over the years, Chicanos moved past simple graffiti to murals, oral and written music, and then to poetry, essays and other forms of literary expression to forge their identity. The advent of new sources of media, film and audio recordings, expanded the avenues for the projection of Chicano self-identity. Films like Tortilla Soup are important visual dramatizations of the emotions, sentiments, language and social behavior of Latinos and Latinas that graphically dramatize the Chicano family in today’s America.
While films like Tortilla Soup are infrequently prepared, there is a growing appreciation by movie moguls that a large and expanding Chicano audience is ready to pay to view films about their experiences in America. However, the dissemination of Chicano ideas, especially in literary narrative, is not well served by the publishing industry, traditional communication outlets, and the media.
Latino writers continue to be marginalized, especially by white editors and literary critics. These traditional gate keepers in the publishing industry continue to favor simpering memoirs and formulaic mysteries and detective stories (particularly spy thrillers and international intrigue novels), and occasional sops about the “immigrant experience” in America that are sanitized for the average American reader. While self-publishing, the internet, and a vigorous expansion into radio and TV have helped Chicanos, many challenges remain that limit the full dissemination of Chicano literary expression and the rich culture on which it is based.
What can Mexico and the United States do to promote the identification, preservation and dissemination of ideas, feelings and experiences of Chicanos in the US? We need to hear more from writers like Michael Nava, Maria Nieto and the creative Rocky Barilla. These three authors are examples of inventive, talented and award-winning Chicano spokespersons. They have engaging stories to share about Chicanos and their lives in America. It is essential, therefore, that a form of cooperation exist among literary scholars and social scientists in both countries to share and understand the unique writings and communication of Chicanos that benefit all people.
Moreover, it is imperative that the media and publishing gatekeepers recognize and respect the work of progressive advocates like Kirk Whisler and his important creations: The International Latino Literary Awards and Latino Books into Movies competition. When combined, these efforts promise a full and rich interpretation of what it means to be Chicano, and how our lives have played a very significant role in the history of the United States.
Roberto Haro, who writes under the pen name, Robert de Haro, is a retired university professor with
a doctorate in higher education administration and public policy and career service as a senior level academic administrator at major universities in New York, Maryland and California, His 13 novels to date, many of them award-winning, employ historical fiction between 1900 to 1950, contemporary detective yarns, and tales about the Mexican American experience in the United States. He resides in Marin County, California.
On August 2, 2018, what might have been the first encounter between Mexican academics and Chicano writers took place in Cuernavaca, Morelos, México, at the Fifth Annual International Conference on “Latin America: Tradition and Globalization in the 21st Century” hosted by the Universidad Internacional, in coordination with St. Mary’s College of Moraga, California. Professor Álvaro Ramirez, a member of the Modern Languages department at St. Mary’s, the organizer of the conference, asked Armando Rendón, the Somos en escrito editor, if he would be interested in assembling a panel to discuss Chicano literature at the conference. Seizing the opportunity for a first encounter with mexicanos on the subject, Rendóninvited three Chicanan writers to speak on the nature and scope of Chicanan literature and its symbiotic relationship to Mexico in particular and the Américas in general. In order of their presentations, they were Rendón, Rosa Martha Villarreal, Roberto Haro, and Felipe de Ortego y Gasca. Illness kept Dr. Ortego from attending at the last minute but his colleagues stepped in to discuss the main themes of his essay.
The presentations are published here as separate features, but under the title, “The Cuernavaca Papers”
A Literature Born of Two Traditions: The Genealogy of U.S. Latino Literature
For American writers of Latino descent, we have resided in a Dantesque valley of exile. The gatekeepers of the American letters have considered us Latin writers because we write about our culture. The gatekeepers of the Latin American letters consider us American writers because of our nationality. We, like Sisyphus, futilely push the boulder uphill from one gate to another, only to be denied entry proper. But as our political and economic clout has increased in the last half century, our literary production has aroused interest from both the American and Latin America academia. We are too many and increasingly too affluent to ignore as outsiders on the margins of both societies. In the United States, we occupy positions of power in politics, industry, and art. (And perhaps it is because we do have real power—outsized in places that have been historically Hispanic such as California and Texas---that we face a vigorous antipathy by those who want to take “their country back” [sic]. But that’s a topic for separate discussion.) Thus, academicians on both sides of the border ask anew: Is our work North American or Latin American? Is it both? Or is it neither but rather a new form born of dispossession? To answer this question, I must refer back to what my literary god Carlos Fuentes calls “the genealogy of literature.” It is from this point, that I posit that we belong to both just as the creative production of Sor Juana Inez makesher simultaneously a Mexican writer because of her geographical origins and the influence that it exerted on her sensibility, and a Spanish writer because she wrote in Castilian and its literary traditions. Like all aspiring writers, I set forth to study literature, its form, its history, and the criticism of scholars. Inspired by the works of William Faulkner, I wanted to write serious literature with the themes of the human aspiration for a high consciousness. There was never any doubt that my subject matter would be about persons of Mexican heritage and that these stories would be set, partially or entirely, in Mexico. Although I was born in Houston and raised in California, my roots in Mexico and its norteñohistory have dominated my imagination. Both my parents are natives of Coahuila, and my father’s family were among the original colonial settlers of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila. My ancestors include the Tlaxcatecan and Spanish founders of Saltillo and Monterrey, among them Alberto del Canto, Diego de Montemayor, Bernabe de las Casas, and Juan Navarro. The past events of the northern frontier were living memories. I can still hear the stories of the past as recounted by my grandparents---stories that their grandparents and great-grandparents had told them—on winter nights as we warmed ourselves next to the cooking fireplace in the kitchen. On those nights, time was not erased but evoked into a simultaneous presence with our time. We could hear the hooves of horses, feel the wounds and terror of the battles with the nomadic Indians, and despair at the cruel indifference of nature. I set out to write similar stories about Mexico but in the American literary tradition.
II. Hawthorne and Faulkner
The American writers who most influenced me were William Faulkner and Nathaniel Hawthorne. To better understand why they were so influential, I must refer back to the 19th century and its two competing national and literary visions of the American nation. The first was inspired by the Jeffersonian vision of a new Eden in North America, with the “American” as a new Adam, the farmer citizen free from the bitter memories and conflicts of Europe. The critic R.W.B. Lewis succinctly summarized this worldview in his brilliant book, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. Opposite this worldview, said Lewis, was Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne foreshadowed later discoveries in human evolution by recognizing the dark animal nature—evil, or the potential for evil—as an integral part of the human psyche. Even before formal existentialism existed, he pondered the human existential dilemma vis-à-vis this inherent darkness, “the stain of sin.” Ironically, Hawthorne posits that our inner darkness and our ability to sublimate evil into something positive is the road to authenticity and, ironically, natural empathy. For Hawthorne, the greatest sin was not that of passion but of the mind, of a “reason that never sleeps,” as Fuentes says in Constancia. Hawthorne’s writing can be interpreted as a critique of his Puritan ancestors’ excessive reliance on the Word, Logos. The Puritans believed that by suppressing natural passion, the human could elevate himself and grow closer to God. For Hawthorne, this amounted to a mutilation of the human soul as he demonstrates in his short story, “The Birthmark.” The scientist, an agent of pure reason, resolves to remove his wife’s birthmark, a symbol of hereditary sin. His effort results in death not perfection.
Wilfredo Álvaro García, director of the Museo de Arte Indígena Contemporáneo, showing off a local artisan's work
Hawthorne’s use of allegory and symbolism as his philosophic vehicles guided my development as a writer both philosophically and technically. I emulated his use of the allegorical journey in my novella, Doctor Magdalena. My creature of reason, Magdalena Ibarra navigates within the human landscape of inner darkness and discovers what Hawthorne calls “a perfect place of beauty.” In The Scarlet letter, it is from her position of sin and exile that Hester Prynne acquires true compassion and wisdom, not the empty piety of religious doctrine. Like Goodman Brown, Hester can discern in the averted glance of young women their own sexual transgression. Because of her own alienation, she truly feels the pain of others, as if all suffering is one thing. Hester and Doctor Ibarra’s suffering is the path of authentic enlightenment, their felix culpa. The road to redemption repudiates innocence. As the character of Catherine of Aragon in the mini-series The Tudors, says, if she had a choice between compete happiness and complete sorrow, she would choose sorrow because happiness makes one forget God whereas suffering opens a true path to him. Another aspect of Hawthorne’s work that influenced me is his creative use of enigma and ambiguity, which reminds me of the poet king Nezahualcoyotl’s declaration that true meaning can only be intuited in “flowers and song,” i.e., in metaphors. In “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne does not tell us for certain if the young man embarked on a physical journey or merely dreamt it, but only that it was true because he was subsequently wise. One criticism of the ending of my novel Chronicles of Air and Dreams: A Novel of Mexico is that I don’t reveal Maria Elena’s ultimate discovery in her journey of many languages and dreams.
The dreams, silences, fragments of histories and memories are the partial relics of a past that cannot be completely recovered. I, much like the character of La Nahua who collects omens on the peripheries of Mexico City, cannot offer a single interpretation of the many dreams, desires, and the floating fragments of conversations of ghosts because they are only partially known. The storyteller acts as the presenter of images that, according to Carlos Fuentes, the reader must arrange and interpret according to his/her desires. A close cousin to ambiguity is Hawthorne’s use of enigma. Pearl in The Scarlet Letter is afavorite subject for analysis, but for me Parson Hooper in “The Minister’s Black Veil” poses a more complex situation. The veil simultaneously conceals and reveals. T.S. Eliot famously said that we “prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet.” So, is that face, our identifier to the world, false? Worse, are we aware that it could be false? By concealing the face, does the parson reveal his true inner self? Or is the veil/mask an active agent that allows him to become someone else? Kobo Abe explores the same existential question in his 1964 novel, The Face of Another. I experimented with identity and the human face as an enigma in Doctor Magdalena. Is she just a face, a creation of her father’s ambitions? If so, is that constructed face now her true self, an integral part of her inner being? Or is there another embryonic self who exists within her primal self? Her allegorical journey into the world of ancestral memory makes her question whether, contrary to conventional feminist criticisms, the male constructs can be apositive component to the development of feminine psyche. Whether she actually dreams or physically experiences her journey of discovery, her story is true on some level because its seeps into the mass unconscious. In the songs and fables, there is now a story about a woman who had her memory removed. Aside from Nathaniel Hawthorne, no one influenced me as much as William Faulkner, who, besides exploring similar philosophic themes as Hawthorne, revealed a writing style that could be adapted to the sensibility of the Mexican dreamscape. When I first read Faulkner in my freshman English composition class at San Jose State University, I was jolted by the revelation that the English language could be molded in such a manner as to conjure the memories and histories suppressed by triumphalist historians. I heard in his writer’s voice the soft murmurs of the Mexican storytellers of my parents’ native Coahuila. Faulkner’s writing style demonstrates a preference for the cumulative sentence and elaborate phrasal modifications that suspends time, creates metaphor, conjures the simultaneity of conflicting desires, equivocations, moral ambiguities, and resurrects a world remembered in dreams. I adapted and modified the Faulknerian style to evoke the sensibility of the Spanish language and the emotive world of my ancestors. Second, I was influenced by Faulkner’s use of circular time. By arranging his narrative in a circular rather than linear narrative, he summoned the past into the present, permitted two times to exist simultaneously in the space of a single story. Thus, the narrative is one and many. There is not a single truth but competing truths born of competing longings that defy easy moral definitions. In Faulkner’s short story, “Barn Burning,” for example, the boy, Colonel SartoriusSnopes, is torn between the reality of his father’s time which is passing but not passed and the ethos of an emerging civil society. He is conflicted between his natural love for his father—“the pull of blood”—and a hatred of what his father stands for and doesn’tstand for. He must choose between blind familial loyalty and the desire to be free to create himself. This existential dilemma occupies my fiction as well: to be what is expected is to deny what can be created.
Some of the grounds of Universidad Internacional, Cuernavaca, Mexico
III. Carlos Fuentes
Many of my reviewers have classified my fiction as an example of Latin American Magical Realism. That’s not surprising because the writers of the Latin American Boom were very influential in my development: Gabriel García Márquez, Elena Garro, Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, and Octavio Paz. Of that group, I gravitated the most towards Carlos Fuentes, both thematically and structurally, because, although Fuentes intended his fiction to be Magical Realism, it can also be read as speculative science fiction. I say speculative science fiction because I developed an affinity for physics during my university studies and could subsequently identify aspects of Quantum Theory in Fuentes’s fiction such as the Many Universe Theory, time travel, consciousness and the holographic universe, and the manipulation of sub-atomic particles. Unlike Magical Realism, speculative science fiction has an empirical basis, and thus, has the element of plausibility. For example, there is nothing in our known science that explains the growth of the corpse in García Márquez’s “The Third Resignation.” However, the Many Universe Hypothesis can explain the phenomenon of Señora Consuelo’s simultaneous manifestation as a young and old woman Aura. Her ability to go back in time is theoretically possible. Felipe can be both Felipe and General Llorante. The study of quantum mechanics has challenged the conventional thought of our empirical reality. As William Blake intuited in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “If the doors of perception were cleaned, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.” Perhaps Fuentes was thinking of Blake when Felipe discoversanew world through the doors that open with the slightest touch in Aura. The plausibility of Aura has been my guiding principle. I try to keep all phenomena in my fiction within the plausibility and the limits of science. The second aspect of Fuentes’s writing that made a lasting impression were hisexistential themes and his assertion that a book is a conversation with another book, one author responding to another. Just as Aura is Fuentes’s response to Henry James’s The Aspern Papers, my Doctor Magdalena is a thematic responsetoThe Death of Artemio Cruz, with regards to the role of identity, memory, and betrayal. I revisit the role of betrayal, identity, memory in Chronicles of Air and Dreams, and likeArtemio Cruz I set it in two times, alternating the chapters between the past and the present. However, it was Aura and its theme of erotic love and identity that has fascinated me. It took me 10 years to finally continue that conversation with Carlos Fuentes with The Stillness of Love and Exile (La quietud del amor y del exilio). Fuentes discusses Aura in “How I Wrote One of My Books” in his collected essays,Myself with Others. His criticisms of patriarchy and its marginalization of women is one of the most eloquent polemic on patriarchy. He fictionally depicts his criticism of a world where “Man divided between his divine thought and his carnal pain is the author of his own unbearable conflict.” Felipe, blinded by the light of masculine constructs, discovers a new world in the dark rooms of Sra. Consuelo’s apartment. Aura (Consuelo) represents the primal woman who “is the owner of her time because she is the owner of her own body.” The ending is both beautiful and grotesque, or perhaps it is beautiful because it is grotesque, so far from the conventional ideal of beauty and youth, yet so authentic. The juxtaposition of the grotesque (and absurd) manifests itself again in his novella, La Desdichada, where the feminine principle is trapped and encompassed in the form of the mannequin. However, in both of these novellas, as in Constancia, andThe Death of Artemio Cruz, he examines the feminine principle from the point of view of the male: Felipe, the law students, Hull and Plotnikov, and Artemio Cruz.
What I wanted to do was to continue this conversation but from the point of view of the woman, Lilia Cantú, who unlike Regina in The Death of Artemio Cruz, does not fall in love with her rapist but detests him. She uses the same silences of Fuentes’s mannequin (La Desdichada) to resist him, to lock him out of her inner being. But her self-exile, like Felipe’s, ultimately makes her incomplete, alienated from intimacy, uncertain of her self-worth, and unknowingly untrue to herself. Her journey through love, first through her friendship with Gabriela, and later with her love affairs with Javier San Andres and Miguel Treviño, liberate her from her self-imposed exile. In my writer’s conversation with Fuentes, I wanted to show the female’s perspective in a world where there is still an imbalance of power, where violence is still a tool of intimidation, and where fear forces the repression of the self for the sake of preservation. Whereas, a woman creates higher consciousness in men in Fuentes’s fiction, I responded by portraying self-realization from the woman’s perspective, not as the passive but active agent. Not the one who is discovered by men but who discovers the passion of men as a vehicle for self-actualization.
The making of a writer begins with the books one reads. Just as the apprentice learns from the master craftsman, the writer absorbs the style and substance of his/her art from learning from the masters of literature. For Latino writers, we have the influence of our formal education and with it, the literary traditions of England and the United States. Furthermore, with very few exceptions, we write in English. But unlike other national groups that have forgotten their mother cultures, we retain distinct Hispanic characteristics. Perhaps it is because of our proximity to Latin America. Or perhaps it is because Hispanic culture changes and remains the same. Despite our Americanness, our attraction and affinity to our ancestors’ culture invariably draws us to the Spanish letters, and thus, we draw influence from that source as well. A close examination of our work will, to varying degrees, show descent from both traditions. It is not a unique literature that stands outside of both traditions, but a literature that simultaneously belongs to both thematically and structurally. Because of the strong influences of two literary traditions, we are writing in both traditions in varying degrees. Some works such as Ron Arias’ The Road to Tamazunchale, for example, is American literature because it takes place in Los Angeles, its characters are American, and it is written in English. But it is also Latin American fiction because of its magical realism and Latino themes. The Rain God, by Arturo Islas, is American Literature because it is set in the United States and is written in English, but its subject matter are the Mexican Americans of New Mexico, and he employs the circular narrative style invented by Faulkner and popularized by the Boom writers. My creation, The Stillness of Love and Exile, is more of a Latin American novel in English although it relies not on magical realism but American-style science fiction. One can go on, but that is an endeavor for scholars and not a novelist. I hope that this conference is a new beginning for the classification of the work of American Latino writers, who offer a window into the inner collective mind of our community in the United States and has emerged as the latest historic permutation of Hispanic culture.
Works Cited or Consulted
Arias. The Road to Tamazunchale. New York: Anchor, 1992. Asimov, Isaac. Understanding Physics. New York, Dorset Press, 1966. Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” The Collected Stories, Vintage, 1977, pp. 3-26. Fuentes, Carlos. Aura. Translated by Lysander Kemp, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1965. -------. Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins. Translated by Thomas Christiansen, Harper Perennial, 1991. ------. The Death of Artemio Cruz. Translated by Sam Hillman, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, ------. “How I Wrote One of My Books.” Myself with Others: Selected Essays.” New York: Noonday, 1990. García Márquez, Gabriel. “The Third Resignation.” Translated by Gregory Rabassa, Perennial Library, 1984, pp. 3-12. Gribbin, John, Unveiling at the Edge of Time. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1992. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark.” The Literature Network. The Literature Network, http://www.online-literature.com/hawthorne/125/. Accessed 13 Jul 2018. ----. “Young Goodman Brown.” An Anthology of American Literature: Colonial Through the Romantic, 2nd ed., edited by George McMichael, Macmillian, 1974, pp. 1135-44. -----. “The Minster’s Black Veil.” An Anthology of American Literature: Colonial Through the Romantic, 2nd ed., edited by George McMichael, Macmillian, 1974, pp. 1152-60. -----. The Scarlet Letter. An Anthology of American Literature: Colonial Through the Romantic, 2nd ed., edited by George McMichael, Macmillian, 1974, pp. 1211-1322. Hirst, Michael, creator The Tudors. Showtimes, 2007. Islas, Arturo, The Rain God. Palo Alto: Alexandria Press, 1984. Lewis, R.W.B. The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955. Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964. Talbot, Michael. Mysticism and the New Physics. New York: Penguin, 1993.
Rosa Martha Villarreal, a Chicana novelist and essayist, is a descendant of the 16th century Spanish and Tlaxcatecan settlers of Nuevo Leon. She drew upon her family history in her critically acclaimed novels Doctor Magdalena, Chronicles of Air and Dreams: A Novel of Mexico, and The Stillness of Love and Exile, the latter a recipient of the Josephine Miles PEN Literary Award and a Silver Medalist in the Independent Publishers Book Award (2008). She currently writes a column, “Tertullian’s Corner,” for the Latino literary magazine “Somos en Escrito.” She lives near Sacramento, California.