By Claudio Iván Remeseira, NBCLatino
The author of Chicano, Richard Vásquez (1923-1990), was a third-generation Angelino who worked in the fields, in construction, and as a taxi driver before turning to journalism. His seminal book recreates the life of four generations of the Sandoval family, from when the patriarch Héctor fled the Mexican Revolution and established himself in California, to the tragic love story of Hector’s daughter-in-law and her non-Latino lover. In the best tradition of American social realism, the novel vividly portrays half-a-century of collective Mexican-American experience.
The mestizo cultural roots of the Southwest are masterfully depicted by Rudolfo Anaya (1937, New Mexico) in Bless Me, Última. This 1972 novel describes a boy’s spiritual awakening in 1940s New Mexico under the guidance of a traditional curandera. Because of its adult language and sexual references, it was one of several books included last year in a controversial public-school curriculum ban in Tucson, Arizona. It was recently transformed into a film, starring Puerto Rican actress Miriam Colon in the title role.
The social and political upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s was successfully captured by certain authors. Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales (1928 – 2005), born to Mexican immigrants in Denver, Colorado, was one of the key figures of the Mexican-American civil rights movement. His poem “I am Joaquín” (1967), based on 19th-century folk hero and bandit Joaquín Murrieta, has been called “our collective song” by California Poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera. Gonzalez is another of the authors excluded from Tucson’s school curriculum.
Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia ( b. 1947), better known by his pen name Alurista, was born in Mexico City and came to the U.S. in his teens. Inspired by César Chávez’ struggle and Mexico’s indigenous past, he was instrumental in the development of the concept of Aztlán, the symbol of the mythological ancestral home of the Aztec peoples.
Oscar “Zeta” Acosta was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1935. A candidate to LA County sheriff for the radical La Raza Unida party, he disappeared in Mexico under obscure circumstances in 1974. He published two fictionalized memoirs, The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo (1970) and The Revolt of the Cockroach People (1973).
Other Mexican-American authors of this era do not really fit under the label of Chicano literature. Rolando Hinojosa Smith (Mercedes, Texas, 1929) is an experimental writer whose work has been compared to William Faulkner’s. In 1976 he won the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize for his novel Klail City. He has also translated one of the most intriguing coming-of-age novels of his generation, …y no se lo tragó la tierra (And the Earth Did Not Devour Him / This Migrant Earth), by fellow Texan Tomás Rivera (1935-1984). And Richard Rodríguez (San Francisco, 1944), a gay Catholic and conservative radio commentator and author of Hunger of memory, Brown, and the upcoming Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography, is widely regarded as one of the nation’s best essayists.
Lorna Dee Cervantes, Denise Chávez, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Cherríe Moraga, Helena María Viramontes, and Sandra Cisneros (Chicago, 1954, author of the celebrated The House on Mango Street) are some of the most well-known Chicana writers.
Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) belongs into a category of her own. Her collection of essays and poems Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza is a groundbreaking exploration of sexual, ethnic, and cultural identity and one of the most influential works ever published about the U.S. Latino experience.
This article was first published in NBCLatino.