Arturo Islas

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Arturo Islas, Jr.
Born (1938-05-24)May 24, 1938
El Paso, Texas
Died February 15, 1991(1991-02-15) (aged 52)
Stanford University Campus Home
Occupation Novelist
Nationality Mexican American
Genre Chicano Literature
Literary movement Chicano
Notable works

The Rain God

Migrant Souls
Notable awards Border Regional Library Association's Southwest Book Award

Arturo Islas, Jr. (May 25, 1938 – February 15, 1991), a native of El Paso, Texas, was a professor of English and a novelist, writing about the experience of Chicano cultural duality.

He received three degrees from Stanford: a B.A. in 1960, a Masters in 1963 and a Ph.D. in 1971, when he joined the Stanford faculty. Islas was one of the first Chicanos in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in English. In 1976, he became the first Chicano faculty member to receive tenure at Stanford.[1]

Islas died on February 15, 1991 from complications related to AIDS.

Works[edit]

Early Life and Education[edit]

Fleeing the Mexican Revolution, Arturo Islas’ father and paternal grandparents crossed the United-States-Mexico border to live in El Paso, Texas in 1910. Islas’ grandmother, Crecenciana, was a teacher who devoted much of her time to disciplining and educating her children, ensuring that each of them learned how to read, write and speak fluent English. Largely thanks to this education, Islas’ father, Arturo Islas Sr., became a respected police officer in a largely white police force, and in turn, Arturo Islas Jr. and his cousins all developed a respect for learning and went to college to pursue advanced degrees in their fields.[2]

Despite a life-threatening childhood bout with polio that left him with a permanent limp, Islas rarely, if ever, struggled to keep up with the other kids in school. In 1956, Islas graduated as valedictorian of his class from El Paso Public High School. In the fall of that same year, he began his undergraduate career at Stanford University.[3] At first, Islas intended to be a premed student so he could eventually become a neurosurgeon. However, after his first biology and chemistry classes resulted in B’s, Islas began to question his decision to become a doctor. It wasn’t long before Islas decided to study humanities instead, where he was getting A’s and particularly excelling in his coursework. Islas ultimately became an English major, and sources differ, but he may have minored in either French Literature or religious studies.[4] Islas was honored repeatedly for his success in his study of literature, earning enough esteem to be elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and receiving several awards for creative writing. Islas flourished in the program and went on to earn both a master’s and a Ph. D. in English from Stanford.[5]

Later Life and Career[edit]

After completing his P.h. D in 1971, Arturo immediately joined the faculty of Stanford University in the English department. He was the Chair of the Faculty Recruitment Committee, advisor to Chicano undergraduates and fellows, and Co-Director for the Stanford Center for Chicano Research. He became a beloved professor, teaching classes focusing on the English language and minority groups, and received the Dinkelspiel Award for Undergraduate Teaching Excellence in 1976. In the same year, he was promoted to associate professor, thereby becoming Stanford’s first tenured Chicano professor.[6] In 1977, Islas took a sabbatical to finish writing Dia de los Muertos, the novel that would be published as The Rain God in 1984. In 1986, Islas became a full professor at Stanford University and began to write La Mollie and the King of Tears which was published in 1990. Arturo died on February 15, 1991 due to complications related to AIDS.[7]

Writing Style[edit]

Like many renowned writers, Islas wrote and published in several genres, but he is most well known for his two finished novels, The Rain God and Migrant Souls. Both of these books depict the Angel family, a family that lives in the border region of the United States. Islas believed deeply in writing about the Chicano experience in America to help make “visible Chicano/a creative expression and [the] struggle against institutional and individual racist acts” and encouraged his Chicano/a students to write from their own heritage and experience.[8] Islas led them by example, consistently writing autobiographical details into his novels, particularly in the form of the character Miguel, who attends college in California and struggles with serious health issues, much as Islas did for the larger part of his life. Islas also writes particular local histories about El Paso and a nod to his disciplinarian grandmother, Crecenciana, in the form of Mama Chona into his work. One scholar wrote that “[The Rain God] is a fictional autobiography because it is, first and foremost, the protagonist’s own account of how the Angel family shaped his self-identity.” In general, The Rain God uses a third person narrator who, through indirect discourse, is deeply sympathetic with and self-conscious of his connection to the main character, connecting the writer to the protagonist.[9] In other works like La Mollie and the King of Tears, Islas favors a first-person narrator who speaks in dialect to drive home the influence of personal experience on the work. Either way, the impact of Islas’ heritage on the form and style of his work is plain. While not an exact retelling of his life, Islas’ accounts of the Angel family place him in a larger category of contemporary semiautobiographical Chicano/a writers that have emerged from working-class families to transcend language barriers and include Chicano/as in the class of educated, published people.[10]

Literary Themes[edit]

Borders[edit]

Many of Arturo Islas’s works center on the conflict of borders. The works of Islas frequently are set in border towns, and explore the dynamic scenes, perceptions, and situations that exist when two cultures meet on the United States/Mexico border. As is common in Chicano literature, Islas critiques the stereotypes involved with the association of white and American with civilized as well as dark and Mexican with tribal and uncivilized. He discusses the rifts this causes in border town communities especially in some of his earlier short stories and continues to expand on the topic in his later novels such as The Rain God. The economic dichotomies are also observed as Islas compares the Anlgo elite with the impoverishment of the Mexicans. He further looks at borders and Chicano identity through an examination of language, making distinctions between Castellon Spanish, Mexican Spanish, and English. He identifies the advantages of bilingualism in the United States, the stereotypes associated with Mexican Spanish, and how the different forms of language contribute to the establishment of personal identity.[11]

Sexuality[edit]

The exploration of sexuality is very prevalent in Islas’s works as he looks at the topic in relation to the Chicano community. In “Poor Little Lamb” Islas looks at the roles of machismo culture. He casts the protagonist as the non-macho son who defies the will and expectations of his very macho father by breaking through the stereotypes of masculinity in the Chicano culture.[12] The idea of sexual repression through culture is seen in Islas’s more notable works as well. In The Rain God, the Ángel family lives in a highly structured, patriarchal community in which homosexuality is not viewed as valid and the topic is remains unspoken. This is evident in the language used. Throughout the book, the word “homosexual” appears just one time, and the characters choose to utilize more ambiguous terms such as “queer” and “joto” which allude to homosexuality without explicitly stating it. Moreover, The Rain God shows sexual repression through religion. The Ángel family is very Catholic: a religion which denies the validity of any sexuality besides heterosexuality. “Rather than define a homosexual presence within the family, which would mean confronting the truth, the Ángel clan rely on their fear and shame of it to accommodate the illusion that it does not exist in their home or lives” (103).[13]

Autobiographical Ties[edit]

The works of Islas have many biographical ties. The strong themes of sexuality are related to Islas’s own exploration of his sexuality.[14] Many characters also are riddled with physical illness such as Miguel Chico in The Rain God. The novel opens with Miguel fresh out of surgery and noting how he will “forever be a slave to plastic appliances” (7).[15] Events like this are directly tied to the life of Islas who had many surgeries including a surgery where his rectum was replaced with a plastic tube. Miguel Chico is also similar to Islas in that “He had been the first in his generation to leave home immediately following high school after being admitted to a private and prestigious university before it was fashionable or expedient to accept students from his background” (5),[16] just as Islas went to Stanford.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Dekker, George, Larry Friedlander, Diane Middlebrook and Nancy Packer. Memorial Resolution: Arturo Islas. Historical Society of Stanford University. 1991.
  2. ^ Frederick Luis Aldama, Dancing with Ghosts: A Critical Biography of Arturo Islas.
  3. ^ Aldama, Dancing with Ghosts, 163
  4. ^ “Memorial Resolution: Arturo Islas (1938-1991),” last modified 1991, http://histsoc.stanford.edu/pdfmem/IslasA.pdf . and Aldama, Dancing with Ghosts, 164, respectively.
  5. ^ "English professor, novelist Arturo Islas dies,” last modified April 18, 1991, http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/pr/91/910418Arc1431.html .
  6. ^ Dekker, George, Larry Friedlander, Diane Middlebrook and Nancy Packer. Memorial Resolution: Arturo Islas. Historical Society of Stanford University. 1991.
  7. ^ Aldama, Fredrick Luis. Dancing with Ghosts: A Critical Biography of Arturo Islas. Berkeley, CA: University California Press, 2004. Web.
  8. ^ Aldama, Dancing with Ghosts, 26.
  9. ^ Marta E. Sánchez, “Arturo Islas’ The Rain God: An Alternative Tradition,” American Literature, 62 (1990): 285-286.
  10. ^ Sánchez, “Arturo Islas’ The Rain God,” 284.
  11. ^ Aldama, Frederick Luis. "Bending Chicano Identity and Experience: in Arturo Islas's Early Borderland Short Stories." Frederick Luis Aldama. Editor. Critical Mappings of Arturo Islas's Fictions. United States: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2008. Print.
  12. ^ Aldama, Frederick Luis. "Bending Chicano Identity and Experience: in Arturo Islas's Early Borderland Short Stories." Frederick Luis Aldama. Editor. Critical Mappings of Arturo Islas's Fictions. United States: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2008. Print.
  13. ^ Ybarra, David N.. "Another Closet in the House of Angels: The Denial of Identity in The Rain God." Frederick Luis Aldama, Editor. Critical Mappings of Arturo Islas's Fictions. United States: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2008. Print.
  14. ^ Aldama, Frederick Luis. "Bending Chicano Identity and Experience: in Arturo Islas's Early Borderland Short Stories." Frederick Luis Aldama. Editor. Critical Mappings of Arturo Islas's Fictions. United States: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2008. Print.
  15. ^ Islas, Arturo. The Rain God. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1984. Print.
  16. ^ Islas, Arturo. The Rain God. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1984. Print.

References[edit]

  • Profile
  • Dekker, George, Larry Friedlander, Diane Middlebrook and Nancy Packer. Memorial Resolution: Arturo Islas. Historical Society of Stanford University. 1991.

External links[edit]