Chicano literature

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Chicano literature, or Mexican-American literature, refers to literature written by Chicanos in the United States. Although its origins can be traced back to the sixteenth century, the bulk of Chicano literature dates from after the 1848 United States annexation of large parts of Mexico in the wake of the Mexican–American War. Today, this genre includes a vibrant and diverse set of narratives, prompting critics to describe it as providing "a new awareness of the historical and cultural independence of both northern and southern American hemispheres".[1]

Definition and dynamics[edit]

Rudolfo Anaya, Chicano author, educator born in 1937 in Pantura, New Mexico and published Bless Me Ultima in 1972, which's adapted to film in 2013.

The definition of Chicano or Mexican-American encompasses both Mexicans who have moved to the United States and U.S.-born people of Mexican ancestry. The latter group includes people who have lived in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of California before the United States annexed these areas and who lived different experiences than those south of the annexation line. Composed mostly of Spanish-speaking Catholics living in a predominantly English-speaking Protestant country, Chicanos have the status of a linguistic and cultural minority.

Chicano literature also has a racial dynamic; some Mexican-Americans define themselves as mestizo, people with a mixture of primarily indigenous and European heritage, while others fit within the Hispano demographics of people with primarily European heritage. African-descended Mexicans also contribute to this field, with the last governor of Alta California, Pío Pico, having African heritage.[2] There are also people who do not fit easily in these definitions, such as Josefina Niggli, whose parents were Euro-Americans living in Mexico when she was born.[3][4]

Chicano or Mexican-American writing includes those works in which writers' sense of ethnic identity or chicanismo animates their work fundamentally, often through the presentation of Chicano characters, cultural situations, and speech patterns.[5]


Gloria Anazaldua, Chicana author, educator, queer theorist born in 1942 in Harlingen, Texas and published Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiva by Radical Women of Color in 1981.

"Chicano" refers to a person of Mexican descent in North America, compared to "Latino", which refers to those with cultural ties to Latin America more broadly. Cultural roots are important to Chicanos, many of whom celebrate historical practices such as the Day of the Dead.[6] Chicanos often adopted a dual culture in the 20th century; they speak English and adapt to U.S. culture, but are influenced by their Mexican heritage. They have been targeted racially since 1848 and often responded by rejecting the label "brown" throughout history when being "white" was dominant.[7]

Some scholars argue that the origins of Chicano literature can be traced back to the sixteenth century, starting with the chronicle written by Spanish adventurer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who published an account in 1542 of his long journey in what is now the U.S. Southwest, where he lived with various indigenous groups, learning their language and customs.[8] Literary critics Harold Augenbraum and Margarite Fernández Olmos argue that Cabeza de Vaca's "metamorphosis into a being neither European nor Indian, a cultural hybrid created by the American experience, converts the explorer into a symbolic precursor of the Chicano/a".[9] Scholar Lee Dowling adds that Inca Garcilaso de la Vega also contributed to early Chicano literature with his expeditionary work La Florida.[10]

Sandra Cisneros experiments with literary forms which she attributes to growing up in a context of cultural hybridity and economic inequality that endowed her with unique stories to tell.

Chicano literature (and, more generally, the Chicano identity) is viewed as starting after the Mexican–American War and the subsequent 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.[11] In the treaty, Mexico ceded over half of its territory, the now the U.S. Southwest, including California, Nevada, Utah, and much of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Tens of thousands of former Mexican citizens became U.S. citizens.[12] Literary critic Ramón Saldívar points out, "Unlike many other ethnic immigrants to the United States... but like the Native Americans, Mexican-Americans became an ethnic minority through the direct conquest of their homelands."[13] This change in legal status was not immediately accompanied by a change in culture or language. Over time, however, these Mexican-Americans or Chicanos developed a unique culture that belonged fully neither to the U.S. nor to Mexico. In Saldívar's words, "Mexican-American culture after 1848 developed in the social interstices between Mexican and American cultural spheres, making that new cultural life patently a product of both but also different in decisive ways from each."[13] The Chicano culture, as expressed in literature as well as other cultural practices, has been further shaped by migrations of Mexicans to the U.S. throughout subsequent eras.

Con Safos Literary Magazine was the first independent Chicano Literary journal and published in Los Angeles in the 60's and 70's.

Historically, literature has faced gender gaps, and Chicano literature is no exception, with more male writers recorded than women.[14] "Machismo", a sense of overt masculinity, is often cited as part of the reason that Chicana voices have historically been silenced. During El Movimiento, in which Chicanos were fighting for social and civil rights in the United States, several Chicana writers began to write, forming an important part of the movement. [15] By 1900, according to critic Raymund Paredes, "Mexican American literature had emerged as a distinctive part of the literary culture of the United States."[5] Paredes highlights the significance of Josephina Niggli's 1945 novel, Mexican Village, which was "the first literary work by a Mexican American to reach a general American audience."[5] Many different genres of Chicano literature, including narrative, poetry, and drama, now have a wide popular and critical presence.

Notable Chicano writers[edit]

A photograph of Helena Maria Viramontes 2006 an American fiction writer and professor of English at Cornell University.

Jovita Gonzales (1904–1983) was a Mexican-American born in Roma, Texas who graduated from the University of Texas with a master's degree in history.[16] A selection of books she has written includes, Dew on the Thorn, The Women Who Lost Her Soul and Other Stories, Life Along the Border, and Caballero. Gonzales was educated from an early age and was exposed to fictional writing. She grew up with a sense of pride for being Mexican-American, which led her to dedicate herself to writing about Texan-American stories. [17]

Americo Paredes (September 3, 1915 – May 5, 1999) was a Mexican-American author born in Brownsville, Texas who authored texts such as With a Pistol in his Hand and George Washington Gomez which focused on border life between the United States and Mexico, particularly within the Rio Grande region of South Texas during the early twentieth century. These works shared the common themes which permeate Chicano literature, and thus have been identified as being proto-Chicano works of literature. Throughout his long career as an author, journalist, folklorist, and professor, Paredes brought increased attention to Mexican-American's heritage and unique struggles, and is widely regarded as being one of the most influential precursors to contemporary Chicano literature.[18]

Tomas Rivera (born December 22, 1935) is a Mexican-American author born in Crystal City, Texas. After high school, he earned a degree in Southwest Texas State University and a Ph.D. at University of Oklahoma. He wrote Migrant Earth also titled And the Earth Did Not Devour Him y no se lo trago la tierra 1971. He received the prestigious Premio Quinto Sol Award. The Earth Did Not Devour Him received recognition as a film adaptation directed by Severo Perez in 1994. Rivera is a founder of Chicano literature.

Rudolfo Anaya (born October 30, 1937) was a Mexican-American author born in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Following high school, he earned a B.A. in English and American Literature from the University of New Mexico in 1963. He went on to complete two master's degrees at the University of New Mexico, one in 1968 for English and another in 1972 for guidance and counseling. Best known for his 1972 novel Bless Me, Ultima, Anaya is considered one of the founders of the canon of contemporary Chicano literature.

Stephanie Elizondo Griest (born June 6, 1974) is a Chicana author and activist from South Texas. Her books include Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana, 100 Places Every Woman Should Go , and Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines (Washington Square Press/Simon & Schuster, 2008). She has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Latina Magazine, and numerous Travelers' Tales anthologies.

Luis Alberto Urrea (born August 20, 1955) is a Mexican-American author born in Tijuana, Mexico. His father was from New York, and his mother was from the state of Sinaloa in Mexico. Although Urrea was born in Mexico, he is still considered a U.S. citizen, born abroad.[19]


Diana Gabaldon signing books at the 2017 Phoenix Comicon

Chicano literature tends to focus on themes of identity, discrimination, and border culture, with an emphasis on validating Mexican-American culture or Chicano culture in the United States. It is often associated with the social justice and cultural claims of the Chicano movement.

Other notable themes include the experience of migration and living between two languages. Chicano literature may be written in either English or Spanish or even a combination of the two often referred to as Spanglish. Chicano culture has often been politically focused on the question of the border, and how Chicanos straddle or cross that border.

The contributions of feminists such as Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga have been particularly pronounced over the past couple of decades. Anzaldúa, in particular, brought more attention to view the topic of the border in ways beyond the physical. Her focus primarily dealt with sexual and cultural oppression, while Moraga made significant contributions to addressing queer and lesbian identities among Chicano/a people.[20]

Sergio Troncoso writes about crossing cultural, religious, and psychological borders.

Border literature[edit]

Traveling across the border is becoming an important topic as the Mexican population is growing in regions close to the border, such as Texas and California. Mexican migration to the U.S. is causing an increase in literature for labor workers and studies of the Mexican-American Culture. The motivational force of Mexicans traveling across the border is viewed as an opportunity to increase their capital and expand their opportunities.[21] Mexican-Americans near the border struggle with their identity because they are mostly considered immigrants, although some may be U.S. citizens. Mexicans view crossing the border as an opportunity to improve their living conditions for themselves and their families although they have had a strong bond to their Mexican nationality and would look at those that became U.S. citizens as traitors.[22] Before the 1930s, there was little Mexican-American literature published. Mexicans would stay in their homeland and not seek the U.S. as an escape.[23] After the U.S.-Mexican war, Mexicans saw themselves as being denied their civil rights while having U.S. citizenship; they found themselves receiving much lower pay than White labor who disregarded their skill level.[24]

Dual-cultural identity[edit]

Danzy Senna centering on issues of gender, race and motherhood.

Stephanie Elizondo Griest takes a neutral standpoint where she is acting as a third person in her books. She explores what it's like to have a Mexican culture in an American society.[25] Even though Chicanos are bound to the Mexican culture, it seems as if they are distant from Mexico itself because of the U.S.-Mexico border, thus creating a mixture of culture for the people of the region with both U.S. and Mexican culture.[26] Mexican culture is known for being mixed, which is noted by Mexican Natives as being important to the survival of Mexican culture. Mexicans living near the border keep their cultural identity because they live close to Mexico despite being blocked by the U.S.-Mexico border. Another factor that helps Mexican culture endure in the U.S. is people migrating from Mexico to the U.S. and bringing their culture with them, as well as influencing family members. Their culture is thought to be assimilated by later generations of immigrants to the U.S., but younger generations develop an interest in their cultural roots.[27] People born in the U.S. to immigrant parents face an assimilation process where they try to adapt to their communities, but still feel like they're considered foreign.[28]

Chica lit[edit]

Gwendolyn Zepeda Houston's first Poet Laureate

In 2003, author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez published The Dirty Girls Social Club, a chick lit novel aimed at Latina women. Valdes-Rodriguez was dubbed the godmother of Chica lit by Seattle Times magazine.[29] Unlike other works of Chicano literature, Chica lit targeted middle-class women like Valdes-Rodriguez, who described herself as "an Ivy League graduate, middle-class person who just lives a regular American life—you know, born and raised here, don't speak all that much Spanish".[29] Michele Serros was a Latina writer drawing on her own life experiences, much of her works gave voice to the complexities of lives straddling two worlds: working-class Mexican-American heritage and southern California pop culture.[30][31] She described how she never quite fit in through poems and prose that were both poignant and hilarious. Pam Muñoz Ryan has written over forty books for young people, including picture books, early readers, and middle grade and young adult novels. Her novel Esperanza Rising[32] was commissioned as a play by the Minneapolis Children's Theatre and has been performed in venues around the US including the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.[33] Angela Morales Her essay "The Girls in My Town" appeared in The Best American Essays, 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed, and her essay "Bloodyfeathers, R.I.P." appeared as notable essay in Best American Essays 2015.

Major figures[edit]

Rodolfo Acuña an American historian, professor emeritus at California State University, Northridge, and a scholar of Chicano studies.

Major figures in Chicano literature include Ana Castillo, Carlos Muñoz, Jr., Sabine R. Ulibarri, Rudolfo Anaya, Francisco Jiménez, Américo Paredes, Rodolfo Gonzales, Rafael C. Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Julian S. Garcia, Gary Soto, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Luis Valdez, John Rechy, Luis Omar Salinas, Tino Villanueva, Denise Chavez, Daniel Olivas, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Tomás Rivera, Luis Alberto Urrea, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Sergio Troncoso, Rigoberto González, Rolando Hinojosa, Luis J. Rodriguez, Rudy Ruiz and Alicia Gaspar de Alba. María Ruiz de Burton was the first female Mexican-American author to publish in English around 1872. The literature on Chicano history can be found in Occupied America, by Rodolfo Acuña, which offers an alternative perspective of history from the Chicano point of view. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca offers an alternative perspective on Chicano literature in Backgrounds of Mexican-American Literature, the first study in the field of Mexican-American/Chicano literary history.


  1. ^ Calderón & Saldívar 1991, p. 7
  2. ^ Estrada, William (2016-10-27). "The Life and Times of Pío Pico, Last Governor of Mexican California". KCET. Retrieved 2017-06-06.
  3. ^ Alzate, Gastón A. (2008). "The Plays of Josefina Niggli: Recovered Landmarks of Latino Literature (review)". Latin American Theatre Review. 42 (1): 206–208. doi:10.1353/ltr.2008.0046. ISSN 2161-0576.
  4. ^ "Josefina Niggli, Mexican American Writer: A Critical Biography". American Literature. 80 (1): 194–195. 2008-01-01. doi:10.1215/00029831-80-1-194-c. ISSN 0002-9831.
  5. ^ a b c Paredes 1995
  6. ^ Marchi, Regina (2013). "Hybridity and Authenticity in US Day of the Dead Celebrations". The Journal of American Folklore. 126 (501): 272. doi:10.5406/jamerfolk.126.501.0272. ISSN 0021-8715. S2CID 145305495.
  7. ^ Blea, Irene I. U.S. Chicanas and Latinas within a Global Context: Women of Color at the Fourth World Women's Conference. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.
  8. ^ Critic Luis Leal comments, "you can go as far back as explorer Cabeza de Vaca, who wrote about his adventures in Texas in the sixteenth century". Qtd. in García 2000, p. 112
  9. ^ Augernbraum & Fernández Olmos, p. xv
  10. ^ Dowling 2006, p. 139
  11. ^ Allatson, Paul. "Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo", in Key Terms in Latino/a Cultural and Literary Studies, Malden, Massachusetts, and Oxford, Blackwell press, 2007, p. 234
  12. ^ Nostrand, Richard L. (1975). "Mexican-Americans Circa 1850". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 65 (3): 378–390. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8306.1975.tb01046.x.
  13. ^ a b Saldívar 1990, p. 13
  14. ^ Rodriguez, Ralph E. (2000). "Chicana/o Fiction from Resistance to Contestation: The Role of Creation in Ana Castillo's So Far from God". MELUS. 25 (2): 63–82. doi:10.2307/468219. ISSN 0163-755X. JSTOR 468219.
  15. ^ Jacobs, Elizabeth. 2009. Mexican American Literature: the Politics of Identity. London: Routledge.
  16. ^ "Jovita González | Humanities Texas". Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  17. ^ López Sam. 2012. Post-Revolutionary Chicana Literature: Memoir, Folklore, and Fiction of the Border, 1900–1950. New York: Routledge.
  18. ^ David Saldivar, Jose (2000). "The Location of Americo Paredes' Border Thinking". Nepantla: Views from South. 1: 191–195 – via Project MUSE.
  19. ^ González-T., César A. "Luis Alberto Urrea." In Chicano Writers: Third Series, edited by Francisco A. Lomeli and Carl R. Shirley. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 209. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1999. Literature Resource Center.
  20. ^ Tatonetti, L. ""A Kind of Queer Balance": Cherrie Moraga's Aztlan". MELUS. 29 (2): 227–247. doi:10.2307/4141827. ISSN 0163-755X. JSTOR 4141827.
  21. ^ Cantú, Norma E., and María E. Fránquiz. Inside the Latin@ Experience: A Latin@ Studies Reader. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  22. ^ Stavans, Ilan. Border Culture. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.
  23. ^ Riofrio "Rio", John (2013). "Border Renaissance: The Texas Centennial and the Emergence of Mexican American Literature by John Morán González (review)". Hispanófila. 167 (1): 110–112. doi:10.1353/hsf.2013.0004. ISSN 2165-6185. S2CID 201794731.
  24. ^ González, John Morán. Border Renaissance: The Texas Centennial and the Emergence of Mexican-American Literature. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011.
  25. ^ Oliver-Rotger, Maria Antonia (2016-03-02). "Travel, Autoethnography and "Cultural Schizophrenia" in Stephanie Elizondo Griest's Mexican Enough". Interdisciplinary Literary Studies. 18 (1): 112–129. doi:10.5325/intelitestud.18.1.0112. ISSN 2161-427X. S2CID 146907504.
  26. ^ Gutiérrez-Witt, Laura. "United States-Mexico Border Studies and "BorderLine"." Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 6, no. 1 (1990): 121-31. doi:10.2307/1052008.
  27. ^ Borderless Borders U.S. Latinos, Latins Americans, and the Paradox of Interdependence. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.
  28. ^ Falconer, Blas, and Lorraine M. López. The Other Latin@: Writing against a Singular Identity. Tucson, Ariz: University of Arizona Press, 2011.
  29. ^ a b Kerry Lengel, "Chica lit" fills a niche for Latinas, The Arizona Republic.
  30. ^ Simmons, Ann M. (October 11, 2010) "Cal State L.A. festival celebrates Latino authors" Los Angeles Times
  31. ^ del Barco, Mandalit (January 7, 2015) "Remembering 'Generation Mex' Writer And Proud Outsider Michele Serros" National Public Radio All Things Considered"
  32. ^ "Library to Host 2016 Américas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature". Library of Congress. 8 September 2016. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  33. ^ "Author - Pam Muñoz Ryan". Retrieved 2016-08-08.


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