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]

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 Spanish 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. Although Niggli is considered Anglo in the broader ethnic sense of the term, she felt more connected to Mexican culture[citation needed] and wrote most of her novels and plays around Mexican themes.

Chicano or Mexican-American writing includes those works in which writers' sense of ethnic identity or chicanismo animates their work manifestly and fundamentally, often through the presentation of Chicano characters, cultural situations, and speech patterns.[3]


"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. Chicanos were often forced to adopt a dual culture in the 20th century, where they learned to speak English and adapt to U.S. culture, but were still heavily influenced by their Mexican culture. They have been targeted racially since 1848 and often responded by rejecting the label "brown" throughout history when being "white" was dominant.[4]

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.[5] 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".[6] Scholar Lee Dowling adds that Inca Garcilaso de la Vega also contributed to early Chicano literature with his expeditionary work La Florida.[7]

Chicano literature (and, more generally, the Chicano identity) is usually viewed as starting after the Mexican–American War and the subsequent 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.[8] 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.[9] 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."[10] 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."[10] 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.

Historically, literature has faced gender gaps, and Chicano literature is no exception, with more male writers recorded than women.[11] "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. [12] By 1900, according to critic Raymund Paredes, "Mexican American literature had emerged as a distinctive part of the literary culture of the United States."[3] 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."[3] Many different genres of Chicano literature, including narrative, poetry, and drama, now have a wide popular and critical presence.

Notable Chicano writers[edit]

Stephanie Elizondo Griest is a Chicano travel writer who has traveled to many countries around the globe.[13] She has learned to speak Russian and has earned a degree in journalism. She grew up in Corpus Christi, TX. Griest began speaking about wanting to travel in her high school years. She traveled to Moscow while learning Russian and even created a rulebook to traveling to Russia. She had added to Chicano studies by her form of travel writing, exploring how Mexican culture can be affected in a border region. She has made relevant contributions as she grew up in American culture in Texas, resulting in being heavily influenced by Mexican culture. Specifically, this influence came from family and friends who resisted assimilation of the Mexican culture.[14] In Griest's Mexican Enough, she explores her cultural differences.[15] She does interviews with people about issues of assimilation and how they choose to keep their cultural identity roots as they search for self-assurance in their society.[16]

Jovita Gonzales (1904–1983) was a Mexican-American, born in Texas who graduated from the University of Texas with a master's degree in history.[17] 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 of being Mexican-American, which would lead her to dedicate herself to writing about Texan-American stories. [18]

Dew on the Thorn provides the reader with a sense of how it was for Mexican societies to live near the border throughout history. In the story, Mexicans are robbed of their land after the Mexican–American War opposed the idea of moving out of Texas as they viewed that area as their home. The purpose of losing their homes to the ones they thought of as strangers caused them to oppose the idea of leaving the land even if Texas had become part of the United States. A prominent theme in this book included how an oppressed Mexican society reacts to being a minority in American society.

Luis Alberto Urrea 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]


Chicano literature tends to focus on themes of identity, discrimination, and culture, with an emphasis on validating Mexican-American culture or Chicano culture in the United States. It is often associated with the social and cultural claims of the Chicano movement. It is a vehicle through which Chicanos express and represent themselves, and is also often a voice of social critique and protest.

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.[citation needed]

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]

Dual-cultural identity[edit]

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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26] Before the 1930s, there was little Mexican-American literature and Mexicans would stay in their homes and not seek the U.S. as an escape. 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.[27]

Chica lit[edit]

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.[28] 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".[28]

Major figures[edit]

Major figures in Chicano literature include Sabine R. Ulibarri, Rudolfo Anaya, 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 write 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, a first study in the field of Mexican-American/Chicano literary history (University of New Mexico, 1971).

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b c Paredes 1995
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Augernbraum & Fernández Olmos, p. xv
  7. ^ Dowling 2006, p. 139
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b Saldívar 1990, p. 13
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Jacobs, Elizabeth. 2009. Mexican American Literature: the Politics of Identity. London: Routledge.
  13. ^ "About Stephanie - STEPHANiE ELiZONDO GRiEST". STEPHANiE ELiZONDO GRiEST. Retrieved 2018-11-05.
  14. ^ Maria Antonia Oliver-Rotger. "Travel, Autoethnography, and “Cultural Schizophrenia” in Stephanie Elizondo Griest's Mexican Enough." Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 18, no. 1 (2016): 112-129.
  15. ^ "Mexican Enough". STEPHANiE ELiZONDO GRiEST. Retrieved 2019-02-19.
  16. ^ “Mexican Enough.” Kirkus Reviews, vol. 76, no. 11, June 2008, p. 80. EBSCOhost,
  17. ^ "Jovita González | Humanities Texas". Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  18. ^ López Sam. 2012. Post-Revolutionary Chicana Literature: Memoir, Folklore, and Fiction of the Border, 1900-1950. New York: Routledge.
  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: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. 29 (2): 227–247. doi:10.2307/4141827. ISSN 0163-755X. JSTOR 4141827.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Gutiérrez-Witt, Laura. "United States-Mexico Border Studies and "BorderLine"." Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 6, no. 1 (1990): 121-31. doi:10.2307/1052008.
  23. ^ Borderless Borders U.S. Latinos, Latins Americans, and the Paradox of Interdependence. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.
  24. ^ Falconer, Blas, and Lorraine M. López. The Other Latin@: Writing against a Singular Identity. Tucson, Ariz: University of Arizona Press, 2011.
  25. ^ Cantú, Norma E., and María E. Fránquiz. Inside the Latin@ Experience: A Latin@ Studies Reader. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  26. ^ Stavans, Ilan. Border Culture. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.
  27. ^ González, John Morán. Border Renaissance: The Texas Centennial and the Emergence of Mexican-American Literature. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011.
  28. ^ a b Kerry Lengel, "Chica lit" fills a niche for Latinas, The Arizona Republic.


  • Augenbraum, Harold; Fernández Olmos, Margarite (1997), "Introduction: An American Literary Tradition", in Augenbraum, Harold; Fernández Olmos, Margarite (eds.), The Latino Reader, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 978-0-395-76528-9.
  • Calderón, Héctor; Saldívar, José David (1991), "Editors' Introduction: Criticism in the Borderlands", in Calderón, Héctor; Saldívar, José David (eds.), Criticism in the Borderlands: Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology, Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, ISBN 978-0-8223-1143-0.
  • Dowling, Lee (2006), "La Florida del Inca: Garcilaso's Literary Sources", in Galloway, Patricia Kay (ed.), The Hernando de Soto Expedition: History, Historiography, and "Discovery" in the Southeast, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 978-0-8032-7122-7.
  • García, Mario T. (2000), Luis Leal: An Auto/Biography, Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, ISBN 978-0-292-72829-5.
  • Paredes, Raymund (Fall 1995), "Teaching Chicano Literature: An Historical Approach", The Heath Anthology of American Literature Newsletter (12), retrieved 2008-09-20.
  • Olivas, Daniel A. (2014), Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews, San Diego, California: San Diego State University Press, ISBN 978-1938537059.
  • Prampolini, Gaetano, and Annamaria Pinazzi (eds). "The Shade of the Saguaro/La sombra del saguaro" Part II 'Mexican-American'. Firenze University Press (2013): 149-342.
  • Saldívar, Ramón (1990), Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference, Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, ISBN 978-0-299-12474-8.
  • Vivancos Perez, Ricardo F. Radical Chicana Poetics. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

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