Chicano literature

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Chicano literature is the literature written by Mexican Americans in the United States. Although its origins can be traced back to the sixteenth century, the bulk of Chicano literature dates from after 1848, when the United States annexed large parts of what had been Mexico in the wake of the Mexican–American War. Today, this genre is a vibrant and diverse set of narratives, prompting critics to write, "a new awareness of the historical and cultural independence of both northern and southern American hemispheres."[1]

Definitional problems[edit]

The definition of Chicano/Mexican American literature is not set in stone, as the term could conceivably encompass both Mexicans who have moved to the United States and US-born people of Mexican ancestry; this latter group includes many Spanish-speaking families who have been in the United States for generations, often living on the land (e.g., in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of California) before it was part of the United States, and have often faced a different set of issues than their Mexican neighbors because of their status as a linguistic and cultural minority, that is, because they are Spanish-speaking Catholics in a predominantly English-speaking Protestant country. Thus, people from Southern Texas have historically had different issues than people in Northern Mexico (who themselves have different issues than those coming from Southern Mexico, etc.). We might also wonder whether the term applies to American families who have assimilated to US culture.

Other issues arise when we try to add race into the mix, as some Mexicans are of mostly Spanish heritage, whereas many others come from the intermixture of Spanish and indigenous peoples: how different are the perspectives of the mestizo Mexican population from those of the Hispano population? Further, there is the issue of people from Mexico who are neither of Spanish nor Mexican stock, such as Josefina Niggli, whose parents were Euro-Americans living in Mexico when she was born; although she is considered Anglo in the broader ethnic sense of the term, she felt more connected to Mexican culture and wrote most of her novels and plays around Mexican themes.

Chicano or Mexican American writing includes those works in which a writer's sense of ethnic identity (chicanismo) animates his or her work manifestly and fundamentally, often through the presentation of Chicano characters, cultural situations, and patterns of speech.[2]


A "Chicano" refers to a person of Mexican descent in North America. A Chicano is a person on Mexican heritage living in the United States (compared to "Latino", which can refer to people with cultural ties to Latin America more broadly). Cultural roots are important to Chicanos as they continue to celebrate historical practices such as "the day of the dead" whereas in an American culture is called Halloween. Chicanas live with their dominant Mexican ancestral culture as they may be Americans but they categorize themselves as Mexican-American. Chicanos have had to adapt to a dual culture structure in the 20th century where they learn to speak English and adapt to the American Culture but are still heavily influenced by their Mexican culture. They have targeted as being a minority group in early 20th century American society and have counteracted by not being called "brown" in history when being "White" was dominant.[3]

Some scholars argue that the origins of Chicano literature can be traced to the sixteenth century, particularly to the chronicle written by Spanish adventurer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who published an account in 1542 of his long sojourn in what is now the United States South and Southwest, when he lived with various indigenous groups, learning their language and customs.[4] 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".[5] Scholar Lee Dowling adds that the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega can be seen as contributing to the Chicano heritage: his 1605 text "La Florida too qualifies superbly as an early work of Chicano literature, with Garcilaso suffering from many of the same ills as Núñez".[6]

Chicano literature (and, more generally, the Chicano identity) is more usually dated, however, to some time after the Mexican–American War and the subsequent 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.[7] In this treaty, Mexico ceded over half of its territory–now in the US Southwest, including California, Nevada, Utah, and much of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, which had all previously been part of the Spanish Empire–to its northern neighbor. In a stroke, hundreds of thousands of former Mexican citizens became US citizens. As literary critic Ramón Saldívar points out, "unlike many their ethnic immigrants to the United States... but like the Native Americans, Mexican Americans became an ethnic minority through the direct conquest of their homelands."[8] 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 US 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."[8] The Chicano culture, which is expressed in literature as well as in other practices and genres, has been further shaped by migrations of Mexicans coming to the USA in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.

Chicano literature had predominantly male writers before females began writing and voicing their opinions. Chicanas voices where not heard as much because Chicano's had a masculine culture which would be named "Machismo" in Mexican terms. During the Chicano Movement in which Chicanos where fighting for social and civil rights in the United States Chicana writers began to express themselves for their voices to be heard too and this would cause the number of Chicana Authors to increase as they became important to the movement. [9]

By 1900, according to critic Raymund Paredes, "Mexican American literature had emerged as a distinctive part of the literary culture of the United States."[2] 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."[2] It was, however, the first of many, and Chicano literature from many different genres (narrative, poetry, drama) now has a wide popular and critical presence.

Chicano notable Authors and Travel Writers[edit]

Stephanie Elizondo Griest is a Chicano travel writer who has traveled to many countries around the globe[10]. She has learned to speak Russian and earned a degree in Journalism. She grew up in South Texas 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 guideline 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 relevant contributions as she grew up in an American Culture in Texas being heavily influenced to a Mexican-Culture. She is heavily influenced by her Mexican culture from family and friends who resisted assimilation of the Mexican culture. [11] In Griest's Mexican Enough she explores her cultural differences. She does interviews with people about the assimilation issue and how people choose to keep their cultural identity roots as they search for self-assurance in their society. [12]

Jovita Gonzales is a Mexican American born in Texas who has graduated at the University of Texas with a Masters degree. A couple 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. Jovita 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 to her dedicating herself to writing about Texas-American stories. [13]

Dew on the Thorn gives the reader a sense of it was for Mexican societies living near the border in the history. In the story, Mexicans being 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 idea of losing their homes to people 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 common theme to this book was how would an oppressed Mexican society react to being a minority in an American society. [14]

Luis Alberto Urrea is a Mexican American author born in Tijuana, Mexico August 20, 1955. His father is from New York and his mother from the state of Sinaloa in Mexico. Although Urrea was born in Mexico he was still considered a U.S. citizen that was born abroad. [15]


Chicano literature tends to focus on themes of identity, discrimination, culture, and history, with an emphasis on validating the Mexican American experience 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 also often a voice of social critique and protest.

Other important themes include the experience of migration, and the situation of living between two languages. Chicano literature may be written in either English or Spanish, or even a combination of the two: Spanglish. Politically, too, Chicano culture has been focused on the question of the border, and the ways in which 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.

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. [16] Even though Chicano's are bound to the Mexican culture it seems as if they are distant from Mexico itself because of the US-Mexico border thus creating a mixture of culture for the people of the region with US Culture and Mexican Cultures.[17] Mexican culture is known for having a mixture in it. The importance of mixture in the surviving Mexican culture is noted from Mexican Natives. Mexicans living near the border keep their cultural identity because they live close to Mexico despite being blocked by the Us-Mexico border. Another factor that helps Mexican culture last in the United States are factors such as people migrating from Mexico to the US bringing their culture with them and influencing family. Their culture is thought to be assimilated by later generation of Immigrations migrated to the US but younger generations develop an interest in their cultural roots. [18] People born in the United States to immigrant parents face an assimilation process where they try to adapt to their communities but still feel like they're considered foreign.[19]

Border literature[edit]

Traveling through the border is becoming an important topic as the population of Mexicans is growing in regions close to the border such as Texas and California. The migration of Mexicans 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 viewing it as an opportunity to increase their capital and expand their opportunities. [20] Mexican Americans near the border struggle with their identity because they are mostly considered immigrants though some may be U.S. citizens. Mexicans view crossing the border as an opportunity to improve their living conditions for themselves and their families though they have had a strong bonding to their Mexican nationality and would look at those that became U.S. citizens as traitors. [21] Before the 1930s there weren't any Mexican-American literature, Mexicans would stay in their homes and not seek the U.S. as an escape but after U.S. Mexican war they sought themselves as being denied their civil rights while having U.S. citizenship. Mexicans after the U.S. Mexican war found themselves receiving a much lower pay than White labor disregarding their skill level in a work environment. [22]

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.[23] 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".[23]

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. Literature on Chicano history can be found in Occupied America, by Rodolfo Acuña, which offers an alternative perspective of history from the Mexican American/Chicano point of view. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca offers an alternative perspective on Chicano literature in Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature, first study in the field of Mexican American/Chicano literary history (University of New Mexico, 1971).


  1. ^ Calderón & Saldívar 1991, p. 7
  2. ^ a b c Paredes 1995
  3. ^ Blea, Irene I. U.S. Chicanas and Latinas within a Global Context: Women of Color at the Fourth World Womens Conference. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Augernbraum & Fernández Olmos, p. xv
  6. ^ Dowling 2006, p. 139
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ a b Saldívar 1990, p. 13
  9. ^ Jacobs, Elizabeth. 2009. Mexican American Literature: the Politics of Identity. London: Routledge.
  10. ^ "About Stephanie - STEPHANiE ELiZONDO GRiEST". STEPHANiE ELiZONDO GRiEST. Retrieved 2018-11-05.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ “Mexican Enough.” Kirkus Reviews, vol. 76, no. 11, June 2008, p. 80. EBSCOhost,
  13. ^ López Sam. 2012. Post-Revolutionary Chicana Literature: Memoir, Folklore, and Fiction of the Border, 1900-1950. New York: Routledge.
  14. ^ López Sam. 2012. Post-Revolutionary Chicana Literature: Memoir, Folklore, and Fiction of the Border, 1900-1950. New York: Routledge.
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ 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. ISSN 2161-427X.
  17. ^ Gutiérrez-Witt, Laura. "United States-Mexico Border Studies and "BorderLine"." Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 6, no. 1 (1990): 121-31. doi:10.2307/1052008.
  18. ^ Borderless Borders U.S. Latinos, Latins Americans, and the Paradox of Interdependence. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.
  19. ^ Falconer, Blas, and Lorraine M. López. The Other Latin@: Writing against a Singular Identity. Tucson, Ariz: University of Arizona Press, 2011.
  20. ^ Cantú, Norma E., and María E. Fránquiz. Inside the Latin@ Experience: A Latin@ Studies Reader. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  21. ^ Stavans, Ilan. Border Culture. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.
  22. ^ González, John Morán. Border Renaissance: The Texas Centennial and the Emergence of Mexican American Literature. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011.
  23. ^ a b Kerry Lengel, "Chica lit" fills a niche for Latinas, The Arizona Republic.

See also[edit]


  • Augenbraum, Harold; Fernández Olmos, Margarite (1997), "Introduction: An American Literary Tradition", in Augenbraum, Harold; Fernández Olmos, Margarite, 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, 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, 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.

External links[edit]