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 USA annexed large parts of what had been Mexico in the wake of the Mexican-American War. Today, it is a vibrant and diverse set of narratives, prompting (in the words of critics) "a new awareness of the historical and cultural independence of both northern and southern American hemispheres."
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 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.
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. 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". 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".
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. 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 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." 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." 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.
By 1900, according to critic Raymund Paredes, "Mexican American literature had emerged as a distinctive part of the literary culture of the United States." 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." 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.
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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.
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. 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".
Major figures in Chicano literature include 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).
- Calderón & Saldívar 1991, p. 7
- Paredes 1995
- 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
- Augernbraum Fernández Olmos, p. xv
- Dowling 2006, p. 139
- 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
- Saldívar 1990, p. 13
- 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, 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 http://www.fupress.com/ (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.
- Chicano/a Literature, an Annotated Webliography, retrieved 2008-08-20.