Chicano Literary History: Origin and Development


Luis Leal

Document Id: OC-08

In 1971 Tomás Rivera published his ground-breaking novel ... y no se lo tragó la tierra (...and the Earth Did Not Part), which immediately became a metaphor for the life of the migrant workers and, by extension, for all Chicanos. The novel is structured around a series of encounters between migrant workers and the social, economic, and natural forces with which they have to contend and which they overcome. Rivera's young hero reminisces about a lost year, and is "at a loss for words" to explain what happened during that year. This sense of being lost and speechless can be considered as the central metaphor in Rivera's novel, whose theme is the search for identity. And it can also be interpreted as reflecting the author's sense of being lost in a world without a history of the literature written by his own people. In 1976 he wrote in his essay "Chicano Literature: Fiesta of the Living": At twelve, I looked for books by my people, by my immediate people, and found very few. Very few accounts in fact existed. When I met Bartolo, our town's itinerant poet, and when on a visit to the Mexican side of the border, I also heard of him--for he would wander on both sides of the border to sell his poetry--I was engulfed with alegrÌa. It was an exaltation brought on by the sudden sensation that my own life had relationships, that my own family had relationships, that the people I lived with had connections beyond those at the conscious level. It was Bartolo's poetry...that gave me this awareness. (439-440) Are we to believe, as some do, that something like, for instance, Chicano literature, did not exist because no one had written about it? American critics and literary historians neglected Chicano literature published in Texas after 1836 and the Southwest after 1848. Before the 1950s, not a single article was dedicated to Chicano literary criticism, let alone literary history. No wonder Rivera had difficulty in finding books written by his own people. The literature was there, but it remained for the Chicano literary historians themselves to write about it.

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