On Hispanic Heritage Month, a spotlight on Chicano authors

In 1970, when Chicano hit the bookshelves, there was just one similarly themed novel published by a major U.S. imprint: José Antonio Villareal’s Pocho.

The author of Chicano, Richard Vásquez (1923-1990), was a third-generation Angelino who worked in the fields, in construction, and as a taxi driver before turning to journalism. His seminal book recreates the life of four generations of the Sandoval family, from when the patriarch Héctor fled the Mexican Revolution and established himself in California, to the tragic love story of Hector’s daughter-in-law and her non-Latino lover. In the best tradition of American social realism, the novel vividly portrays half-a-century of collective Mexican-American experience.

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Richard Vásquez

The mestizo cultural roots of the Southwest are masterfully depicted by Rudolfo Anaya (1937, New Mexico) in Bless Me, Última. This 1972 novel describes a boy’s spiritual awakening in 1940s New Mexico under the guidance of a traditional curandera. Because of its adult language and sexual references, it was one of several books included last year in a controversial public-school curriculum ban in Tucson, Arizona. It was recently transformed into a film, starring Puerto Rican actress Miriam Colon in the title role.

RELATED: The author of “Bless Me, Ultima” talks about his book reaching the big screen at age 75

The social and political upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s was successfully captured by certain authors. Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales (1928 – 2005), born to Mexican immigrants in Denver, Colorado, was one of the key figures of the Mexican-American civil rights movement.  His poem “I am Joaquín” (1967),  based on 19th-century folk hero and bandit Joaquín Murrieta, has been called “our collective song” by California Poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera. Gonzalez is another of the authors excluded from Tucson’s school curriculum.

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Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles

RELATED: Opinion: Fighting the ‘Intellectual Border Patrol,’ on Banned Books Week

Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia ( b. 1947), better known by his pen name Alurista, was born in Mexico City and came to the U.S. in his teens. Inspired by César Chávez’ struggle and Mexico’s indigenous past, he was instrumental in the development of the concept of Aztlán, the symbol of the mythological ancestral home of the Aztec peoples.

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Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia

Oscar “Zeta” Acosta was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1935.  A candidate to LA County sheriff for the radical La Raza Unida party, he disappeared in Mexico under obscure circumstances in 1974. He published two fictionalized memoirs, The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo (1970) and The Revolt of the Cockroach People (1973).

On Hispanic Heritage Month, a spotlight on Chicano authors oscar zeta acosta news NBC Latino News

Oscar Zeta Acosta

Other Mexican-American authors of this era do not really fit under the label of Chicano literature. Rolando Hinojosa Smith (Mercedes, Texas, 1929) is an experimental writer whose work has been compared to William Faulkner’s. In 1976 he won the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize for his novel Klail City. He has also translated  one of the most intriguing coming-of-age novels of his generation,  …y no se lo tragó la tierra (And the Earth Did Not Devour Him / This Migrant Earth), by fellow Texan Tomás Rivera (1935-1984). And Richard Rodríguez (San Francisco, 1944), a gay Catholic and conservative radio commentator and author of Hunger of memory, Brown, and the upcoming Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography, is widely regarded as one of the nation’s best essayists.

Lorna Dee Cervantes, Denise Chávez, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Cherríe Moraga, Helena María Viramontes, and Sandra Cisneros (Chicago, 1954, author of the celebrated The House on Mango Street) are some of the most well-known Chicana writers.

Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) belongs into a category of her own. Her collection of essays and poems Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza is a groundbreaking exploration of sexual, ethnic, and cultural identity and one of the most influential works ever published about the U.S. Latino experience.

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Gloria Anzaldúa

On Hispanic Heritage Month, a spotlight on Chicano authors claudioremeseira e1375886483432 news NBC Latino News

Claudio Iván Remeseira is a New York-based award-winning journalist, writer, and critic. Translator of the Spanish-language on-line section of The Nation and editor of Hispanic New York, an online portal and blog on current events and culture. Editor of Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook (Columbia University Press, 2010), an anthology of essays on the city’s Latino, Latin American & Iberian cultural heritage, and winner of the Latino International Book Award in the category of Best Reference Book in English (2011).

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