Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Friday Mid January [views]

Is there a Chicana Chicano literary canon?
by mvs

Back in 1969 Herminio Rios and Octavio Romano from Berkeley's Quinto Sol Press published the world's first anthology of chicano literature, El Espejo. An outstanding collection that included such poets as Abelardo and Alurista. A few years later, Nicolas Kanellos in Texas, I think it was, started Revista Chicana-Riqueña, publishing work that mirrored Quinto Sol's writers, but Revista expanded its recruitment to include Boricua and other ascendencia hispanoparlante writers. An academic tipo jumped on the literary convergences he saw, and published a paper on Canonical and Non-Canonical Work. The critic found shortcomings in the puro chicano strategy Rios and Romano adopted.

My critical opinion of the brouhaha is "whatever." My preference has always been to let the writing stand on its own merits. No biography, no historical context, no appositional translation. Let the work stand on its own merit. Still, it was grist for the academic mill and I sometimes wonder if the pedo over what constitutes "canonical" hasn't slowed the acceptance of chicana chicano writing by a broader audience, and in particular, into the pages of high school anthologies. The anthology's the thing to capture the conscience of future readers.

Sadly, without some push from somewhere, chicana chicano literature keeps getting left out of the high school curriculum. Have a look at US Literature textbooks. I haven't done a comprehensive survey, but I'd bet Sandra Cisneros and Gary Soto get anthologized a lot more than any other writer.

No, I'm not donning armor to joust with textbook companies or state deptos of education. But I would like to see kids--especially chicanesque kids-- read the best US literature, which must include chicana chicano lit. So here's my question. Considering whom you're targeting, if you could give a library of essential chicana chicano writing--prose, poetry, essay, criticism--would you have a long list, or a short one? What would you recommend to a high school kid; a high school English teacher; a working class reader?

Here on the jale I run a couple of reading programs. One, a general reading program for customer service reps--knowledge workers-- who need constantly to improve their oral communication and reading skills because they talk on the phone and read stuff out of a catalog. For them, I buy a bunch of paperbacks and populate a shelf in their lunchroom. I choose good stuff that a popular audience might enjoy; if there's a film or TV tie-in, all the better. Another group is gente in the warehouse who want to move into an office job, or people I notice who seem to have a lot on the ball. Most of the latter group are Mexican or Salvadoran immigrants, the majority Spanish-speakers who don't read a lot of English. Sadly, there's no hope to become a knowledge worker until they can listen, speak, and read English.

Here's the stuff I've been handing out. It's not a canon, perhaps more indicative of what my local indie bookseller shelves, and stuff I like that I want people to enjoy:
Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies.
Rodolfo Anaya. Shaman Winter.
Rudolfo Anaya, Zia Summer.
Rudolfo Anaya, Alburquerque.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Gods of Mars.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes.
Orson Scott Card. Pastwatch. The Redemption of Christopher Columbus.
Sandra Cisneros, House on Mango Street.
Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek.
Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.
Dashiell Hammet, The Maltese Falcon.
Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers.
Joseph Heller, Catch-22.
Tony Hillerman, The Ghostway.
Walter Mosley. Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned.
Walter Mosley, Black Betty.
Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress.
Robert Parker, God Save the Child.
Manuel Ramos. The Last Client of Luis Montez.
Manuel Ramos. Blues for the Buffalo.
Manuel Ramos. The Ballad of Gato Guerrero.
Manuel Ramos. The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz.
Michele Serros, Chicana Falsa and other stories.
Sara Paretsky, Blood Shot.
Sara Paretsky, Indemnity Only.
Helena Viramontes, Under the Feet of Jesus.

How about your list? If you could offer a high school a library of chicana chicano literature, what's on the list? How about their teacher?

Michael V. Sedano


Manuel Ramos said...

I started a couple of responses to this column but couldn't get to what I really wanted to say. I think it's because your piece is layered with several different questions, so I will deal with only a few and probably the most obvious. First, if I understand how you are using "canon" - no, I don't think there is such a thing yet. My opinion. There aren't any books that are universally accepted as necessary under the rubric "Chicano Literature." There are some books and authors who most likely will be included in a book list for, say, a Survey of Chicano Literature course (Anaya, Cisneros, Tomas Rivera), but the reality is that even these literary giants are not universally or automatically accepted by all as absolute requisites. But, such a canon will come, in time. Then, you ask which books are on my lists for different recipients. Your list (which you say is not the Chicano canon) is damn good; not too much to argue with, although Dickens is getting a beating lately as I understand some of the academic debate. In any event, for a high school student, I would suggest the books of Yxta Maya Murray, any of her novels. Also, the poetry of Sandra Cisneros and the graphic novels of the Bros Hernandez. For a Chicano Lit library, teacher, etc., Alfredo Vea needs to be included - probably the most underrated North American writer of the last decade; Tomas Rivera (Y No Se Lo Traigo La Tierra); Graciela Limon; Tortuga by Anaya; the anthology of Chicana Lit, Infinite Divisions; the poetry and novels of Demetria Martinez; and, just for grins, The Last Know Residence of Mickey Acuna by Dagoberto Gilb. I really like your inclusion of Under the Feet of Jesus by Viramontes--a classic, beautiful story written with precise, almost musical language.


burritomama said...

Alfredo Vea - yes. He's so often overlooked and I find his stuff just staggering at times. And Gilb too.

Anonymous said...

Alfredo Vea shook my universe and then set it gently back in space.
Gods Go Begging is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the U.S.

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