Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Propaedeutic to a Chicana Chicano Canon

Michael Sedano

I confess I’ve wanted to use “propaedeutic” in a title for a long time just never got around to it. I’m glad that’s out of my system. The word, not the question. I had lunch with a professor of C/S recently and forgot to quiz her on what literature goes into today’s majors and minors across the field. I’ve looked at syllabi on the internet and see as many “essentials” as there are profes angling for enrollment, so one’s choices for cultural literacy become luck of the draw rather than some compelling sense of a literature in common, or a clear recommendation to the high school 9-12 sequence.

The notion of a canonical literature for chicanas chicanos goes back to the beginnings of “Chicano” literature, and of La Bloga. Especially with the holidays around the corner, there’s value in asking again a pair of questions: what chicanarte titles should populate the shelves of readers of United States Literature, and readers of Chicana Chicano Literature?

In 1969, Quinto Sol publishers in Berkeley, California, published a beautiful anthology titled El Espejo: The Mirror. Selected Mexican-American Literature. Editor Octavio Romano had included exciting new chicano voices—there were few but men published-- but also pieces with strong allegiances for the anglo-european mainstream that justified the hyphenated subtitle. Then, 1972, in the fifth printing, with Herminio Rios on board, El Espejo: The Mirror became “ Selected CHICANO Literature”. The assimilationist, “just as good as” writers, had disappeared to the benefit of readers who now discovered Alurista, Abelardo, Tino Villanueva, rrsalinas. Poets.

Shortly after the emergence of the movimiento-infused literature of El Espejo and its supporting journal El Grito, a competing journal showed another set of voices. An east coast journal, Revista Chicano-Riqueña, arrived, with equal power to that out of Berkeley and the Southwest. The journal went through several transformations, existing for a quarter century, and was celebrated in 1988 with an award-winning anthology Floating Borderlands Twenty-five Years of U.S. Hispanic [sic] Literature”.

The 1980s saw an explosion of literary anthologies. The editors wrote about a “Chicano Renaissance” visible in the collections, which would replay variations of the tables of contents of El Espejo, El Grito, and la revista., even as scholars debated the “canonical” approach of El Espejo versus the “non-canonical” approach out of the east.

All that was the literature of my youth. The point being, it’s been 40 years, gente, since that first El Espejo collection. By now raza have amassed a corpus of work that suggests value in renewing a search for the ten foot shelf of essential titles that every family must own, that every kid can’t graduate high school or college without having read, that fills your gift list for the next ten years of a kid’s upbringing.

Any collection of essential work must include new work. The classics might be published tomorrow, but you’ll go broke buying every tempting title showcased at La Bloga or otherwise recommended by friends. Ojalá your public library has a new books budget and buys widely.

Owing to the hundreds, perhaps thousands of chicana and chicano writers, thankfully, anthologies continue to hit the market. It’s useful to come across a couple of newish anthologies, Cristina García’s 2006, Bordering fires: the vintage book of contemporary Mexican and Chicano/a literature (New York : Vintage Books, 2006) and the more recent Hecho en Tejas: an anthology of Texas-Mexican literature, edited by Dagoberto Gilb. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press published in cooperation with the Southwestern Writers Collection, Texas State University, 2006).

From here, it’s time to prioritize the novels I want to read again, and start from the top. Where would you begin?


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