Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who Were Our Pioneers, Our Trailblazers,
the “Oldies but Goodies”?

First, a disclaimer:
Since the name of my blog is “Latino Writers Today,” the emphasis is on contemporary writers, creators who are among us, still working their magic, still spinning their webs of enlightenment and artistry. There is ample diversity in this group of men and women, and my interest, hopefully along with you, is to watch these writers evolve further and to consider the impact of their work in our American society today and for the coming years.

But who started it all?
Ah, yes. Who paved the literary road? Who “broke out” and inspired followers to take up the pen, to let their voices be heard? These were very special, very courageous and dedicated people. They opened the door for the rest of us in the United States in 1970, starting a wave of Latino writing and publishing that has gathered momentum in the past couple of decades. Many of these pioneers continue to write, continue to show the way. Here are some of those early classics:

--Pocho (1959) by Jose Antonio Villareal:
Though it predates the “birth” of consistent Latino writing by more than a decade, it is mentioned here because it was the first novel by a “Mexican-American” (American-born Latino) published in the United States by a major publisher, a book that was largely ignored in mainstream media and in literary circles but was kept alive in schools as a reading assignment.

--Chicano (1st edition, 1970), by Richard Vasquez, born in Los Angeles:
More successful than Pocho but not a bestseller, this was perhaps the first American Latino’s book that was actively touted by its major publisher. It was re-published in 2003, the 35th anniversary of its initial publication, after Sylvia Vasquez, Richard’s daughter, pushed tirelessly for its reissue.

--And the Earth Did Not Devour Him (1971), by Tomas Rivera, born in Crystal
City, Texas:
A university professor, Dr. Rivera received the National Quinto Sol Literature Award in 1969-70, itself a trailblazing though short-lived literary prize. (Quinto Sol Publications, Inc. was the first wholly-independent “Chicano” publisher in the United States, founded in 1967 in Berkeley, California, and the top publisher of Latino writing in America.) The award was for this novel.

--Day of the Swallows (1971), Estela Portillo Trambley, born in El Paso, Texas:
Trambley is often considered the premier trailblazer for American Latina writers in our country. Her play, named above, was an early success and has been performed throughout the country throughout the years. She has written three books; numerous other plays, short stories, and essays; and has been critiqued and profiled in over 50 reviews, scholarly essays, and doctoral dissertations over the decades.

--Bless Me, Ultima (1972), by Rudolfo Anaya, born in New Mexico:
Winner of the Quinto Sol Literature Award in 1971 for this novel, Anaya is also the author of the novel Zia Summer (1995), The Anaya Reader, and Alburquerque [the original spelling of the New Mexico city’s name].

--The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo (1972), by Oscar “Zeta” Acosta, born in
El Paso, Texas:
An activist attorney for the Chicano Movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Acosta was a self-destructive, controversial, counter-culture figure. He lived life fast and furious, convinced that he’d die at the age of 33. He went missing in 1974, and his body was never recovered, though experts believed he met foul play. Acosta’s autobiographical novel received acclaim and was followed by another book based on his life experiences, The Revolt of the Cockroach People, which was published in 1973.

--Nilda (1973), by Nicholasa Mohr, born in New York City:
This book for young readers received much critical acclaim, including the School Library Journal Best Book Award and the New York Times’ Outstanding Book Award in Juvenile Fiction. In 1975, El Bronx Remembered was published, and Mohr has continued to publish into the 1990’s. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature and the Edgar Allan Poe Award.

--Rain of Scorpions and Other Writings (1st edition, 1975), by Estela Portillo
Trambley, born in El Paso:
This was the first collection of short stories published in America by a Latina writer. Quinto Sol Publications, the pioneering publisher of many Latino writers in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, became Tonatiuh International around 1976. Its national literary journal, Grito del Sol (the reincarnation of El Grito, the pioneering journal published by Quinto Sol Publications for about eight years) also published many Latino authors. Tonatiuh International issued this ground-breaking book. Trambley won the prestigious Quinto Sol Literature Award in 1972.

Some Special Words About RICHARD VASQUEZ…
A first-generation American, Vasquez took ten years to write Chicano, in what Ruben Martinez, in his Foreword to the 35-Year-Anniversary edition of the novel, refers to as “a herculean attempt…to explain his people to others.” Martinez goes on to say:

“Richard Vasquez mapped out an essential territory of
American cultural, social, economic, and political
geography: the relationship between white and brown
in the American Southwest, particularly in the city of
Los Angeles.”

The book was published in the same year that, in a huge Chicano demonstration in Los Angeles against the Vietnam War, noted journalist Ruben Salazar, the first Mexican-American columnist for the Los Angeles Times, was accidentally killed. Salazar was himself a renowned writer and trailblazer in the mass media. Pioneer followed pioneer, as Richard Vasquez was subsequently named to fill Salazar’s position at the LA Times.

Though Chicano has received negative reviews as well as praise, the book is historically significant in the birth of Latino writing in our country as Vasquez sought to create an identity for the Mexican-Americans of his time as well as a dignified identity for his forebears. Vasquez subsequently published two other novels: The Giant Killer and Another Land.

So What Did These “Oldies but Goodies” Accomplish?
What all writers, not just Latino writers, seek to do: to share our humanity. Octavio I. Romano-V, Ph.D., long-time editor (18 years) at the prestigious Quinto Sol and Tonatiuh International Publications discussed above in this blog, and himself a well-regarded Latino author of short stories and other writings, said the following in his Introduction to the notable anthology, Grito del Sol Collection (Winter 1984) :

“[This book] is a sharing of human experience, as well as
a celebration, for in these pages Mexican-American authors
share with the world their own particular vision of the past,
present, and future, memories of childhood, of living today,
of love and many problems overcome.”

Our Thanks…and Maybe a Visit to the Library, Bookstore, or the ‘Net!
Though my future blogs will tell more about Latino/a writers publishing today and will discuss “fresh voices,” I also want to share more with you about these historical people. There are many others who toiled with far less recognition in those early decades. If you haven’t “met” the pioneers above, though, that would be a good starting point for learning about Latino literature in America. Visit your local library or bookstore, or hop on the internet. Look up these folks. See what they’re up to nowadays. Learn about a bit of history that oftentimes is not covered in our schools. Enjoy!

--Thelma T. Reyna, Ph.D.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

You'll meet talented American writers
you've probably not read about before
but who deserve your attention.
You'll read excerpts of poetry and stories
that deserve your attention
and will win your admiration.
Who Are These Latino Writers?

First, they are wonderfully-talented men and women--some younger, others mellowed like fine wine--who create with the same passion that has fired literary giants through the eons throughout our world. A glance at Nobel Prize for Literature listings since the inception of the prestigious international Nobel Prizes affirms that writers from throughout the Latin world have been honored for their literary achievements for more than a century. But these aren't the admirable "Latino Writers" about whom I'll write in my blog.

No. Instead, I focus on wonderfully-talented men and women, most of whom were born and raised in the United States but whose voices, for the most part, have not yet earned widespread appreciation. Some of these writers--like Sandra Cisneros, Rudolfo Anaya, Estela Portillo-Trambley, and Julia Alvarez--have rightfully attained national and international recognition for their work.

Others such as Nina Marie Martinez, author of the 2004 novel, Caramba!, have recently entered the American literary arena and are starting to make their marks.
And yet others whom I'll profile in my blogs toil in obscurity or near-obscurity, but their voices are also important, and these writers need to have a spotlight trained on them as well.

Fellow Americans all, but with experiences and perspectives that remind us how our nation relishes individuality, and of how all our diverse groups ultimately, as Rudolfo Anaya wrote, "affect each other." He goes on to say, in Tiffany Ana Lopez' book, Growing Up Chicana/o (1993): "Perhaps learning how 'we can all get along' is one of the most important functions in literature....Chicano assumes a place in the literature of the United States."

This blog aims to help us all learn more about the dynamic writers who created and are creating this exciting literature and to become more enriched as human beings in the process.
--Thelma T. Reyna, Ph.D.