Accessing the Deep Roots of Chican@ Literature

In Wind Shifts a collection of Latin@ poetry I was introduced to Eduardo C. Corral, a poet originally from Arizona who brings to light the Chican@ literary tradition.  Although Corral brings Chicana/o work to light he also acknowledges the fact that most Chican@ literature is unknown and unread by the American mainstream, and the work that is known normally mimics Western styles instead of bringing a different perspective (as so much of the unaccessed Chican@ literary canon does).

Eduardo Corral says, “Mexico, like the Western canon, must be voraciously consumed, and occasionally regurgitated. Yet this has only been done with a few Chicano/a poets who have been accepted into the American literary canon. Even so, the canon has, so far, only accepted Chicano/a poetry that mirrors its traditions. If I flip through the Norton anthology I have to reach the 1970s to find the last names I can pronounce beautifully. In the work of these Chicano poets—Gary Soto, Alberto Rios, Lorna Dee Cervantes—you will find cultural-specific work, but the work is also richly infused with the influence of the Western canon. I adore the work of these poets. It has influenced me immensely. But these poets have been accepted by the editors of the Norton anthology for a reason: their poems can be easily consumed by Anglo readers. These poets work in English. The shapes of their poems are gorgeous repetitions of traditional poetic structures. Their poems educate the reader but don’t admonish the reader. The work of Chicano poets like Gloria Anzaldúa, Alurista, José Montoya whose poems flaunt the linguistic influence of caló, Spanglish, and Mesoamerican languages, whose poems force Anglo readers to reckon with past and current injustices are absent from the Norton. The American canon has rejected Chicano/a writers who play in red dirt. The work of Anzaldúa, Montoya and Alurista requires a deep and profound knowledge of Mesoamerican and Chicano histories. Most Anglo readers—heck, most Mexican-Americans—don’t have the education or the will to unlock the beauty of these poems.”

After having taken Latin@ Countercultural Literature I’m so happy that I’ve been introduced to Anzaldua’s work, but there is still a long path ahead to get fully acquainted with the brilliant Chican@ canon that is present in our world and continuing to grow. Hopefully in the years to come, this work can become as much a part of the U.S. curriculum both in high schools and colleges as the European and American literary canons (I have full confidence that my classmates will be a large part of this endeavor). Hopefully, in addition, eventually the U.S. schooling system will make it so that students are acquainted fully enough with Mesoamerican and Chicano histories to have a full appreciation of the brilliance of these works.

Here is a link to a poem by Corral called “Border Triptych for Gloria Anzaldúa” that pays tribute to a great author, but continues to add to the Chican@ canon in a profound way.

http://www.webdelsol.com/LITARTS/CORRAL/corralpoem2.htm

Corrales in this poem is as he describes “I’m a coyote. But of instead of smuggling people across the desert, I transport words across the white of the page.”

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One thought on “Accessing the Deep Roots of Chican@ Literature

  1. Hey Jesse,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I think you bring up a really important point about what poems make it into the Latin@ Canon of poetry. It seems that usually poems and readings that are chosen when discussing Latin@/Chican@ literature are usually happy and “fluffy” and do not usually address the struggles people face. Therefore, authors like Anzaldua are left out of the Canon because their work is “too complicated” and “too difficult” for others to deal with. Anzaldua expresses the difficulty of being caught in between as a Chicana when she uses her Chicana bilingualism. I feel like very often, her poetry would be cast off as “Oh it’s in Spanish and I can’t understand it” and abandoned for an author who does English only and doesn’t use Anzaldua’s confusing formats or imagery, which are really an important part of her way of expressing herself.

    The danger of casting off poets like Anzaldua lies in the fact that even though for “normative culture” she does not exactly reflect their own sentiments and struggles (or who know? She might if given the chance by the normative canon), those who lie outside of this normative culture do not have their own sentiments and culture addressed. This is why she is so important. I feel like she speaks those who need a voice in literature which is dominated by the Western canon.

    And I also agree that at least in my case (and as you said, probably for many people in this class) I want introduce authors such as Anzaldua and many of the authors we read in class to people outside of Wesleyan because I feel their important voices and many others are unfortunately unheard.

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