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3.1 Chicano literature

3.1.1 Origin of Chicano literature

After the Mexican war in 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe was signed, Mexico lost the northern territory in favor to the United States. Concerned inhabitants were given a choice to go south to Mexico or to become American citizens. However, in accordance with the Treaty they were allowed to keep their language and culture. The foundation for new ethnic minority had been laid. Although their number rapidly increased by economic immigrants from Mexico, they were considered as second-class citizens and marked as “invisible minority” as recently as 1969. Rapid growth of Chicano movement in 1960s, also known as Boom, brought enormous expansion of literature (often written in a mixture of English and Spanish), theatre and literary reviews. Kathryn Van Spanckeren (2006) briefly determines Mexican-American culture:

Numerous Mexican-American writers reside in the Southwest, as they have for centuries. Distinctive concerns include the Spanish language, the Catholic tradition, folkloric forms, and, in recent years, race and gender inequality, generational conflict, and political activism. The culture is strongly patriarchal, but new female Chicana voices have arisen.(153)

In fact, the term Chicano designates also the social and racial discrimination, and the economic exploitation of a migrant working class. Elena Poniatowska in her lecture (1996) exemplifies the way Chicanos are being segregated by both societies - they are supposed to be “second-class Mexicans and fifth-class Americans”. This formula provides realistic image of mutual relationships between Mexicans, Americans and Chicanos. The latest named, moved in no man's land, had lost their sense of belonging and fight a constant struggle to achieve a social recognition.

The features of Chicanos effort to search their roots are visible also in linguistic field and we are able to trace many examples of that in Cisneros’ books which are going to be analyzed later. Chicanos managed to create their own subculture with their own way of life, music and language: older generation could not speak English, and the Spanish worsen with every generation. Thus, English words were mexicanized: “truck” became “troca”, “yard” became “arda”, words like "si, man" instead of “si, yes”, "migra," "pason," "parquear," "friquearse," "alivianado," "buena vibra" [good vibes], and others, that belong to jail language.

3.1.2 Chicano in Mexican – American context

While the United States still perceive Chicanos as unwanted immigrants bringing all social problems together such as robberies, rapes, vandalism and illegal business, to Mexicans they remained forgotten people and Chicanos culture has been ignored there till recently. Elena Poniatowska (1996) enlists the cultural events when Chicanos were taken into account in Mexico:

Even now, very few Mexican writers care for Chicano writers and poets, and even fewer women writers take Chicana writers into account. Carlos Monsivais, Jose Emilio Pacheco, Jose Agustin and Gustavo Sainz-who has been in contact with Chicanos while working in Albuquerque-are the only ones who have promoted Chicano literature. In 1987, the Colegio de la Frontera Norte and the Colegio de Mexico founded the Chicano-Mexican Writers Congress that was also held in Tijuana in May 1989. Just last year, 1990, a Chicano movie festival took place in Mexico City. In Mexico, the work of Chicano writers like Tomas Rivera, Tino Villanueva, Rudolfo Anaya and Miguel Mendez has been published, but no Chicana can make the same claim.

It is good to mention here, that this remark has lost its truthfulness by nowadays, among others also due to Elena Poniatowska contribution. Another example of unfair attitude to writers of color, targeting female writers is by Debra A. Castillo, and comes from relatively recent past:

It is a truism of standard Latin American literary history that Latin American women do not write, and certainly do not write narrative. What little they do write – deserves oblivion. What narrative they produce , straightforward neorealist domestic fiction, does not stand up to comparison with the great male writers of the Boom and after.( 623)

We might only hope that Chicana writers will succeed to overcome such prejudice and confirm their place in the literary world. I hope this thesis will be of the benefit to spread the awareness of women with Latin American descent – at least within the Czech vicinity – so that they would gain the respect they deserve.

3.1.3Chicana in the literature

For purposes of this thesis I will use the term Chicana to denote female counterpart of Chicano as defined in Webster’s dictionary: “ an American of Mexican descent”. To understand the identity of Mexican - American women in the society we are going to search the way they are depicted in the literature. For purposes of this thesis we will divide literature into two groups: literary works written by Anglo - American writers and those written by members of Chicano community. Within the latter one we will further distinguish those by male and female authors. The thesis, however, focuses on women writing and the way they treat women’s issues in their works.

Before the turn of 20th century women were described with the respect to their physical appearance only. Generally, Anglo-American literature reflects hostile attitude of Anglo-American society towards the Mexican. Nevertheless, while men are usually depicted here as brutes and cowards, their female counterparts are appreciated for their exquisite beauty. As Parr and Ramírez explain, Mexican women were described as beautiful but with bad reputation of this beauty, which leads to sexual promiscuity. This attitude is remarkable for example in works by Harvey Fergusson or Bret Harte. In The Conquest of Don Pedro ,for example, Fergusson presents wide spectrum of female characters throughout the society from outcast to aristocratic matron, all of whom keep “the talent for sexual intrigue”. In his other work Wolf Songs, his male character warns other men against involvement with Chicanas: “them women breeds like prairie dogs and jest as careless. They look good when they are young but after they’ve calved a time or two they swell up like a cow in a truck patch an you need a wagon to move ’em” . (qtd. in Parr and Ramírez, 97)

Southwestern fiction of the first half of twentieth century might be represented by John Steinbeck as one of the most influential writer of that period. Even though we can find certain attempt at more realistic and fair treatment for Chicanas, his depiction maintains stereotypical features of his predecessors. His characters both male and female live in unrealistic image of world, still women are depicted as primitive, simpleminded and promiscuous beings as we can see from his statement about Seňora Teresina Cortez in Tortilla Flat: “The regularity with which she became a mother always astonished Teresina. It occurred sometimes that she could not remember who the father of the baby was, and occasionally she almost grew convinced that no lover was necessary.” (qtd. in Parr and Ramírez, 98)

On the other hand, early works by Chicano writers monitored mainly history and cultural heritage of Mexican society. Here, traditional gender roles and family unit were the crucial points. In order to combat the portrait given by Anlo-American writers, Chicanos created their own archetypes of woman. As Parr and Ramírez stated in their article, Mexican idealized feminine image derives from Christianity which views women as divine creatures incorporating the quality of the virginal wife-mother (99). Such virgin symbol in Mexican culture is referred as Virgin of Guadallupe, associated with the Aztec-goddess mother. The image of good, pure, understanding and suffering woman gave the birth to the new portrait of female literary characters. The way how Chicanas identify with or dissociate from those religious icons represents a significant formative aspect of their identity. This feature is especially remarkable in Cisneros’ heroine Chayo, whose character is analyzed later in this thesis.

The first and the most common portrayal of women depicts their primary function as mothers and/or grandmothers. Women are described as loving , caring and strong characters, often self-sacrificing for the sake of their children.

The second aspect of femininity is kept in the image of a woman as a sexual symbol. Mexican women are conceived as Eve, in her role of temptress. Besides the image of virgin-mother, characters of mistresses and prostitutes frequently occurred in literary works. However, they are not presented as the subjects of moral judgment or criticism, but they are rather described as the victims who were forced to prostitution as a source of income. Prostitution is simply seen as the fact of life, accepted by all members of society including other women and children. ( “Fira is a serious women who caries her whoredom like schoolgirls carry their books: naturally.” Rolando Hijonosa-Smith: Estampas del Valle. Qtd. in Parr and Ramírez, 101)

The third group of women presented in Chicano literature of that period are wives in their traditional submissive role, dominated by their husbands and limited to their housework and child care. Typically, wives creates secondary characters to complete the scene of patriarchal world.

Parr and Ramírez show how women are assessing their own social status by seeking a contact with other generations and feel delight from the company of their mothers and grandmothers; by comparing their life experiences they reveal the changes of women’s role in contemporary society. Denial of traditional attitude to women’s role by young generation is expressed in Lorna Dee Cervantes’ poem Grandma:

I am mystery to her.

I eat her tortillas

We are friend,

but to her I am a puzzlement.

….”¿Por qué no te quieres casar?” Why don’t you want to marry?

Abuelita, Grandma,

You don’t understand.

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