As a distinctive body of writing, Chicano literature is relatively young, having taken shape in the generation or so after the conclusion of the Mexican War in 1848. But the cultural forces that gave rise to Chicano literature date from the late sixteenth century when the Spanish conquistadores began their exploration and colonization of what is now the southwestern United States. The Spaniards were remarkably courageous, audacious, and, inevitably, brutal, as the narratives of Cabeza de Vaca, de Niza and Castañeda excerpted in The Heath Anthology amply demonstrate; and they planted their institutions, particularly language and religion, throughout this vast region. Coming to America during Spain's Golden Age, the era of Cervantes, Lope de Vega and Góngora, the conquistadores were avid story tellers and makers, depositing legends, tales, and songs along the paths of conquest. In 1598, Juan de Oñate and a group of 500 colonists celebrated their settlement of New Mexico with a dramatic presentation composed for the occasion. In 1610, Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, a classical scholar from Salamanca and a companion of Oñate, published his Historia de la Nueva México in 34 Vírgilian cantos (see Heath 1: 162-172). The historia is one of the first examples of an emergent literary tradition, rendered in Spanish and evincing a Catholic sensibility, but American nonetheless.
The literary culture of the Spanish-speaking Southwest developed spasmodically in a harsh frontier environment marked by episodes of intense cultural conflict, first largely with native Americans and later with Anglo-Americans. Literary forms commonly produced in frontier cultures predominate: personal and historical narratives which sought to capture the epic experiences of conquest and settlement; and, of course, poetry of various types, frequently religious and occasional. The authors of such works, especially in the early days of Spanish dominance, were government officials and priests who possessed the tool of literacy and who typically regarded their mission in the Southwest on a grand scale. (See, for example, the selections by Otermín, 1: 475-483; de Vargas, 1: 440-445; Delgado, 1:1211-1217; and Palou, 1: 1217-1226.) Belletristic fictional works, particularly novels, were rarely produced until the cultural infrastructure necessary to support such writing a stable, relatively well-educated middle-class population, the introduction of sophisticated printing technology, and efficient means of distribution, for example came into existence in several southwestern towns and cities.
In a setting where education and literacy were often luxuries, oral expressive forms figured prominently. Folk dramas were performed from California to Texas. Traditional Spanish plays were sometimes adapted to the particular circumstances of the Southwest. In New Mexico, The Moors and the Christians, which featured an abduction of the Christ Child by the Spaniards' mortal enemies, metamorphosed into Los Comanches, in which the kidnappers were pagan Indians. Folktales and legends became widely dispersed, many of which made their way north from the Mexican interior. La Llorona (the weeping woman), one of Mexico's best-known legends, circulated in many versions in the Southwest (1: 1282-1283) and later became the inspiration for any number of Chicano works of fiction.
Until the mid-nineteenth century, some thirty years after Mexican independence, the literature, both oral and written, of the Spanish-speaking Southwest was not remarkably different from that created in the Mexican heartland. Although key cultural centers such as Santa Fe and Los Angeles were located great distances from Mexico City, they were visited regularly by Mexican traders, entertainers, and government officials who brought with them news and all manner of cultural information. Southwest Mexicans knew about cultural events and styles not only in central Mexico but in Spain and other parts of Europe. Indeed, the Spanish-speaking Southwest was never as culturally isolated or impoverished as American historians have traditionally claimed.
All this is not to say that the region was not already developing its cultural particularities. For if the Mexican Southwest, despite great obstacles, managed to maintain cultural ties with the Mexican interior, it also was developing ever-stronger connections with the United States. By 1836, for example, Mexicans in Texas not only found themselves outnumbered by Anglos but citizens of an independent country. In California, the residents were visited frequently by American trading ships; a good number of American traders and sailors stayed and married into californio families. By the 1840s, the Santa Fe Trail linked New Mexico with St. Louis and experienced a steady stream of traffic.
The turning point in the history of the Mexican Southwest came in 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended two years of warfare between Mexico and the United States and ratified the relinquishment of nearly half of Mexico's land. The vast majority of Mexican residents in the vanquished territories stayed in place, transformed into Mexican Americans with a stroke of the pen. Inevitably, gradually, the trajectory of Mexican culture in the southwest shifted.
A good deal of literary energy was expended in chronicling the American takeover of the Southwest, a considerable portion of it by prominent southwestern Mexicans who had supported American annexation only to feel betrayed and discarded. In Texas, Juan Seguín had been a steadfast supporter of Texas independence and even served as mayor of San Antonio. Driven out of office by the growing Anglo population, Seguín retreated to Mexico where he was arrested as a traitor. The rest of his life he alternated between Texas and Mexico, never quite at home or accepted in either place. His Personal Memories (1: 1992-2000) vividly chronicle his cultural ambivalence and symbolize a culture very much in transition. Mariano Vallejo of California also had high hopes for the process of Americanization but saw them dashed by yanqui avarice and dishonesty. In the 1870s, Vallejo determined to relate the tragic history of California, his project running eventually to five bitter volumes (See 1: 2001-2012).
As in an earlier period, the output of historical and personal narratives was complemented by a barrage of poetry, much of it ephemeral and political verse that appeared in the dozens of Spanish-language newspapers in the the Southwest. Again, the versifiers were largely concerned with describing a culture in transition: they wrote about the threat to Catholicism posed by Anglo Protestantism, the decline of the Spanish language, and the indifference of government officials in Washington. A good deal of early Mexican American poetry was lyrical, romantic, and meditative, but a greater portion was created out of the conviction that verse was an instrument of dissent and political activism.
Despite the steady production of personal and historical narratives and verse in the several generations after Guadalupe Hidalgo, oral expression still figured more prominently in Mexican American culture, especially the corrido. A Mexican ballad form related to the Spanish romance, the corrido (from the Spanish verb to run ) served a function similar to that of the blues in African American culture. Together, the hundreds of Mexican American corridos constitute an informal social and cultural history of the community, related largely from the point of view of working people. In a tactic similar to the linguistic coding of the blues which protected their singers from the censure and retaliation of whites, corridos were composed in Spanish, away from most Anglos' comprehension. Corridos, as the examples gathered in The Heath Anthology demonstrate (2: 828-845), often focused on epic or symbolic events. Some of the great traditional corridos such as "Gregorio Cortez" are still well known in Mexican American communities. And despite a relative decline, corridos are still composed and circulated. For example, a number of corridos are already circulating to commemorate the death of Cesar Chavez this past spring.
By 1900, Mexican American literature had emerged as a distinctive part of the literary culture of the United States. Its origins were Spanish and Mexican, its primary language Spanish and its religious sensibility Catholic; in other words, despite its growing particularity, it remained within the orbit of Latin American letters and oral tradition. Given their proximity to Mexico in border cities like El Paso, a matter of nothing more than the width of the Rio Grande Mexican Americans could maintain ties to the homeland with relative ease and frequently traveled back and forth across the border, invigorating both cultures. Around the turn of the century, several major developments occurred. Eusebio Chacon published two novels in Santa Fe and a few writers, Maria Crístina Mena for example, began to publish stories in English.
For the most part, Mexican American writing proceeded along established lines of development until 1945 when Mexican Village, a remarkable novel by Josephina Niggli, appeared. Mexican Village was the first literary work by a Mexican American to reach a general American audience. Even more important, Mexican Village was clearly intended to convey to American readers the distinctiveness of Mexican American experience and expression. The protagonist of the work is Bob Webster, a Mexican American who settles in northern Mexico to satisfy a nostalgia of the blood. Replete with references to Mexican legends, folktales and proverbs, Mexican Village is composed in English that nevertheless feels like Spanish; Niggli uses Spanish locutions in English the family Garcia, for example and other times translates Spanish phrases literally into English. The overall result is a work of great originality that pointed the way to the hallmarks of the Chicano literary sensibility.
World War II greatly accelerated the process of Mexican American acculturation. For one thing, the War stimulated the movement of Mexican Americans into large cities where military industries were badly in need of labor. And the high levels of Mexican American participation in the military significantly reduced cultural isolation. Not surprisingly, Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima, perhaps the best-known of Chicano novels, focuses on the impact of World War II on a small community in New Mexico. Not only is Las Pasturas rendered less isolated by the participation of its young men in the war itself, but the testing of the atomic bomb at nearby White Sands symbolizes how modern technology itself shrinks distances and makes cultural isolation, willful or not, all but impossible.
Like other forms of ethnic expression, Mexican American literature received a boost from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Several Chicano publishing houses were created around this time, most notably Quinto Sol of Berkeley. Among the major writers nurtured by Quinto Sol were Rudolfo Anaya, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith and Tomás Rivera. In some ways Hinojosa-Smith and Rivera had much in common: they were both from South Texas; they had solid academic training in Spanish and Latin American literatures; they wrote primarily in Spanish; and they frequently wrote in estampas, sketches sometimes only several paragraphs in length.
Beyond these similarities, there are significant differences. Hinojosa-Smith's work seems connected to the costumbrismo movement of Latin America with its emphasis on the manners and oral traditions of a particular region. Rivera, on the other hand, seems more closely linked to the compact, harshly ironic narrative stance of the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo. Although both writers deemphasize the presence of the author and both avoid moral pronouncements, Hinojosa-Smith is playful and tolerant of even amused by human frailty (See 2: 2573-2582). Tomás Rivera, in an extraordinary matching of style and technique to subject matter, starkly depicts the meager existence of Chicano migrant workers, forcing his readers to confront the inequalities of the American economic system. Hinojosa-Smith's characters are often boisterous, even larger than life; Rivera's are all but invisible, toiling in sun-baked fields, far removed from public attention and compassion. (See 2: 2752-2760).
Since the advent of Quinto Sol and, more recently, the Bilingual Press and Arte Público, Chicano literature has expanded impressively in all directions. Luís Valdez, the founder of the Teatro Campesino, has had major national successes as a playwright and a filmmaker. The controversial Richard Rodriguez has attracted major reviews in the mainstream press still a rare experience for a Chicano writer for his two works of autobiography.
No area of recent Chicano writing has yielded more satisfying works than poetry. José Montoya has been a major influence, notable for his imaginative bilingualism, his evocation of Chicano cultural values and urban experience. Two of his poems, La Jefita and El Louie are among the most admired examples of recent Chicano verse.
Gary Soto is probably the best known of contemporary Chicano poets. Soto carries his ethnic consciousness visibly but lightly, and he moves easily across national boundaries, tracing lines of continuity between Mexicans and Chicanos. Like many of the finest Chicano writers, Soto shapes his art out of ordinary materials and experiences. His work is highly autobiographical, and it is a feature of some importance that even as Soto delineates his ethnic pride, he also writes in English and tells of growing up in Fresno playing baseball. (See 2: 3043-3049)
Among the more gratifying developments in Chicano writing recently has been the emergence of a strong group of women authors. By and large, these writers have been concerned to liberate the voices of women in cultures Mexican, Mexican American, and American that have not been traditionally supportive. They have sought to identify and root out practices of misogyny in the surrounding cultures especially violence toward women and they have sought to expand the feminist agenda to include women of color and working class women. Among Chicana poets, Bernice Zamora and Lorna Dee Cervantes have been particularly powerful voices. In her collection, Restless Serpents, Zamora inveighs against boundaries, created largely by men, that restrict not only action but emotion and sexuality. (See 2: 2948-2951). In her major collection, Emplumada, Lorna Dee Cervantes celebrates the Chicana's poetic voice even as she laments the continuing circumstances of male oppression and complacency. (See 2: 3096-3103).
I would argue that the major task now before Chicana and Chicano writers and for all American authors whose ethnic identities are central to their work is how to maintain their cultural distinctiveness while reaching out to other communities both to forge coalitions capable of addressing common problems and to reinvigorate their own traditions. Old varieties of cultural nationalism seem all but exhausted. Recently, Chicano intellectuals and artists have been discussing the concepts of borders and mestizaje, the phenomenon, so fundamental to Mexico and Latin America, of mixing races and cultures. It may be that the reformulation of these concepts, esthetically and thematically, is the key to the future of Chicano expression and its place in American culture.
(All page references are to The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Second Edition.)
In that meeting room charged with irony and emptiness, the chairman of the Latino panel, Nicolas Kanellos, a drama critic and the publisher of Arte Publico Press in Houston, rose to speak. He insisted upon using a microphone, as if electronic amplification would create a respectable distance between the speakers and all the 8 or 12 listeners, who sat curled in embarrassment or sprawled like laughter across half a row of chairs.
Between interruptions by waiters passing through, Mr. Kanellos spoke of the repression of Latino writers by the United States literary establishment. He did not assign evil motives, arguing instead that the repression was based upon certain erroneous assumptions:
''Hispanics don't read and can't write, so why publish them?
''No one wants to read about U.S. Hispanics; they are marginal, not even distantly related to the literary boom taking place in Latin America.
''Liberals may embrace the great national revolutions in Latin America and their eloquent writers, but similar U.S. Hispanic writers should be deemed 'ethnics,' 'sociological,' 'regional.' ''
He did not argue the merits of the work; that afternoon, only the politics and sociology and selling of Latino literature interested him and the novelists and poets whose presentations followed: Gary Soto, the Chicano from Berkeley who makes poems of ordinary life; Nicholasa Mohr, the novelist whose straightforward narrations of gentle Puerto Rican life in New York are published against her wishes as books for young adults; and Rolando Hinojosa, who is making of his Klail City novels a kind of Yoknapatawpha County in the Rio Grande valley. There were others, almost as many speakers as listeners. There was little laughter and no joy. The writers spoke asides in Spanish to the passing waiters, who presented them with a homage of spurned pastries. Had the meeting been held uptown, in Washington Heights or the Bronx or only as far north as Hunter College, and had students been permitted to attend, the room would have been filled, overflowing.
Latinos have never settled on an official tongue, writing and speaking English, Spanish, Neorican or Spanglish, and Calo, a dialect of the American Southwest named after the language of the Spanish gypsies, but not related to it. The problem is complicated by the hostility Spanish-speaking people feel in the United States. My father-in-law, Ernesto Sasson, having observed this phenomenon in his adopted country, took up an interest in Esperanto. His wife, who saw the world in the short term, changed her name from Blanca to Blanche and confined her reading to novels in French.
Were they still Latinos? Having come from Europe rather than this hemisphere, were they Latinos even before they took up Esperanto and French? No one is really quite certain about who exactly qualifies as Latino - or whether Latino, Hispanic, Spanish, Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Nuevo Mexicano, Puerto Rican, Neorican, Borinqueno, Puertorriqueno or other appellations are proper names. Were John Dos Passos and George Santayana Latino writers? How shall the category be defined? By ancestry? Surname? Subject matter? Or geography? What about John Rechy, a Chicano from El Paso? Can Isaac Goldemberg, a novelist who lives in New York and writes in Spanish of his native Peru, be considered a Latino? Is Carlos Fuentes, who was raised in Washington, culturally a Mexican or a Latino?
Then, as the astonishingly bold young poet Martin Espada writes, there is the question of race:
Thirty years ago,
your linen-gowned father stood
in the dayroom of the VA hospital
grabbing at the plastic
shouting, ''I'm not!
Take it off!
However ill defined, Latino literature exists, sometimes eloquent, often crude, now and then with more vitality than almost anything else being written in America. Yet it remains secret, available mostly in ghetto bookstores and arcane corners of college campuses.
Because so many Latinos suddenly went to college after World War II, the literature had a curious development: the graduate schools produced literary critics before there was a host literature for them to feed on. Novels and collections of poems were published with critical essays fore and aft, as if to make work for the critics.
The procedure can be numbing, as in a recent edition of ''The Road to Tamazunchale'' by Ron Arias. The novel, which went to the school of magic realism, tells the story of a quixotic old man in Los Angeles, entering his dreamy confusion of reality, truth and fantasy, using the most preposterous situations to convey precisely how people think and live in the Los Angeles barrio. Unfortunately, the hundred pages of the novel are buried between an Introduction, complete with two pages of footnotes, a Foreword, and a bylined bibliography so detailed it even lists Mr. Arias's listing in another list.
According to the critical introduction, Mr. Arias has broken the pattern of Chicano literature by writing inventively and with reference to culture outside the barrio. One of the misconceptions about Latino literature is that it is painfully realistic, autobiographical, in the pattern common to other immigrant literatures in the United States. It simply isn't so. In fact, one of the distinguishing characteristics of Latino literature has been its understanding of an ironic or invented world; a literature descended from Cervantes could not be otherwise.
One of the first major novels of the revival is the 1971 Mexican-American novel by Tomas Rivera, ''And the Earth Did Not Devour Him.'' On the surface it appears to be a connected collection of stories about simple people, mainly agricultural workers. The prose seems utterly without artifice, the people exhibit the most elemental feelings, but it soon becomes clear that the book deals with the reality that lies below the surface of the world. In one story, a confidence man takes the only photograph a family has of its dead soldier son, promising to deliver a framed enlargement for $30. The framed photograph does not arrive. Instead, a sack of photographs, half eaten by worms, is found in the town dump. The father of the boy who was killed in combat finds the salesman and forces him to paint a portrait of the boy. Working from memory, the salesman makes a portrait. Later, people say that they do not really remember the boy, but they do recall that he was beginning to look more and more like his father.
Rivera, who died in 1984, wrote in Spanish. A new bilingual edition of his novel, with a translation by the poet Evangelina Vigil-Pinon, was published in 1987. The ending of the novel gives some indication of its distance from reportorial reality:
''He had made a discovery. To discover and rediscover and piece things together. This to this, that to that, all with all. That was it. That was everything. He was thrilled. When he got home he went straight to the tree that was in the yard. He climbed it. He saw a palm tree on the horizon. He imagined someone perched on top, gazing across at him. He even raised one arm and waved it back and forth so that the other could see that he knew he was there.''
Although the translation is adequate, a few of the Spanish sentences show the dancelike rhythms Rivera achieved:
Encontrar y reencontrar y juntar. Relacionar esto con esto, eso con aquello, todo con todo. Eso era. Eso era todo. Y le dio mas gusto. Luego cuando llego a la casa se fue al arbol que estaba en el solar. Se subio. In a retreat from the sophistication of Tomas Rivera, Sandra Cisneros, a Chicana writer from Chicago and a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, published a brief collection of related sketches, ''The House on Mango Street.'' The narrator of the sketches, a young girl, speaks in an almost simple-minded voice, which unfortunately points to one of the continuing problems of Latinos, especially in works about Mexican-Americans: the stereotype of the simple peasant. Hollywood has found that two images of Latinos sell: either the criminal or the childlike peasant. Even a film with good intentions, like ''El Norte,'' tells the story of a young man and woman, still children in the world. To make simple a people whose cultural heritage is Spanish and Native American or African, crossed with the complex culture of the United States, is either an act of genius or an expression of internalized prejudice.
Oscar Hijuelos, whose novel was both a critical and commercial success, writes almost entirely outside the boundaries of such stereotyping. His Cuban-American musicians have complex relationships with music, women, fame and age - the only adolescent quality in their character is machismo. Of all the Latino novelists publishing today in English, Mr. Hijuelos seems the most professional, which may be more a matter of geography than craft. His work differs from that of Rudolfo Anaya, the novelist most widely known and read in the Latino community, in that the Cubans are urban immigrants and Mr. Anaya's Nuevo Mexicanos are rural, connected to folk culture, rooted in the land they have occupied for centuries. Mr. Hijuelos can use a device with a history in both art and commerce: his characters include Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. By contrast, Mr. Anaya writes about witches who work in country towns. In ''Bless Me, Ultima'' - the major work of the New Mexico school - he must overcome not only the cultural difference between his characters and the willing reader in Manhattan, he must cross the continent, push his way through crowded streets and scale the walls of skyscrapers.
In this world, two relatively recent memoirs by young men have been favorably received. Although some Latino critics dismissed these books as the commonplace of immigrant writing, which is dominated by autobiography, both are worth reading. Richard Rodriguez writes in a curiously British tone of the tiny, agoraphobic world of a child/man determined to revise the history of himself. ''Hunger of Memory'' is the work of a person who intends to obliterate the influence of his parents by denying the validity of their culture. ''It is those to whom my mother refers as the gringos that I write,'' he says. And he seems, in his opposition to affirmative action and bilingual education, not only to address his work to the gringos, but to aim to please their most ethnocentric numbers. As a result, the gifted young writer from Sacramento, Calif., has become something of a pariah in the community of his past.
''Family Installments,'' Edward Rivera's frankly autobiographical fiction, bears the subtitle ''Memories of Growing Up Hispanic.'' It has the sense of place and play, the certainty about who is a man and who is a child and the unsentimental appreciation of family that inform the American Bildungsroman at its best. Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Rivera have both read their British linguistic forefathers, but only Mr. Rivera seems to have read Mark Twain. Perhaps Mr. Rivera's beginning in rural Puerto Rico gives his book life and direction; perhaps he is simply a very good writer. He constructs each paragraph so well that he can use Spanish words or phrases without having to explain them; the context leaves no room for misunderstanding.
When Latino writers overcome the need to explain themselves to people who do not understand Spanish or use code-switching to energize and enrich their work, the result can be electrifying. Jose Montoya or Cecilio Garcia-Camarillo or Jimmy Santiago Baca can write in a voice so authentic that it sounds to me like remembered music, the speech of old friends from my childhood and youth on the Mexican border. One of them might be the narrator of Mr. Garcia-Camarillo's poem about a cool ex-pinto (ex-con):
con su chuco walk
los brazos swinging in rhythm to a subconscious polka
here he comes
por la isleta en el southwest valley
en su barrio
vacilando in his cosmology
y tirandole good vibes
a las barrio queens
with indian faces
and tight jeans
that cruise by.
Jose Montoya and Tato Laviera have both written of mothers in their often-anthologized works, Mr. Montoya from California:
When I remember the campos
Y las noches and the sounds
Of those nights en carpas o
Bagones I remember my jefita's
Y su tocesita.
(I swear she never slept!)
Reluctant awakenings a la media
Noche y la luz prendida:
A noisy chorro missing the
In Calo, bagones are boxcars and a palote is a rolling pin and the chorro that misses the basin is a stream of water or urine. The title, ''La Jefita,'' means the Little Woman Chief, but the real tenderness in the poem comes in the word tocesita, the diminutive for cough; only in Mexican Spanish could a writer make such a sign of love out of such a noun.
Tato Laviera's poem to his mother, ''The Song of an Oppressor,'' repeats the phrase simplemente maria (also the title of a Spanish-language television show), which breaks down into simple and mente (mind).
They took advantage
english was foreign to you
era el goofer del landlord de nuestras vidas
The tv tube
whose jeringuillas [syringes]
made us addicted de la mente
how was it done?
The poets writing in English with little or no code-switching have a different kind of sophistication. Naomi Quinones entitles a poem about a young prostitute ''Ultima II True Blue Eye Shadows of the Past'' and writes about a ''max-matter-of-factor-face.'' The most powerful of the young women poets working mainly in English, Lorna Dee Cervantes, can write of scenes as bleak as a Raymond Carver story, of the rage of the poor who harbor wishes and loves they cannot even speak. Perhaps better than anyone she writes of the cultural ambivalence of the California Chicana:
Like wet cornstarch, I slide
past my grandmother's eyes. Bible
at her side, she removes her glasses.
The pudding thickens.
Mama raised me without language.
I am orphaned from my Spanish name.
The words are foreign, stumbling
on my tongue. I see in the mirror
my reflection: bronzed skin, black hair.
I feel I am a captive
aboard the refugee ship.
The ship that will never dock.
En barco que nunca atraca.
In Boston, Martin Espada, a young attorney, has published his second book of poems. He writes in English, but his poems have the wit and vigor of the best of the bilingual works, and added to these qualities the dignity of an educated gentleperson from Puerto Rico. The title of his second book, ''Trumpets From the Islands of Their Eviction,'' comes from these lines:
At the bar two blocks away,
immigrants with Spanish mouths
from the islands of their eviction.
Although he is Puerto Rican, Mr. Espada's work leaps over the borders of nationality to speak of Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, Chileans. He is a Latino poet, a political man, but with laughter as well as anger, as in this poem, ''Confessions of the Tenant in Apartment N2'':
beige Fleetwood Cadillac
died in front of the building.
and I was secretly happy
that my jumper cables
The literary descendants of the hapless Perez de Villagra have been working during the last four centuries, producing a body of work far too large and too rich to be covered properly in a little survey article such as this. Latinos now have a literary mirror in which to see themselves, and the images in the mirror grow more interesting to a larger audience as the number of Latinos increases.
Publishers show more interest, agents consider the possibilities - tomorrow the reviewers may notice. The battle would seem to be won, yet the pattern set at the beginning of the 17th century remains: Danny Santiago, the winner of a 1984 prize for fiction, turns out to have been the pseudonym of a blacklisted gringo screenwriter, Daniel Lewis James; ''The Milagro Beanfield War,'' in recent years the most widely read work of fiction about Latinos, was written by John Nichols.
Yet it is not unlikely that even now, in Oakland or Albuquerque or the Bronx, a Latino writer sits at a kitchen table typing out the novel that will finally outwit irony - if it is published.Continue reading the main story