- Literature as History: Autobiography, Testimonio, and the Novel in the Chicano and Latino Experience by Mario T. García
In this book, historian Mario T. García analyzes a selection of autobiography, testimonio, and fiction by Chicanos and Latinos as evidence that writers outside the domain of recognized history contribute extensively to their community’s multi-faceted narrative. Among the Chicano accounts he covers are Memories of a Hyphenated Man by Ramón Ruiz; Mary Helen Ponce’s Hoyt Street: An Autobiography; and Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory. Central American writers García discusses are Yamileth López, co-author with Dianne Walta Hart of Undocumented in L.A.: An Immigrant’s Story and Evelyn Cortez-Davis. Author of December Sky: Beyond My Undocumented Life. These authors are united across familiar themes: land loss to Anglo encroachment in the American Southwest, immigration, feminism, racism, and economic inequality.
García avows that each author writes with “historical agency” (13) in addressing their journeys to self-awareness in white America. For instance, after a successful teaching career at Smith College, Ramón Ruiz returned to his native Southwest to train the Chicano generation of historians. [End Page 119] Richard Rodriguez dealt with the “triple consciousness” of “Americanization, ethnicity, and sexuality” (68) that many in his community rejected. The accounts of Nicaraguan Yamileth López and Salvadoran Evelyn Cortez-Davis speak to the fortitude of Latinas. García writes that it is often female immigrants who decide whether or not their family settles into a new life on U.S. soil. Gender discrimination has not discouraged these women from working in an economy that, while exploitative of their labor, also allows the opportunity to free themselves from male domination. García uses the writings of López and Cortez-Davis to represent women who defy stereotypes of Latinas as meek. López’s feminist consciousness arose during her participation in the Nicaraguan struggle against the dictator Anastasio Somoza and guided her life in the United States. Cortez-Davis, supported by the tenacity of her mother Rosario, also established a life on U.S. soil on her personal terms.
García suggests that generational differences in bilingualism, transculturation, and political activism permeate these works, which span from the Mexican American generation of political agents to Chicano Movement activists. His approach is also an incisive exploration of the multiple tracks the authors have taken in writing about themselves and their community.
For example, García points out that California novelist Alejandro Morales and El Paso-reared journalist Ruben Salazar depicted the Chicano journey from distinct perspectives. In The Brick People, Morales has Octavio Revueltas, a major character, ultimately pursue the American Dream in an individualistic manner, negating the idea that his people’s vitality requires collective action. Journalist Ruben Salazar was known for his astute reporting on politics, the border, and East Los Angeles. A tear gas projectile thrown by a deputy sheriff killed Salazar as he sat in the Silver Dollar Café in Los Angeles after covering the August 29, 1970, Chicano March against the Vietnam War. This tragedy instantly made the reporter a Chicano Movement “martyr” (128).
The book is filled with these and many other examples of how Chicano and Latino writers evoke a people’s history. It deserves a broad readership.