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Chicano poetry is a branch of American literature written by and primarily about Mexican Americans and the Mexican-American way of life in society. The term "Chicano" is a political and cultural term of identity specifically identifying people of Mexican descent who are born in the United States. In the same way that American poetry comprises the writing of the offspring of English and other European colonists to North America, so Chicano poetry and literature comprises the writing of the offspring of Latinos who either emigrated to the United States or were involuntarily included in the country due to the Mexican-American War of 1848.

Chicanos have been writing poetry in these lands that became the United States since the late-16th century. Despite their having cultivated all types of written and oral literature, many of their literary traditions persisted in order to preserve their cultural identity within an expanding and overwhelmingly aggressive "national" culture that did not recognize Spanish speakers as part of an ever-evolving "America."[1]

History[edit | edit source]

Origins[edit | edit source]

Chicanismo is a cultural movement begun in the 1930s in the southwestern United States]] by Mexican Americans to recapture their Mexicannative American culture. The four major themes of Chicanismo are generally considered to be: (1) the power of the creative earth and labor upon it; (2) political transformation through collective efforts; (3) strong familial ties extending back into Mesoamerican pre-history; and (4) spiritually-influenced creative artistic imagination as reflected in the visual ARTS.

There are several theories concerning the origin of the term Chicano. The most prominent is that it is derived from Mexicano, which comes from Mexica (pronounced "meshica"). Whatever its origin, the term was in widespread use by the 1950s and gained popularity in the 1960s. It is also during this time that the label Black gained popularity in place of the terms Negro and Colored People. It was the young Black community angry at the racism that was being perpetuated against them who burned and destroyed several cities. However, many older black people wanted to be called Negro or colored because they did not wish to be identified with the word black which for some represented the turmoil of the times. So too, many older Mexican-Americans refused to accept the term Chicano, instead proudly identifying themselves as Mexicano.

Many Chicanos and Mexicanos born on the American side of the border, suffered an identity crisis, they did not want to throw away their proud Mexicaness instilled by their parents and yet they were not from Mexico. Building on that cultural pride many responded by identifying themselves as Chicano.[2] From this cultural phenomenon stemmed what we now know as Chicano poetry. The literary movement was gained notoriety in spite all of the hostility of the early 1900s to give a voice to Chicanos.

Pioneers and forerunners[edit | edit source]

Notable Chicano poets who were instrumental in creating a niche both in American and Latin American literature and developed an impetus were early writers such as Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado, Trinidad "Trino" Sánchez, Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales. Delgado wrote "Stupid America", Sánchez wrote "Why Am I So Brown?" and Gonzales authored the epic "Yo Soy Joaquin." Gonzales' "Yo Soy Joaquin" has been acknowledged as the Chicano epic poem. Self published in 1967, it reviewed the exploitation of the mestizos from colonial times to the present.

Yo soy Joaquín,
perdido en un mundo de confusión:
I am Joaquín, lost in a world of confusion,
caught up in the whirl of a gringo society,
confused by the rules, scorned by attitudes,
suppressed by manipulation, and destroyed by modern society.
My fathers have lost the economic battle
and won the struggle of cultural survival.[3]

Another early pioneer writer is the Poet/Painter and gypsy vagabond of the national community, Nephtalí De León, author of "Hey, Mr.President, Man!", "Coca Cola Dream," and "Chicano Popcorn." The latter part of the 20th century saw the emergence of Juan Felipe Herrera as a dominant force in the genre. The early literature of the movement was characterized by indigenismo, or looking to the ancient past for the roots that would inform modern Chicano/a identity. La Raza, as the central Chicano activist group of the time was called, sought to shape and solidify a national and cultural identity based on the history of the Azteca people and their legendary homeland, Aztlán. The surge of creative literary activity among Chicano authors in the 1960s and 1970s became known as the Florecimiento, or Renaissance.[4]

Unifying concepts[edit | edit source]

These poems primarily deal with how Chicanos deal with existence in the United States and how Chicanos cope with marginalization, racism and vanquished dreams. Many Chicano writers allude to the past glory of the Mesoamerican civilizations and how the indigenous people of those civilizations continue to live through the Chicano people who are predominantly of mestizo (mixed) ancestry.

Chicana (female) writers have drastically expanded on the theme of marginalization. They have added a feminist component to the overall Chicano poetry movement. Chicana poets have pursued such themes as sexual abuse, marginalization of women, and the creation of complex Chicana identity. Overall, this literary movement has seen great thematic diversity which can be accredited to different Chicano/a writers throughout American history.[5]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Nicolas Kanellos "An Overview of Latino Poetry: The Iceberg below the Surface." American Book Review. 2002
  2. Introduction to Chicano Poetry http://teachart.msu.edu/chicano.html
  3. Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales. "Yo Soy Joaquin." 1967.
  4. "Contemporary Chicano/a Literature" Contemporary Literary Criticism Select. 2008 Detroit: Gale.
  5. "Contemporary Chicano/a Literature" Contemporary Literary Criticism Select. 2008 Detroit: Gale.

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