Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems: History and Influence in Mexican-American Social Poetry

Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems: History and Influence in Mexican-American Social Poetry

Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems: History and Influence in Mexican-American Social Poetry

Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems: History and Influence in Mexican-American Social Poetry

Synopsis

Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems combines literary theory with the personal engagement of a prominent Chicano scholar. Recalling his experiences as a student in Texas, José Limón examines the politically motivated Chicano poetry of the 60s and 70s. He bases his analyses on Harold Bloom's theories of literary influence but takes Bloom into the socio-political realm. Limón shows how Chicano poetry is nourished by the oral tradition of the Mexican corrido, or master ballad, which was a vital part of artistic and political life along the Mexican-U.S. border from 1890 to 1930.

Limón's use of Bloom, as well as of Marxist critics Raymond Williams and Fredric Jameson, brings Chicano literature into the arena of contemporary literary theory. By focusing on an important but little-studied poetic tradition, his book challenges our ideas of the American canon and extends the reach of Hispanists and folklorists as well.

Excerpt

Clyde Kluckhohn once suggested that anthropology may be nothing more than an intellectual poaching license. As a cultural anthropologist, I must confess at the outset that such license may be my only charter in undertaking this study of Mexican and Chicano poetry. But perhaps a better reason is to be found in the recent disciplinary blurring toward the more holistic intellectual activity now loosely labeled “cultural studies.” From this latter perspective, the differences between myth and ritual, on the one hand, and written poetry on the other, may be far less than we thought, particularly as these speak to the social. From this same perspective, the subjects of anthropology are now as likely to be found in the cultural West as in the “third world.”

Ultimately, however, the most fundamental reason of all may have more to do with my formation as an intellectual of Mexican descent who was born and raised in the United States. To put it too simply for the moment, I am a product of the various social and poetic worlds explored in this study: race and class domination, patriarchy and the maternal, folk culture and high modernism, the Mexican ballad and Chicano political poetry. This study is my attempt to understand the worlds that I have grown up in over these last forty-odd years and thereby to understand myself. If others profit from this attempt at understanding—even if only in disagreement—I shall be glad of it.

It is often said that defeat is an orphan, while victory has many fathers. (We may as well open on a patriarchal note.) If there is any measure of victory or success in the pages that follow, several fathers have some claim to it.

First and foremost, I thank my own father. Through his hard labor as an agricultural worker, long-haul truck driver, and finally as a meatcutter (always a union man), he held his family together in tough times. Yet he found and continues to find time and spirit to love, cook Sunday afternoon barbecue, and sing a ballad or two while hunting fresh cilantro in his garden.

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