Native American and Chicano/a Literature of the American Southwest: Intersections of Indigenous Literatures

Native American and Chicano/a Literature of the American Southwest: Intersections of Indigenous Literatures

Native American and Chicano/a Literature of the American Southwest: Intersections of Indigenous Literatures

Native American and Chicano/a Literature of the American Southwest: Intersections of Indigenous Literatures

Synopsis

This book studies Native American and Chicano/a writers of the American Southwest as a coherent cultural group with common features and distinct efforts to deal with and to resist the dominant Euro-American culture.

Excerpt

This study sets out to demonstrate that the shared history of Chicanos/as and Native Americans in the Southwest, their spiritual attachment to their homeland, and the diverse cultural, tribal, and familial influences on their lives, determine their literary characters, personas, and lyric voices and reflect their struggle to establish a unified bicultural identity. This identity allows them to persevere in the dominant Euro-American society as a unique cultural and social group. In mediating between the conflicting elements that impact their sense of self, indigenous authors of the Southwest can be fruitfully studied as a coherent group that sets itself apart from their colonizers. Some indigenous authors use the expression “the people” (sometimes spelled with a capital “p” or italicized) to designate their group; both Rudolfo Anaya (Chicano) in his novels Bless me, Ultima (1972), Heart of Aztlán (1976), and Alburquerque (1992), and Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) in her novel Almanac of the Dead (1991) frequently make use of this expression to suggest a unity among tribal people of the Southwest. The name Chicanos/as gave themselves, “La Raza,” and the Navajo word by which tribal members call themselves, “Diné,” which means “the People” as well, can be seen as further examples of southwestern indigenous peoples’ belief in the cultural affinity with each other.

In the 1977 collection of southwestern literary voices, entitled Southwest: A Contemporary Anthology, the editors Karl and Jane Kopp write, “The Southwest and its spirit are not defined by state lines, for geography, climate, and the human experience bound up with them elude such things” (393). This statement is reflected in the various attempts to define the Southwest geographically, i.e. in the diverging ways of broadly or narrowly delineating its demarcations. While the editors of Southwest follow the broader definition approach, including western Arkansas and Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and southern Colorado, Arizona and southern Utah, as well as southern California, they do point to the fact that “The center of the Southwest is located in an area of Arizona and New Mexico that transcends the state boundaries, coincidental with an ancient kingdom or nation of the Anasazi” (xi). Moreover, the Southwest is a distinct region of the United States because “The original inhabitants of the Southwest, the Anasazi, and their descendants, plus other native peoples who journeyed to the New World long before Cortez or Columbus, have shaped a rich tradition of close involvement with ‘place’” (x).

This sense of place, the feeling of attachment to the homeland, is reflected in the literary works of contemporary Native American and Chicano/a writers of the Southwest, and thus is one of several parallels that link these authors with each other. Janice Monk and Vera Norwood, in their article “Angles of Visions: Enhancing Our Perspectives on the Southwest” (1987), refer to this connection as well, stating that contemporary Native American and Chicano/a writers place emphasis on the connection between creative expression and the land, so that many of their “inspirations, materials, themes, and processes of creation emanate directly from the land,” and thus allow them to develop their unique literary voices (40).

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