Academic journal article MELUS

Eusebio Chacon's America

Academic journal article MELUS

Eusebio Chacon's America

Article excerpt

Often literary recovery projects begin by calling attention to the way a text has been unjustly ignored, neglected, or allowed to disappear. From a broad literary-historical perspective, neglect has certainly been the fate of New Mexican writer Eusebio Chacon's little book El hijo de la tempestad y Tras la tormenta la calma: Dos novelitas originales (1892) (The Son of the Tempest and The Calm After the Storm: Two Original Novelettes). (1) Yet neglect in this case seems natural. Chacon published in Spanish with a local newspaper press, El Boletin Popular, in a territory that most white Americans still regarded as remote and primitive. The book had a limited run--a few hundred copies at most--and received only local attention. Ephemerality seems to be the book's defining feature.

Indeed, the book disappeared for the better part of a century, until literary critic Francisco A. Lomeli rediscovered it in 1976. Since that time, however, Lomeli and other influential scholars have insisted on Chacon's status as an "early pioneer" of New Mexican and Mexican American literature (Lomeli 149). In his survey of Mexican American literature, Raymund Paredes describes Chacon's works as "two notable novels... written in the picaresque tradition of Cervantes, but [also manifesting] a familiarity with contemporary literary movements in

Latin America" (801). An English translation of "El hijo de la tempestad" appears in the widely used anthology The Latino Reader, where the editors describe the stories as "the first novels to express a Mexican-American sensibility in contrast to the Anglo-dominated tradition of Chacon's education" (Augenbraum and Olmos 114). (2) Another fine translation of "The Calm After the Storm" appears in Marc Shell and Werner Sollors's Multilingual Anthology of American Literature, where Doris Sommer and Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, alluding to Sommer's earlier work on Latin American romances, describe the narrative as a "foundational fiction" (270). Despite the tenuous circumstances of their original publication, Chacon's stories have managed to carve out a space in the expanding frieze of Chicana/o literary history.

It would be a mistake, however, to overstate Chacon's influence. The persistence of his stories is more spectral than central. Few critics have engaged in readings of the two stories, and only a few copies are extant in university libraries. Given the impressive energies behind archival projects such as the Recovering the U.S.-Hispanic Literary Heritage series, this critical and editorial neglect is something of a mystery. If the stories are so important, why do they not receive more attention? If they are not actually that important, why will they not go away?

Part of the difficulty of interpreting Chacon's work is the apparent disjunction between his stated aims and the stories. In the introduction to the book, Chacon says of the stories:

   Son creacion genuina de mi propia fantasia y no robadas ni
   prestadas de gabachos ni extranjeros. Sobre el suelo Nuevo Mexicano
   me atrevo a cimentar la semilla de la literatura recreativa para
   que si despues otros autores de mas feliz ingenio que el mio siguen
   el camino que aqui les trazo, puedan volver hacia el pasado la
   vista y senalarme como el primero que emprendio tan aspero camino.
   [They are the genuine creation of my own fantasy and are neither
   stolen nor borrowed from gabachos or foreigners. Upon New Mexican
   soil I dare sow the seed of imaginative literature so that hereon
   other authors of happier genius than my own may follow the trail
   that I blaze, that they may look to the past and remember me as the
   first to take such a harsh path.] (2) (3)

Chacon situates his stories as foundational for a New Mexican literary tradition that A. Gabriel Melendez describes as "a bold affirmation of cultural will" (135) in the face of Anglo domination during the late nineteenth century. …

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