Hector Calderon: Narratives of Greater Mexico: Essays on Chicano Literary History, Genre, and Borders

By Vilanova, Nuria | Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Hector Calderon: Narratives of Greater Mexico: Essays on Chicano Literary History, Genre, and Borders


Vilanova, Nuria, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies


Hector Calderon Narratives of Greater Mexico: Essays on Chicano Literary History, Genre, and Borders Austin: The University of Texas Press 2004, xix + 284 pp.

Chicano studies and literary criticism proliferated and became relevant in the U.S. academic arena about two decades ago. Since then, there has been a highly significant number of contributions devoted to the study and criticism of the fertile Chicano literary corpus. Hector Calderon is one scholar who has contributed notably to the consolidation of the field. Prior to the volume reviewed here, Calderon's previous works, some of them written and edited along with Jose David Saldivar, provided evidence of his praiseworthy skills and insights as a researcher. Today we can say that Narratives of Greater Mexico has consolidated Calderon's style and approach to literary criticism.

This is indeed a passionate book. Writing from a personal/testimonial perspective, Calderon examines the work of seven Chicana/Chicano writers--Americo Paredes, Rudolfo Anaya, Tomas Rivera, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Cherrie Moraga, Rolando Hinojosa, and Sandra Cisneros--while also paying attention to their inner lives, emotions, and feelings. Calderon manages successfully to provide, alongside this more intimate approach, a thorough discussion of Mexican traditions and their impact on these Chicana/o writers. Scholarly work is interwoven with private anecdotes, memories, personal comments, and testimonial episodes, all of them brought together and articulated around the experience of what it is like to be at a cultural, individual, and social border, in Calderon's analysis the fundamental characteristic associated with the Chicana/o condition. While certainly significant because of its exploration of the works and lives of key Chicana/o writers, all of whom belong to a borderless Greater Mexico, what distinguishes Narratives of Greater Mexico is its very personal stance toward literary criticism and its genuine and accessible style. Following Gloria Anzaldua's foundational work in La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1999), Calderon establishes a solid alignment with a tendency in Chicano criticism that places the subject in a privileged position. While Western literary criticism since the times of Roland Barthes and his notion of the death of the author radically moved Western critics away from considerations of the involvement of the author in literary work, Chicano fiction and literary criticism consistently bring the author back to the forefront--both as subject as well as object. Here the author is alive again and his/her life, emotions, and feelings matter to the critic and also to the reader's appreciation of the author's creation.

Narratives of Greater Mexico is structured in seven sections corresponding to the chronology of the literary output of the seven writers studied. The first chapter is devoted to the work of Paredes, who articulated the idea of borderlands and Greater Mexico in the 1950s, pioneering the emergence of the Chicano movement of the late 1960s. Declaring his own complicity with his master, Calderon evokes Paredes' works from the close links that bring author and critic together: "Even back in 1936 and 1939 Paredes was both intellectually and ideologically my contemporary" (26). …

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