European Perspectives on Hispanic Literature of the United States

By Genvieve Fabre | Go to book overview

The Recovery of Nineteenth Century
Chicano Autobiography

by Genaro Padilla
University of California-Berkeley


I

Although autobiography study is flourishing, almost nothing has been written about the autobiographical tradition in Chicano culture. 1 One would think that there has been no autobiographical voice within a culture that has had a vital literary tradition for hundreds of years. It is as though individual Chicanos had not marked their lives to paper, had lived and then disappeared from history without a trace. This is partly true, but certainly not because of illiteracy or disinclination. Chicanos have been silenced not only by the grave, but by social transformation, linguistic alienation, political narratives that seal life history into textual permanence. Memoirs so long out of print they have nearly forgotten themselves. Diaries, family histories, personal poetry, collections of self-disclosing correspondence. Much more autobiographical material unpublished and, although catalogued, forgotten on archive shelves. Lives scattered on broken pages, faded, partially lost at the margins, suspended in language unuttered until there is a listener who opens the file and begins. The archeological project to recover Chicano autobiography thus begins here.

The primary requirement of such an archaeological project might appear to be only that of digging through archives in search of material that will reconstitute the autobiographical tradition in Chicano culture. Indeed, identifying and recovering autobiographical material is a major undertaking, especially when such work has no precedent. Once the recovery is in process, however, there appears an entire set of considerations that must be decided upon before working through the first box of aging papers. It means deciding upon the kind of material I choose to define as autobiographical, a theoretical issue that rests on current debate over the definition of what constitutes "true" autobiography. It means deciding at which point in history I choose to intervene. And it means defining the

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