Entre aquí y allá: A Brief Overview of Xicana/o/x Literature

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I was a graduate student at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln when during one of my weekly phone call home in Laredo, Texas, I excitedly tell my father that I am about to teach my very first class on Chicano Literature. He says “Que bueno, mija, pero ¿qué es eso? No hay tal cosa,” quickly dismissing my excitement. His questioning the existence of what I saw as the future was not unexpected. In 1977, we were a handful of graduate students or professors teaching in English departments and those of us teaching Xicana/o/x literature had a problem for the dearth of published material made it extremely difficult to find texts for classes. Literatura Chicana: Texto y Contexto (1972) co-edited by Joseph Sommers, Antonia Castañeda and Tomas Ybarra Frausto was the first anthology of Xicanx literature.  African American and Xicana/o/x literature were forcing major shifts in the American literary canon, but it was incremental change and the resistance was massive. My father was not alone in proclaiming that there was no such thing as Chicano Literature; except for a few who could see the potential and the promise of a literature that reflected the life of a population that had endured erasure for over a century, it seemed to me that the entire academic world agreed with him. But I persisted and I am still teaching Xicana/o/x literature. I am pleased to say that now, my problem is that too many books exist and it is difficult to choose which to bring to my students.

We can divide the literary production that can be classified as Xicana/o/x literature into three periods: the pre-Chicano Movement (1848-1965) the Chicano Movement 1965-1990), and Post-Chicano Movement (1990 to now). Scholars have argued that this literature must not include the writing by other Latinx authors. For me, the key is the focus on chicanidad in whatever place it happens to be in Greater Mexico as Don Américo Paredes called “all the areas inhabited by people of Mexican descent—not only within the present limits of the republic of Mexico but in the United States as well in a cultural rather than a political sense” (Paredes 1976: xiv). The ethos found in “chicanidad” for me centers on certain class and cultural markers. So, in this brief essay, I offer an overview of the three major genres of Chicanx literature—poetry, fiction—regrettably there is no space to include a major genre in the Movimiento Chicano and in our literary production, theater. Moreover, the other genres of creative non-fiction, autobiography, memoir and most recently Speculative fiction also merit attention. I focus on a few authors and works from each genre anchoring along the three literary historical periods.


In my classes, I begin my discussion of Chicano poetry citing two pre-Columbian poets: Netzahualcoyotl and Macuilxochitxin. The former also known as the King of Texcoco and the latter, the daughter of Tlacael, I consider the first feminist poet of the Americas because in her “Song of Macuilxochitzin” she includes women who are present at a battle.  I then go quickly to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s poem “Hombres Necios” and finally arrive at the 1960s Movimiento poets and poetics and conclude with the 1980s to the present. Moreover, I hold that the poetic landscape must acknowledge the role of declamación in the desarrollo de la poesia como expression artística de les chicanes. In my view, the memorized declamation of poetry is the precursor of spoken word poetry slams that are also reminiscent of the Floricantos, the poetry and arts gatherings of the 1970s and 80s.

During that era of the Movimiento and the struggle for civil rights, the Floricanto gatherings held in various locations throughout the southwest drew crowds of poets and other creatives to celebrate and champion the arts and to join in solidarity with the political actions of the day. Early Xicana/o/x poets like Alurista, Ricardo Sánchez, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Nephtalí De León Dorinda Moreno, Inés Hernández Ávila (at the time Tovar), and Antonio Burciaga among countless others, su servidora included, traced a path that drew literary critics like Juan Bruce Novoa and Marta Sánchez to write about the poetic production of the period. Not surprising many of the poets wrote from an oppositional vantage point breaking genre boundaries and breaking strict language rules; many of us used Spanglish, or TexMex and in an early book, Bernice Zamora joined with Burciaga to publish Restless Serpents (1976). Alurista’s inclusion of Nahuatl in his poetry collection Nationchild plumaroja, 1969-1972 (1972) set the stage for other non-traditional poetry.  Pinto poets Raúl Salinas, Ricardo Sánchez, and Jimmy Santiago Baca lay the ground for such poetry by inmates or formerly incarcerated Chicanos. Lesbian poets like Gloria Anzaldúa and Alicia Gaspar de Alba continued to push the envelope as it were by writing truth to power. In the 90s it was Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros and many others who soared to the forefront with important poetry collections. In California, Luis Rodriguez followed in the footsteps of an earlier generation (Quinto Sol Publications) and established Tia Chucha Press. In San Antonio, M&A Editions founded by Angela and Moises Sandoval and in San Jose Lorna Dee Cervantes’s Mango Press offered Xicana/o/x were publishing poetry.  In the 21st century, the Juan Felipe Herrera became the first Chicano poet laureate and the organization, CantoMundo a homeland for Latine poets was founded by five Xicana/o/x  poets—Pablo Martínez, Carmen Tafolla, Deborah Paredes and Celeste Guzman and myself–the organization filled a need and with its annual writing retreat has set as its goal the celebration and support of Latine poets, albeit it is not exclusively a Xicana/o/x  poetry space. The current status of Xicana/o/x poetry is bright as new publication houses have emerged to continue publishing and hosting a lively poetry scene in spaces created by Chicanx poets. In Texas Aztlan Libre press founded by Juan Tejeda and Anisa Onofre and Edward Vidaurre’s Flowersong Press are but two of these. In bookstores and cultural centers across Aztlan, we find Xicana/o/x literary events. The poetry book series at the University of Arizona Press and the established Arte Público Press also offer an outlet for poets and for fiction writers.


We love to talk and to tell stories; every family has at least one storyteller who carries the personal stories of the family but who may also tell stories like La Llorona and who may sing corridos, those sung ballads that tell stories. So, in my view, Xicana/o/x fiction begins with the oral tradition of storytelling. Tales like La Llorona and the oral literary tradition is rich and has continued to emerge and be published in major presses as well as university presses, especially in the southwest. In the nineteenth century the presses published novels, mostly in Spanish, but the first Chicano to publish with a major New York publisher by Jose Antonio Villarreal’s Pocho (1954). We can track the three stages of our literature by looking at the novels from before the movimiento to now. In that first period, the novels were in Spanish and published generally in Mexico or in Chicano owned small presses; the novels mostly focused a critique of the social conditions for Mexican origin people who had been in what was now the United States all along.  Scholars consider Las Aventuras de Don Chipotle, o cuando los pericos mamen (1928/1999) the first Chicanx novel, because of its style and themes. The novels of the Xicana/o/x movement were largely published by the two publishers what is now Arte Público Press and Bilingual Review Press, founded by Nick Kanellos and Gary D. Keller respectively. At least one novel, Lucha Corpi’s Brown Angel chronicles the times as it begins during the Chicano Moratorium. Writers like Rolando Hinojosa, Tomas Rivera, and Margarita Cota Cardenas published in Spanish and emerged as the Movimiento storytellers. Some writers who are not as well-known include Max Martinez and Sabine Ulibarri.  In the 80s, at the cusp of the post Movimiento literature, we see women take center stage: Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, Denise Chavez. In the post-Chicano Movement era, writers like Reyna Grande, and Fernando Flores are chronicling the life of Xicana/o/x s. LGBTQ writers have been there all along. Xicana/o/x LGBTQ characters are at the core of writers like Terri de la Peña, Gloria Anzaldúa, John Rechy, Arturo Islas and Michael Nava, Felicia Luna Lemus and others. Anzaldúa’s work changed the literary canon with her hybrid text, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.

Just like during the Movimiento, Quinto Sol Publications was publishing and offering the Premio Quinto Sol, nowadays we have Xicana/o/x  publishers like Flowersong Press, Tia Chucha Press, and Aztlan Libre Press helping to provide venues for writers of fiction and to provide readers access to a literature that reflects Xicana/o/x  life and experiences.  

I am still excited when I teach Xicana/o/x literature because I still see students discover themselves in what they read, and question why they haven’t heard about some of these writers before, writers with whom they can identify, writers who are working to prevent the erasure of Xicana/o/x literature, of our language, of our culture. My father passed away in 2004, the same year that Anzaldúa died, and by then I had been teaching Chicano Literature for many years. Before his passing, he was able to see my published novel and to recognize what Xicana/o/x literature is all about. Now, I could proudly answer his rebuke: Sí, Papi, sí hay literatura Chicana, ¡y es buenísima!

Works Cited

Alurista. Nationchild plumaroja, 1969-1972. San Diego: Toltecas en Aztlan, Centro Cultural de la Raza, 1972.

Anzaldúa, Gloria E. Borderlands: La Frontera—The New Mestiza: The Critical Edition. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2021.

Corpi, Lucha. Brown Angel. Houston: Arte Público Press.

Nájera-Ramírez, Olga. “Encaminándonos: Américo Paredes as a Guiding Force in Transcending Borders.”  The Journal of American Folklore ,  Vol. 125, No. 495 (Winter 2012), pp. 69-90 https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jamerfolk.125.495.0069

Sommers, Joseph, Antonia Castañeda Shuler, Tomas Ybarra Frausto. Chicana Literature: Text and Context/Literatura Chicana: Texto y Contexto. Prentice Hall, 1972.

Venegas, Daniel. Las Aventuras de Don Chipotle, o cuando los pericos mamen. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1999.

Zamora, Beatriz & Jose Antonio Burciaga. Restless Serpents. Menlo Park, CA: Diseño Literario, 1976.


We asked the artists to share their favourite books | Le pedimos a cada artista que compartan sus libros favoritos


Crónica de una muerte anunciada by Gabriel García Márquez.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. 
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. 
Señales que precederán al fin del mundo by Yuri Herrera.

I have so many but I tend to read the classics over and over. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway is a masterful writer, the short novel is a metaphor for the struggles of life. I personally identify with the man vs nature theme literature, and it’s a great way to get small and deflate the ego.

The Gift by Lewis Hyde
Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties by Mike Davis, and Jon Wiener.
Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera
Educated by Tara Westover. 

Cosas de los Señores by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún. After the spanish burned, most of the indigineous codexis realized how much cultural history they had lost, so Fray Bernardino de Sahagún gathered many of the old men who were alive before the contact with the spanish and asked them all sorts of questions about their culture, traditions, and religion. His work inspired my Montezuma’s Table, which is the cultural history of Mexican food. Sophie D. Coe called Sahagún the first cultural anthropologist. 

Chicana and Chicano Mental Health: Alma, Mente y Corazón by Yvette G. Flores (2013), because it taught me to stop internalizing shame, and anger. 

I Have Eaten the Rattlesnake; New and Selected Poems (TCU Texas Poets Laureate Series) by Laurie Ann Guerrero.
Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (Latin America Otherwise) by Gloria Anzaldúa, and AnaLouise Keating (2015).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote. This book inspires me because it’s about a young woman, Lula Mae, from a rural part of Texas who comes to New York to reinvent herself. I’m also from Texas, from a working class, Mexican-American neighborhood, so Breakfast at Tiffany’s really resonates with me. In some ways it’s the story of many of us artists, actors, writers, etc., who come to New York, either to culturally bring a part of where we came from to the city or to completely reinvent ourselves. It can be a bittersweet journey.

…Y no se lo tragó la tierra by Tomás Rivera.
Health and Wellness books 

My parents had a set of The World Book Encyclopedia: A-Z, and the whole set inspired me as a young person.

Currently reading Interviews with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester.

A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom by Whitall N. Perry.
The Major Symptoms of Hysteria by Pierre Janet.
Long Pilgrimage by John G. Bennett.
Aurora Consurgens by Marie-Louise von Franz.

I don’t know if it counts but I’m going through Turn Left at Orion by Guy Consolmagno, to figure out how to use a telescope. 

Martita, I Remember You by Sandra Cisneros, 2021.
Gordo by Jaime Cortez, 2021.
¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now. Published in association with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2020.

My work is the product of my cultural and political agenda… books, and poems inspire exactly nothing. I do appreciate a good book on its own terms, like the recently read Forget About The Alamo, The Rise and Fall of an American Myth by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford, which demolishes the myths that Texas promotes as its “heroic” history when in fact its history was all about slavery, and the inherent racism that you know flourishes to this day if you read the news. 

I actually read The New York Times or News Magazines, but one of my favorite authors is Rudolfo Anaya and… Alicia Gaspar de Alba.
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya.  
Sor Juana’s Second Dream by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.

The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move by Sonia Shah.
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz.
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú.
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny by Nile Rodgers.
What Happened, Miss Simone? A Biography by Alan Light. 
The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi. 

Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez.
Lluvia de Oro by Victor Villasenor.
Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcom X and Alex Haley.
El Alquimista by Paulo Coelho.

My range of reading depends on my research. Reading is imperative to my creative research and my artistic endeavors. Books that I enjoy range from art, the occult, political history, historical references on pre-Columbian lore. I am currently reading two books on the pre-history of Peru, and the speculative advance technology of that period. I also read books on UFOs, and I also collect books, ranging from Pop-Up, Luftwaffe (WWII), and erotic art.

I grew up obsessed with comic books, and one of my favorites that has made a big impression on me was Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers. A lot of my work has to do with the lack of representation in popular culture of Mexican-Americans. This comic book was an inspiration because most of the characters are Mexican-American. The stories are not at all typical, and some really hit close to home.

A book that inspires me is Manuel Álvarez Bravo: 100 Years, 100 days. Published by Turner Publicaciones, 2001. This book inspires me because not only I do admire his artful photography, and life, but because I hope to have as long a life as him, and have my artwork collected in as many institutions.

All About Love by Bell Hooks
The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. 

All About Love by Bell Hooks
The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.
Latino Americans: The 500-Year Legacy That Shaped a Nation by Ray Suarez.
The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal by Mary L. Trump.

…Y no se lo tragó la tierra by Tomas Rivera. Translated by Herminio Rios, Berkeley, CA; Quinto Sol, 1971. 

1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann. 
Fantasyland: How America went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen.
The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Wasson.

My copies of the following books are marked up with my notes, and ideas about them as I revisit them continually.
The Book of Nothing by John D. Barrow.
Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy by Mircea Eliade.
The Shaman’s Secret: The Lost Resurrection Teachings of the Ancient Maya by Douglas Gillette.
Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation by Francisco X. Alarcón.
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell.

The Emperor Jones by Eugene O’Neill, because it historically allowed people of color to own their pathos instead of relegating them to complacency.

Tops on my list is Cecile Pineda, especially her early books, Face and Frieze, which I re-read occasionally. I love the work of Rosario Castellanos. I also enjoy the paradox of Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez: he begins with reality, and moves to magic realism; Allende begins in magic realism then moves to a political reality. I find that compelling. I love that mixture of politics, and magic. Antonio Lobo Antunes manages it well. Virgilio Piñera also moves toward it in René’s Flesh. I also leaned heavily on the work of James Baldwin and J.D. Salinger in my teen years. Their characters seem to live full, and complex lives at the edge of the “regular” world. And I can’t forget Manuel Puig, who always takes us to interesting places, but usually stays within his characters’ minds. 

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa
Reading this book was the first time I felt as if I was reading about myself. It encompasses every aspect of myself, my history, my struggles, my sexuality, everything.

Canícula by Norma Jean Cantu, PhD.
Luz at Midnight by Marisol Cortez, PhD.
The Bee Maker by Mobi Warren.
Chicana: Texto y Contexto Literature by Tomás Ybarra Frausto, PhD., Antonia Castañeda, and Joseph Sommers.

Poems by Pablo Neruda, 
Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chavez, 
Works by Sandra Cisneros, Arturo Pérez Reverté, Ito Romo, Reyna Grande.

Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Kidlat Tahimik “Cups-of-Gas Filmmaking vs. Full Tank-cum-Credit Card Fillmaking”

I am Joaquin by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales
Be Drunk by Charles Baudelaire 
A Massacre in Mexico by Elena Poniatowska
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse 

Books that are important to me and my research: 
Dimensions of the Americas: Art and Social Change in Latin America and the U.S. by Shifra M. Goldman (University of Chicago Press, 1994).
Eclipse de Siete Lunas: Mujeres Muralistas en México by Dina Comisarenco Mirkin (Mexico City: Artes de México y del Mundo, 2017)
Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California by Guisela Latorre (University of Texas Press, 2008)
The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth Century Mexico by Louise Burkhart (1989)
Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria E. Anzaldúa (1987)
This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa (1981)
Methodology of the Oppressed by Chela Sandoval (2000)
All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity by Marshall Berman (1982/1988).