Chicago, Hispanic and Latino Poetry in American Literature

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      Spanish influenced poetry encompasses works by many diverse groups. Among these are Mexican Americans, known since the 1950s as Chicanos, who have lived for many generations in the south-western U.S., states won from Mexico in the Mexican-American War ending in 1848. Among the Spanish Caribbean populations, the Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans maintain vitally and the Puerto Ricans maintain vital and distinctive literary traditions. For example, the Cuban-American genius for comedy sets it apart from the elegiac lyricism of the Chicano writers such as Rudolfo Army. Recent immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, and Spain constantly replenish and enlarge this literary realm.

      Chicano, or Mexican-American, poetry has a rich oral tradition in the Comdor, or ballad form. Recent works stress traditional strengths of the Mexican community and the discrimination it has sometimes met with among the whites. Sometimes, the poets blend Spanish and English words in a poetic fusion, as in the poetry of Alunsta and Gloria Anzaldua. Their poetry is much influenced by the oral tradition and is very powerful when read aloud. Some poets write largely in Spanish, in a tradition going back to the earliest epic written in the present-day United States-Gaspar Perez de Villagra’s Historia de la Nueva Mexico, Commemorating the 1598 battle between invading Spaniards and the Pueblo Indians at Acoma, New Mexico. A central text in recent Chicano poetry, Rodolfo Gonzales’s (1928-) I Am Joaquin (1972) laments the plight of Chicanos.

      Nonetheless, many Chicano writers find sustenance in their ancient Mexican roots. Thinking of the grandeur of ancient Mexico, Loma Dee Cervantes (1954-) writes that “an epic corrido” chants through her veins, while Luis Omar Salinas (1937-) feels himself to be “an Aztec angel.” Much Chicano poetry is highly personal, dealing with feelings and family or members of the community. Gary Soto (1952-) writes out of the ancient tradition of honoring departed ancestors but these words, written in 1981, describe the multicultural situation of all Americans today:

“A candle is lit for the dead
Two worlds ahead of us all”

      In recent years, Chicano poetry has achieved a new prominence, and works by Servants, Soto and Alberto Rios have been widely anthologized.

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