"Choosing our own metaphors" : genre and method in contemporary Chicana/o life narratives

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Kurzen, Crystal Marie

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While Mexican Americans have put their lives to paper prior to the years of el movimiento, in this project, I begin my analysis with authors who voice their selves immediately before and after the Chicano Movement. Authors like José Antonio Villarreal in Pocho (1959), Ernesto Galarza in Barrio Boy: The Story of a Boy’s Acculturation (1971), and Richard Rodriguez in Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982), in their efforts to represent self and narrative multiple selves, wrote what many see as the foundational texts that speak to or enliven Mexican American experiences during this formative period. Upon closer consideration, we see the ways in which these early texts initiate and create on-going conversations about form, fiction, identity, and truth. Rather than establishing a kind of literary nationalism, at the time, that rejected Anglo literary conventions, particularly in the field of autobiography, Villarreal, Galarza, and Rodriguez mirror many of the Western, male, heteronormative, autobiographical conventions in their texts, ones they read and admired while growing up as Mexican Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. In contrast to these earlier Mexican American writers, Chicanas such as Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Norma Elia Cantú, offer alternative, multi-generic models of life narrative.

In my project, I consider the ways in which Chicano self-writing carves out a space of racial representation and how that form, originated and altered by the Chicana/os mentioned above, has evolved to accommodate and even embrace such forms as dichos, myths, recipes, photographs, letters, poems, among others. Chicana authors Sheila Ortiz Taylor, Sandra Ortiz Taylor, Pat Mora, and Michele Serros employ various autobiographical strategies to establish a self-narrated tradition that differs from the works of early Chicano writers. Following in the footsteps of his Chicana predecessors, Luis Alberto Urrea, too, challenges form to tell the story of his life. These writers do not simply “modify” or “adapt” existing genres; rather, they make and remake an entire corpus of related autobiographical genres in order to participate in the larger literary tradition of life narrative.




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