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Hispanic Immigrant Literature

Hispanic Immigrant Literature
El Sueño del Retorno

The first comprehensive study of literary works created both orally and in writing by immigrants to the United States from the Hispanic world since the early nineteenth century.

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowment in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture, in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

July 2011
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211 pages | 6 x 9 | 12 b&w illus., 1 chart/graph |

Immigration has been one of the basic realities of life for Latino communities in the United States since the nineteenth century. It is one of the most important themes in Hispanic literature, and it has given rise to a specific type of literature while also defining what it means to be Hispanic in the United States. Immigrant literature uses predominantly the language of the homeland; it serves a population united by that language, irrespective of national origin; and it solidifies and furthers national identity. The literature of immigration reflects the reasons for emigrating, records—both orally and in writing—the trials and tribulations of immigration, and facilitates adjustment to the new society while maintaining links with the old society.

Based on an archive assembled over the past two decades by author Nicolás Kanellos's Recovering the U. S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project, this comprehensive study is one of the first to define this body of work. Written and recorded by people from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, the texts presented here reflect the dualities that have characterized the Hispanic immigrant experience in the United States since the mid-nineteenth century, set always against a longing for homeland.


Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title List

  • Introduction
  • 1. The Context of Hispanic Immigrant Literature
  • 2. An Overview of Hispanic Immigrant Print Culture
  • 3. The Dream of Return to the Homeland
  • 4. Nation and Narration
  • 5. Immigration and Gender: Female Perspectives
  • 6. Immigration and Gender: Male Perspectives
  • Afterword: Life on the Supposed Hyphen
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Nicolás Kanellos is the Director of Arte Público Press and Brown Foundation Professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston. He is the author or editor of more than thirty books, including A History of Hispanic Theatre in the United States: Origins to 1940.


Immigration has been a basic reality of life for Latino communities in the United States since the nineteenth century. It has been not only a sociocultural reality but also a powerful determinant of the Latino or Hispanic vision of the world. The impact of successive generations of immigrants, originating principally in Mexico and the Caribbean but also in Spain and Central and South America, has left an indelible mark on the psyche of Hispanic minorities in the United States. Persistent immigration has also reinvigorated and even changed the cultural character of the Hispanic communities in this country. As Paul White has argued, "Migration, dislocation and ensuing marginality are some of the most important influences subverting long-standing beliefs in the linearity of progress and the stability of cultural identity, and that these have been determining influences on the inner conditions of contemporary humanity" (6). It is no wonder that one of the most important themes in Hispanic literature is immigration and that it has given rise to a specific type of literature while defining what it means to be Hispanic in the United States.

Like all themes that arise from the grass roots of society and permeate many aspects of daily life, the theme of the Hispanic immigrant in the grand Metropolis or the Colossus of the North first arises in the immigrant imaginary in oral lore as personal experience narratives and anecdotes and spreads with characteristic vernacular articulation to jokes, songs, and such popular theatrical forms as vaudeville. Long before literary works based on immigrant life appeared in books, Spanish-language newspapers began collecting and printing these jokes, anecdotes, and tales of misfortune of the greenhorns come to the Metropolis. It is not surprising that the first Hispanic novel of immigration, Lucas Guevara, by the Colombian writer Alirio Díaz Guerra, appeared in New York City in 1914, given that the city was one of the favored ports of entry of Hispanic immigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century. New York and other cities have continued to serve as bases for the launching of a continuous stream of immigrant literature in Spanish-language publication. Included among the many immigrant novels and plays that have appeared in the twentieth century are Conrado Espinosa's El sol de Texas (San Antonio, 1926, Under the Texas Sun); Las aventuras de Don Chipote, o Cuando los pericos mamen (The Adventures of Don Chipote, or When Parrots Breast Feed, Los Angeles, 1928) by Daniel Venegas; La factoría (published in 1925 in Guatemala, written in New York), by Gustavo Alemán Bolaños; Trópico en Manhattan (written in New York but published in San Juan, 1951), by Guillermo Cotto-Thorner; La carreta (The oxcart, debuted in New York in 1952, published in Río Piedras in 1961), by René Marqués; El super (New York, 1977), by Iván Acosta; Odisea del Norte (Odyssey to the North, written in Washington, D.C., and published in Houston, 1998), by Mario Bencastro; Roberto Quesada's The Big Banana (1998) and Not through Miami (2001) (both written in Spanish in New York but published in English in Houston); and Eduardo González Viaña's El corrido de Dante (2006, written in Oregon but published in English in Houston as Dante's Ballad [2007]). While most of these works were written by and deal with immigrants from nation-states abroad, Puerto Ricans were well on their way to producing an immigrant literature on the U.S. continent well before 1917, when U.S. citizenship was extended to them by Congress via the Jones Act—and, it might be said, they became internal migrants, not immigrants. Nevertheless, Puerto Rican authors in New York continued to live in communities dominated by other Hispanic immigrants, published works in newspapers and magazines targeted at Spanish-speaking immigrants of all nationalities, and projected an immigrant identity in their printed and oral literatures, until their community became the predominant Hispanic population in New York and surroundings beginning during the Second World War and fought for its rights as U.S. citizens;1 from then on, the popular as well as the written culture began to adopt the characteristics of a native literature that eventually would produce the English-dominant Nuyorican writing of the 1960s and 1970s— (see chapter 1).

All of the works cited above are tales about greenhorn immigrants who come to the big city to improve their lives—that is, to seek their fortunes in the land of opportunity—but who in the end become disillusioned by what the authors or their narrators see as the ills of American society: oppression of the working class, racial discrimination, the underworld and the underclass culture, and a capitalism that erodes Hispanic identity and values, including family, religion, machismo, language, and culture. In this way, Spanish-language immigrant literature opposes and deconstructs the myth of the American Dream, as opposed to the reinforcement and celebration of the American Dream that usually appears in the English-language ethnic autobiography written by the children of immigrants, for example, Julia Alvarez, Oscar Hijuelos, Esmeralda Santiago, and Victor Villaseñor. In fact, Spanish-language immigrant novels are written by the immigrants themselves, not by their children, and their texts thereby take on additional historical authenticity. In contrast to these are the stories recreated from inherited family sagas or remembered from the time the authors themselves came to the United States as young children and became acculturated in the Metropolis.

Lucas Guevara initiates the ethos and structure that will be repeated in many of the works cited above:

  1. A naive Hispanic immigrant filled with high expectations and fascinated by the advanced technology and progress of the Metropolis ultimately becomes disillusioned with the United States.
  2. The greenhorn, not knowing sophisticated city ways, becomes the victim of numerous abuses by the authorities, petty criminals, and hucksters as well as by the bosses and foremen where he works.
  3. The narrators reject the materialism and supposed superiority of the Metropolis and embrace essentialist Latino cultural values and identity, a reversal which eventually leads them to return to their homelands. Those who remain in the Metropolis, as in Lucas Guevara and La carreta, will either die—poetic justice for their betrayal of national values and ideals—or, having been corrupted and transformed by the materialist, corrupt culture of the United States, will cease to exist as representatives of their nation.. In El sol de Texas, for example, those who remain are compared negatively with the true Mexicans who return to the patria.
  4. Often the plot of immigrant novels and plays is a vehicle for occasionally biting criticism of Metropolitan culture: the lack of ethical standards, the prevalence of racial discrimination, the rampant sense of superiority to Latinos and their culture, and a hypocrisy endemic among Anglos. The Metropolis is seen as Babylon or Sodom and Gomorrah, and Anglos are the corruptors of Latino innocence. Their money perverts everything. The technological marvels of their advanced civilization destroy humanism, dignity, and respect. They consider the Hispanic immigrant as nothing more than a beast of burden, or camello (camel), on whose back the technological marvels are built. The immigrants compare themselves to the slaves of Babylon, Egypt, and the Old South. Their foremen are slave drivers.
  5. Cultural nationalism prevails in these works, and it tends to protect and preserve the Catholic religion, the Spanish language, and Hispanic customs threatened with assimilation. At times, however, the severest criticism is reserved for Latinos who have adopted Anglo-American cultural ways and consequently are seen as cultural traitors. They are denigrated as agringados (gringoized), renegados (renegades), pochos (no longer Mexicans) and pitiyanquis (petit Yankees).
  6. Frequently the American female comes to represent the Metropolis, its amoral sexuality and liberalism, its materialism and erotic attraction for Latino males, while Latinas often represent the immigrant's national values of family, religion, and culture, even the homeland. When Latinas become assimilated in these narratives, theirs is seen as the greatest betrayal of the nation.

Las aventuras de Don Chipote, o Cuando los pericos mamen (1928; The Adventures of Don Chipote, or When Parrots Breast Feed), by Daniel Venegas, perhaps one of the greatest novels of immigration despite its many formalistic flaws, seems to have risen from the rich wellsprings of oral tradition, where its basic plot, character types, and the argot of the "Chicanos," for whom it was written, already existed; all of these elements had made their way from the anecdotes and lived experience of bracero immigrants into the jokes, popular ballads (corridos), and vaudeville routines that became so popular in Mexican-American culture in the United States in the early twentieth century. The character types as well as their picturesque argot had developed in oral culture from the beginning of the twentieth century, if not before, and broke into print first in the local-color columns (crónicas) of Spanish-language newspapers published throughout the Southwest. In the weekly crónicas of such satirists as the Mexicans "Jorge Ulica" (Julio G. Arce), "Kaskabel" (Benjamín Padilla), "Loreley" (María Luisa Garza); the Cuban "Ofa" (Alberto O'Farrill); the Puerto Rican "Miquis Tiquis" (Jesús Colón); "El Malcriado" (Daniel Venegas), who presented himself as a Chicano; and many others, the customs of Hispanic immigrants were habitually transformed into literary texts. The written literature of immigration in the Spanish language was not represented just by crónicas; hundreds of books of immigrant prose and poetry were also issued by publishing houses and newspapers. As in Lucas Guevara, Venegas's Don Chipote contrasts the United States with the homeland, which is presented as pristine and honest although unable to afford its native son the education and economic resources to sustain an adequate level of existence. The United States, while seen as the seat of great industrial and technological progress, is also a center of corruption, racism, and dehumanization, as in Lucas Guevara. Beyond mere local color in these novels is the depiction of the social environment in the United States, which unanimously is portrayed as corrupt and anti-Hispanic.

So far as the folk base of Don Chipote is concerned, there is a notable similarity between its plot, in which a character comes to the United States "to sweep the gold up from the streets," and that of several corridos, including El lavaplatos (The dishwasher). These two works coincide not only in the narrative structure of immigrating and working on the traque (railroad), but also in the attraction that the cinema and theater hold for their respective protagonists, their progressive disillusionment ("Adiós sueños de mi vida" [Good-bye, my life's dreams]), and their return to Mexico ("vuelvo a mi patria querida/más pobre de lo que vine" [I return to my beloved fatherland/poorer than when I left]). The message of El lavaplatos is just as unmistakable as that of Don Chipote: Mexicans should not come to the United States.

Qué arrepentido
qué arrepentido
estoy de haber venido.

* * * * * * * * *

Aquél que no quiera creer
que lo que digo es verdad,
Si se quiere convencer
que se venga para acá.


[How regretful
how regretful
I am for having come.

* * * * * * * * *

He who won't believe
that what I say is true,
is sure to be convinced
by coming straight here.]

The burlesque tone of Don Chipote, so characteristic of El lavaplatos as well as of the crónicas that Venegas wrote for his weekly satiric newspaper El Malcriado (The brat), serves to entertain the reader and soften the criticism of the socioeconomic and political realities on both sides of the border that forced the poor to leave their homeland and be exploited in the United States by slave drivers, coyotes (labor contractors), ladies of the night, and flappers, all of whom are personifications of the hostile, corrupt metropolitan environment. Venegas's tragicomic treatment of immigration was developed during years of writing and directing vaudeville reviews for the poorest classes of Mexican immigrants and of writing, illustrating, and publishing his weekly satirical tabloid. The author of Lucas Guevara, Díaz Guerra, on the other hand, was a medical doctor and a poet from his early, privileged days among the elite in Colombia. An intellectual and political activist, he found his way to New York as a political exile, expelled from both Colombia and Venezuela. He avoided the kind of grass-roots-based humor characteristic of Venegas, choosing to explore instead the mythic dimensions of exile and Babylonian captivity in New York. While Venegas chose Don Quijote as a metatext, Díaz Guerra found his inspiration in the Bible. In Don Chipote, the flappers (acculturated but Mexican, after all) represent acculturation and disloyalty to the homeland; in Lucas Guevara, the Eves are the American temptresses, personifications of iniquitous Yankee culture, who lure the protagonist into perdition and turning his back on Latin American religion and morality. While in Don Chipote social order is reestablished when Doña Chipota rescues her straying husband and brings him back to Mexico—for she represents the hearth and home and Mexican family and cultural values—Díaz Guerra's Hispanic Everyman cannot be rescued, for no salvation is possible after he has given himself over completely to Eve. Lucas commits suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, a symbol at that time of Yankee technological and industrial prowess. Before plunging into the waters of the East River, however, his gaze falls upon the Statue of Liberty, the other representative of American culture, its freedoms and its welcome of immigrants. Díaz Guerra, however, reenvisions her as a monument to Libertinage, the totalizing feminine symbol of the United States.

Novels and plays of immigration are still being written today, and they employ formulas similar to those of the foundational works aimed at preserving the integrity of the immigrant psyche and culture. The genre will exist as long as Hispanics continue to come to the United States to better their economic circumstances and opportunities and as long as they struggle against changing their identities, the price to be paid for economic betterment.

Hispanic Immigrant Literature Defined

Hispanic immigrant literature is the literature created orally or in written form by immigrants from the Hispanic world who have come to U.S. shores since the early nineteenth century. Among its characteristics are (1) the predominant use of the language of the homeland; (2) serving a population united by that language, irrespective of national origin; and (3) solidifying and furthering national identity. The literature of immigration serves a population in transition from the land of origin to the United States by reflecting the reasons for emigrating, recording the trials and tribulations of immigration, and facilitating adjustment to the new society, all the while maintaining a link with the old society.

Unlike the literature of European immigrants to the United States, Hispanic immigrant literature generally does not support the myths of the American Dream and the melting pot, which hold that the immigrants came to find a better life and implicitly a better culture and that soon they or their descendants would become Americans, thereby obviating the need for a literature in the language of the old country. While Hispanic authors writing in English since the Second World War may have subscribed to these notions in order to get published or to achieve a broad readership, Hispanic immigrant literature in Spanish is not about assimilating or "melting" into a generalized American identity. In fact, the history of Hispanic groups in the United States has shown an unmeltable ethnicity, and, given that immigration from Spanish-speaking countries has been an almost steady flow from the founding of the United States to the present, there seems no end to the phenomenon at this juncture in history or in the foreseeable future.

In general, the literature of Hispanic immigration displays a double-gaze perspective: forever comparing the past and the present, the homeland and the new country, and seeing the resolution of these conflicting points of reference only when the author, characters, or the audience (or all three) can return to the patria. The literature of immigration reinforces the culture of the homeland while facilitating the accommodation to the new land. While fervently nationalistic, this literature seeks to represent and protect the rights of immigrants by protesting discrimination, human rights abuses, and racism. As much of this literature arises from or is pitched to the working class, it adopts the working-class and rural dialects of the immigrants. As mentioned above, among the predominant themes in the literature of immigration are the description of the Metropolis, often in satirical or critical terms, as in the essays of José Martí, Francisco Gonzalo "Pachín" Marín, and Nicanor Bolet Peraza; the description of the trials and tribulations of immigrants, especially during their journey to the United States and, once there, in being subjected to exploitation as workers and to discrimination as foreigners and racial others, as in Venegas and Espinosa; the conflict between Anglo and Hispanic cultures, ubiquitous in this literature; and the expression of gender anxieties in nationalist reaction against assimilation into mainstream culture, as in the crónicas of Arce. Immigrant authors often cast their literary discourse within the framework of an imminent return to the homeland or a warning to those back home not to come to the United States and face the disillusionment their narrators and protagonists have already experienced. Authors' stance of writing in order to warn their compatriots, when in actuality they are speaking to the immigrant enclave or community in the United States, helps them establish common cause and solidarity with their audiences. Writers and readers alike are in effect rendering testimony to the uninitiated, the potential greenhorns destined to suffer like the protagonists of these immigrant genres. These formulae and recurring themes depend on the underlying premise of immigrant literature: the return to the patria, which necessitates the preservation of language and culture and loyalty to the homeland. Almost invariably the narratives of immigration end with the main characters returning to home soil; failure to do so results in death, the severest poetic justice, as in Lucas Guevara in 1914 and, almost half a century later, in La carreta. Because of the massive migrations of working-class Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Central Americans during the twentieth century, much of immigrant literature is to be found in oral expression, folk songs, vaudeville, and other working-class literary and artistic expression. The immigrants' song of uprootedness and longing for the homeland can be heard in the Puerto Rican décima (a song with ten-line stanzas and a sonnet-like rhyme scheme) "Lamento de un jíbaro." But the ultimate disillusionment and disgrace for the immigrant is deportation, as documented in the plaintive refrains of the corrido "Los deportados." Quite often the setting for immigrant literature is the workplace: for example, on the streets walked by the door-to-door salesman in Wenceslao Gálvez's Tampa: Impresiones de un emigrado (1897), in the factory of Alemán Bolaños's La factoría (1925), or under the burning sun in the agricultural fields, as in Espinosa's El sol de Texas (1927). Domestic settings are also frequent, as in Marqués's La carreta (1952) and Acosta's El super (1977), both of which depict the intergenerational conflict splitting U.S.-acculturated children from their immigrant parents.

In fact, culture conflict of all sorts typifies this work, and from this conflict arise some of its most typical characters, such as the agringados, renegados, and pitiyanquis, who deny their own culture to adopt American ways. But more than any other archetype of American culture, the predominantly male authors have chosen the American female to personify the eroticism, immorality, greed, and materialism they perceive in American society. The amoral Eve in a Metropolis identified as Sodom described by Díaz Guerra evolved into the flapper of the 1920s in Colón, Venegas, and Arce; this enticing but treacherous Eve led unassuming Hispanic Adams into perdition. These authors place the responsibility for preserving Hispanic customs and language and for protecting identity in the hands of Hispanic women and subsequently levy severe criticism at those who adopt liberal American customs or dare to behave like loose women themselves. Such attitudes can also be seen in modern works like Marqués's La carreta and Jaime Carrero's Nuyorican play Pipo Subway no sabe reír (Pipo subway doesn't know how to laugh, 1972).


I define immigrant literature here as literature written by immigrants in their native language. It is neither a literature about immigrants written by native American writers nor the literature written by the children of immigrants, that is, writers who were born or socialized in the United States and write in English, regardless of their representation of family memories and experiences or even their firsthand accounts of coming to the United States as young children. Although this may seem to be stating the obvious, the point bears repeating, especially since the past few decades have seen the appearance of numerous books of theory and literary criticism that treat Hispanic and Latino writers raised in the United States, including Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, Cristina García, and even Tomás Rivera and Rolando Hinojosa, as immigrant writers. For example, Alpana Knippling, in the preface to her edited reference collection New Immigrant Literatures in the United States: A Sourcebook to Our Multicultural Literary Heritage (ii), attempts to treat all "hitherto marginalized literatures, specifically the Asian-, Caribbean-, and Mexican-American ones" under the rubric of "new immigrant," erroneously considering the works of authors of Asian-, Caribbean- or Mexican-American ethnicity as immigrant literature while discounting their hyphenated American status; even when the authors studied are the products of generations of U.S. citizenship or residence and even of an indigenous or territorial residence prior to the establishment of U.S. dominion over their families' lands their works are regarded as immigrant literature. Knippling's multiauthored volume includes studies on García and Hijuelos,, Alvarez, Pedro Pietri and Piri Thomas, Ana Castillo, Cisneros, and Luis Valdez: all of these writers are U.S. citizens, having been born or raised in the United States and predominantly using English as their preferred literary language. And although Francisco Ramírez, Rivera, and numerous others discussed in this book wrote important works in Spanish, there is no reason to approach the works and subject matter of these native-born writers under the rubric of immigrant literature. Knippling and her contributing essayists are not alone. Even so august a body as the Modern Language Association has recorded and broadcast on its radio show "What's the Word" round-table discussions erroneously regarding ethnic literature as immigrant literature. Hispanic ethnic autobiographies and bildungsromans in the tradition of Mary Antin, Louis Adamic, Jacob Riis, Henry Roth, James Farrell, Philip Roth, Richard Wright, and numerous others. In their book In a New Land: An Anthology of Immigrant Literature, Sari Grossman and Joan Schur go to the other extreme and include all literature in the United States, except the Native American, as immigrant literature. Such native-born Hispanic writers as Alberto Ríos and Richard Rodriguez are treated not only on the same continuum as true immigrants but also alongside foundational, canonical American writers. Granted, Grossman and Schur do make a distinction in their section "Transplantings" that Ríos and Victor Hernández Cruz are first-generation Americans, or "transplants," as they put it, but this distinction was not made in reference to the other native-born Latinos in their anthology.

Katherine Payant and Toby Rose, in their edited collection The Immigrant Experience in North American Literature likewise do not include any writing by authors I consider true Hispanic immigrants. Both Cisneros and Judith Ortiz Cofer figure in the collection. While acknowledging that Cisneros is "a second-generation ethnic" (107) woman and treating her work as typical border literature, Payant nevertheless directs her attention to Cisneros's depiction of a Mexican immigrant female protagonist in the short story "Woman Hollering Creek" and questions whether her depiction comes from a first-world American stance (96-97)—what other stance would one expect from someone born in the heartland of the United States, educated in and writing in American English, espousing latter-day American feminism? Carmen Faymonville, in her essay on Cofer in Payant's and Rose's collection, concentrates on the biculturalism of Cofer and her character Marisol in The Line of the Sun (123–125). In truth, Payant and Rose do not claim this is immigrant literature but "North American literature" in which immigrants appear, although one essay in the collection, Wendy Zieler's "In(ter)dependent Selves: Mary Antin, Elizabeth Stern, and Jewish Immigrant Women's Autobiography," does treat immigrant works written in languages other than English. In sum, Payant and Rose see little difference between literature written in English and that written in a language other than English. More important, in their introduction the two editors actually articulate their justification for studying second- and third-generation writers with roots in the Third World: "This reflects the fact that first-generation, non-English speakers of any nationality seldom produce much literature" (xxii). It is precisely this ignorance of an entire corpus of literature that led me to write this book.

William Boelhower, in his development of formulae for the immigrant novel, fails to consider works written in languages other than English, not seeming to understand that quite often the linguistic-cultural stance of works written in other languages supports a national identity in opposition to the national myths of the United States and deconstructs the American Dream. In fact, Boelhower goes to great pains to identify the pursuit of the American Dream as the motive for most immigrant novels. The choice of writing in a language other than English is in most cases the most important literary and ideological choice an immigrant author can make. In addition to defining national identity, that choice defines audience and means of distribution and even the mode of consumption by an immigrant reader or one in the homeland. In addition, Boelhower does not discriminate between works written by immigrants and those written about immigrants, leading him, therefore, to identify such works as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Willa Cather's O Pioneers as immigrant novels (8–10). His motive (a respectable one), like that of Payant and Rose, is to promote the insertion of immigrant literature into the canon. But what in fact these scholars are accomplishing is demonstrating how the writers they study are quite adept at continuing the conventions of U.S. ethnic autobiography, many of whose texts, especially those written in the early twentieth century, have achieved canonical status. Homi K. Bhabha considers the role of the native language of immigrants in deconstructing the national myths of the receptor nations:

I must give way to the vox populi:—to a relatively unspoken tradition of the people of the pagus—colonials, postcolonials, migrants, minorities—wandering peoples who will not be contained within the Heim of the national culture and its unisonant discourse, but are themselves the marks of a shifting boundary that alienates the frontiers of the modern nation. They are Marx's reserve army of migrant labour who by speaking the foreignness of language split the patriotic voice of unisonance and become Nietzche's mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms. They articulate the death-in-life of the "imagined community" of the nation; the worn-out metaphors of the resplendent national life now circulate in another narrative of entry permits and passports and work permits that at once preserve and proliferate, bind and breach the human rights of the nation. ("DissemiNation" 315).

In the scholarly works cited above there is very little recognition of the role native language plays in the literature of immigration, just as there is very little recognition of the differing experiences and conflicting identities of the immigrants themselves and their U.S.-raised children, not to mention depictions of the migrants by outsiders.

David Cowart, who in Trailing Clouds: Immigrant Fiction in Contemporary America tries to distinguish the literature created by immigrants themselves from that of first-generation ethnic writers (2–3) and touches upon the "language question" (7), nevertheless focuses on works in English by first-generation writers like Alvarez, García, and Díaz. His study of such authors leads him naturally to the following conclusion: "The immigrant must deal with prejudice and homesickness but eventually becomes empowered by a new American identity" (7). As will be seen in the following pages, this achievement of a new "American identity," the so-called new Adam, is antithetical to the majority of the works written by immigrants in Spanish and, rather than challenging the Heim, or homeland, in Bhabha's conception, supports and reaffirms it. Moreover, in support of this position Cowart cites Don DeLillo's rejection or "transcendence" of his native language and background: "It occurs to me that this is what a writer does to transcend the limitations of his background. He does it through language, obviously. He writes himself into the larger world. He opens himself to the larger culture. He becomes, in short, an American—the writer equivalent of his immigrant parents and grandparents" (10).

How can so many scholars be so confused? After all, it is acknowledged that the black novel is written by African Americans and the Chicano novel, likewise, is written by Mexican Americans; why does the immigrant category seem to be so muddled, pliable, unspecific? And in the case of Hispanic or Latino literature, why is practically the entire corpus of works written in Spanish by immigrants ignored and, instead, works about immigrants written by native Hispanic authors emphasized? Is it that the majority of critics who treat Hispanic immigrant literature do not speak or read Spanish? Is it that the works of such authors as Alvarez, Cisneros, García, Hijuelos, Nicholasa Mohr, Thomas, and others seem so foreign to these critics, despite their following the well-worn path of American ethnic autobiography and the American Dream myth? To treat the works of these authors as immigrant literature is to distance them from the canon, to condemn them to Otherness, on the one hand, while proclaiming, on the other, that they represent a recent, new story. In thus positing the notion of new immigrants these critics negate the roots and history of the Hispanic communities in the United States that have produced an oral and a written literature for more than two centuries. To marginalize or, in some cases, ignore the literature written in Spanish on American shores, furthermore, is to condemn that language and its speakers to perpetual foreignness and estrangement from the American nation. In the nonrecognition of literature written and published by working-class Hispanics from the nineteenth century to the present a literary marginalization may be at work, perhaps because most of this literature was published by newspapers rather than by publishing houses and because one of its significant uses was to be read aloud to workers. In fact, the working-class stance, the use of the vernacular and references to workers' culture and working lives, and the representation of their worldview is one of the greatest strengths of Hispanic immigrant literature.

Organization of This Book

My book considers the most important aspects of the literature of Hispanic immigration, from its ideological stances to its themes and overall meaning, and takes into account both the written and oral record as well as published and unpublished documents. In chapter 1 I present a schematic approach to understanding the literature of immigration by contrasting its purpose, articulation, and trajectory with those of the literature of Hispanics or Latinos who write as natives of the United States and have rights of citizenship and of national ownership and identity. In addition to native and immigrant literature, Hispanic writings also emerge from political exile from Spain and Spanish American countries. Far from overemphasizing the rigidity of these three constant currents—immigrant, native, and exile—the schema will indicate that they are permeable, flexible categories that allow for writers to assume different, even contradictory stances as they create works for specific publics or because of diverse economic and political circumstances. Nevertheless, over time the literature of Hispanic immigrants has distinguished itself from the other literary manifestations of Latinos in very important and salient ways.

To further situate the literary production by immigrant writers, I offer in chapter 2 an overview of print culture developed by Spanish-speaking immigrants from the nineteenth century to the present, highlighting the principal publishers, types of publications, and audiences addressed by the immigrant press. The cast of characters, that is, publishers and writers, has been ethnically and ideologically diverse, even while the motives for publication over almost two centuries have remained similar. Theoretically, therefore, one could compare the newspapers issued in Los Angeles and New York today with those published in San Francisco and New York during the mid-nineteenth century. Colombian, Salvadoran, Mexican, and other Hispanic immigrant writers and composers today produce works with characteristics similar to those of artists in the early twentieth-century periods of large migration and labor exploitation, phenomena that are being repeated today. Nevertheless, precisely how immigrant literature has evolved through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first will become clear, even as today's writers repeat forms and meaning without ever having read the earlier literature—although the same cannot be said about their never having heard the lore of earlier immigration, which lives on in song and tale.

Chapter 3 is an in-depth discussion of the explicitly articulated reason for creating immigrant texts: to convince readers or listeners to return to the homeland before they lose their identity in the United States, where the pressure to adopt materialistic and inhuman values is overwhelming and discrimination and poor treatment of immigrants are widespread. As such, the ideological underpinning for this literature is a deconstruction of the myths of the melting pot and the American Dream. The literature is counterhegemonic and nationalistic to the core. Nevertheless, over time and despite its resistance to hybridization, immigrant literature does change in its attitude toward majority culture in the United States: such writers as the Puerto Rican Guillermo Cotto-Thorner, the Mexican Teodoro Torres, and the Peruvian Eduardo González Viaña diverge from the conventional call for a return to the homeland as well as from the imperative to reject the Metropolis wholesale.

In chapter 4 I examine the nation-building mission of immigrant literature. By considering the theories of Homi Bhabha, Anthony Smith, and others, I decipher the codes embedded in the literature as part of the writers' desire to write the nation, whether as the geographic homeland or as a deterritorialized national space in the receptor land. I trace how the literature has evolved from a simple identification of culture and identity with the geography of the nation-state to positing such alternatives as hybridity and utopias as separate from either the homeland or the immigrant colony within the bounds of the receptor country, thus destabilizing both the sending and receiving nations. The chapter ends with a consideration of a novel, El corrido de Dante, which while essentially a novel of immigration nevertheless inverts nationalistic ideologies, making of the United States the destined homeland for Latinos.

The literature created by immigrant women and their perspectives on gender and nation is taken up in chapter 5. I analyze the development of a conservative feminism among female immigrant writers, who often wrote works that went beyond national concerns in an attempt to create an international sisterhood. The differences as to their motives for relocating to the United States and their social class identification will also be studied in their understanding of gender and nation. Their works, which represent a very small minority of crónicas, essays, plays, and novels produced and published in the early twentieth century, contrast starkly not only in number but also in quality of representation of women in works created by immigrant men, especially as they imagined women as central to engendering and sustaining the nation. I consider male perspectives on gender in chapter 6, particularly as male cronistas and novelists, from a position of power within the immigrant enclaves, sought to maintain traditional gender roles. A crucial aspect of preserving Hispanic identity, this continuity was seen as being threatened by the formidable pressure to assimilate to American culture. Within the cultural struggle, as defined by these male writers, women's bodies, social participation, and freedom to define themselves were special sites of conflict.

The afterword briefly summarizes the conclusions arrived at in the book and explores texts that seem to problematize the theses about Hispanic immigration literature I put forward. A specific case will be treated: that of the writer Gustavo Pérez Firmat, an American citizen who came to the United States as a preteen and who rejects identifying himself and his writing either as immigrant or native, preferring to consider himself an exile and his texts as products of the exilic experience. His case brings into high relief the differences among the various literary positions of Hispanic writers in the United States—as natives, immigrants, and exiles—and additionally reveals the basis for this extensive introduction: the tendency to confuse American ethnic autobiography for the literature created in Spanish by Hispanic transmigrants.


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