Throughout the 1970’s and much of the 1980’s, there were strong voices—in scholarly writing, in the popular press, and in the media—asserting that notable Mexican Americans were being either ignored or maligned in historical and biographical works. Morey and Dunn respond to that accusation with this presentation of an honest and accurate, though definitely favorable, collective biography. The content of the book and the authors’ research methods should interest young adult readers and prove educational for them.
Morey and Dunn emphasize the values and beliefs of their subjects almost as much as they emphasize the accomplishments of these individuals. Dolores Huerta claims that “we must use our lives to make the world a better place, not just to acquire things,” and Blandina Cárdenas Ramírez’s parents argue that it is important to “be the best you can be, not only for yourself, but for others.” These statements are two examples of the values that led Huerta to take a high-ranking but modestly paying job in the United Farm Workers organization and Ramírez to devote her life to education and helping others improve the quality of life. Another example is the positive optimism of Luis Valdez, which led him to believe that when something was denied him, something was also being given to him—an increased capacity and determination to do things himself, to create. Valdez became an award-winning play-wright and director, with such films as...
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Another book entitled Famous Mexican-Americans, written by Clarke Newlon and published in 1972, is also aimed toward a young audience; it is one of seventy or more titles in the Dodd, Mead series Famous Biographies for Young People. Newlon’s book portrays fifteen Mexican Americans’ lives in thirteen chapters and contains a concluding collective chapter that provides biographical capsules of Rodolfo (Corky) Gonzales, Carlos Conde, Luis Nogales, Dolores Huerta, and José Angel Gutiérrez. The format of Newlon’s book likely influenced that of Morey and Dunn’s text. The only biographies featured in both books, however, are those of Chávez, Nogales, and Huerta. While Newlon’s book is plagued by many errors in facts, names, and other data that should have been checked and verified, Morey and Dunn have avoided that problem.
Famous Mexican Americans deserves wide use in schools. Although Morey and Dunn do not have a truly distinguished writing style, their great clarity and accuracy deserve emulation by students. Spanish terms and less well known English words and phrases are defined in context, making the work accessible to readers of all ages. The acknowledgments section reveals that ten of the fourteen subjects provided extensive interviews and assistance, and the others made their top aides and assistants available for interviews and additional help. Abundant direct quotations from the book’s subjects are also used effectively. Opportunities abound for students to compare primary and secondary sources in historical and biographical study. Thus, Famous Mexican Americans should interest young readers and anyone studying South-west history, biography techniques, or oral history.