Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In Famous Mexican Americans, Janet Morey and Wendy Dunn have chosen to write about fourteen individuals who have made important contributions to the United States in a wide variety of professions. Although none of the resulting biographies is lengthy, each one traces the roots of its subject’s high achievement, thus explaining the occupations and many accomplishments of the nine men and five women. Each individual biography also illustrates, at least to some extent, the institutions and organizations within which the individuals have worked, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the United Farm Workers.

A foreword by Luis Leal introduces the historical background and context into which the fourteen people are placed, from the first significant numbers of Spanish-speaking people in the southwestern United States in the 1830’s through the continued immigration from Mexico during that country’s economic crises of the 1980’s and beyond. The biographies are then presented in alphabetical order, from César Chávez through Willie Velásquez. A selected bibliography of fairly accessible print sources of information on the fourteen subjects follows, and the book concludes with an index. The bibliography, index, and foreword all will be useful for student researchers, and the numerous well-chosen photographs of the subjects will engage the interest of readers of all ages.

The details of these biographies also are engaging. The reader learns that Chávez has fasted several times, for up to thirty-six days, to attract attention and support for his causes (such as protesting the use of pesticides that he said were dangerous to both farm workers and consumers); that Archbishop Patrick Flores was known as the “Mariachi Priest” because of his unusual church services that included folk music (and sometimes a fiesta and dancing afterward); that Nancy López led her otherwise all-male high-school golf team to the state championship of New Mexico; and that lawyer Vilma Martínez put herself through college. The interesting details support the unifying theme of this work: that the famous Mexican Americans portrayed have overcome discrimination and low expectations by hard work, intelligence, and creativity, and thus have gone on to high achievement in a variety of fields.