Study Guide

Martín: &, Meditations on the South Valley

by José Santiago Baca

Martín: &, Meditations on the South Valley Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Martín: amp;, Meditations on the South Valley consists of two long narrative poems that form a sequence: They relate the story of Martín, a generic or mythic poor Chicano. In writing these poems, Baca came into his own as a poet. Although the poems are somewhat prosy, particularly at narrative junctures, he manages his language well: Chicano folk life is described in memorable, original metaphors and diction (including some Chicano Spanish) that form pictures like punched art in old tin. His style has developed considerably since Immigrants in Our Own Land, becoming what Denise Levertov called Gongoresque, with touches of native Hispanic surrealism: “The highway was a black seed split/ petals of darkness blossomed from.”

The two poems are also peopled with a gallery of vivid characters, including Martín’s grandmother, parents, and pals (mostly gang members). Inhabitants of barrios come forth with old stories about his parents—one-armed Pepin, blind Estela Gomez, Señora Martinez, Melinda Griego, Pancho Garza, and Antonia Sanchez, Ia bruja de Torreón. There are also stories of Martín’s friends, who have suffered their separate fates—“Johnny who married,/ Lorenzo killed in Nam,/ Eddie en la Pinta,/ Ramon who OD’d in Califas.” The main story, however, is Martín’s, based on Baca’s autobiography but freely changed and shaped to mythic purposes.

Like Baca, Martín is a deprived child from a broken family. Martín’s parents abandon him; later, his mother is killed by her jealous second husband, and Martín’s father dies of alcoholism. Martín himself lives first with his grandmother and then in an orphanage, but at the age of ten he runs away. He becomes an uprooted person, living a dissolute and sometimes violent life on the streets. In the first section of Martín, he says, “I have been lost from you Mother Earth,” but he promises to...

(The entire section is 784 words.)

Martín: &, Meditations on the South Valley Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Told in the semiautobiographical voice of Martín, the two long poems “Martín” and “Meditations on the South Valley” offer the moving account of a young Chicano’s difficult quest for self-definition amid the realities of the barrio and his dysfunctional family. Abandoned by his parents at a young age, Martín spends time with his Indio grandparents and in an orphanage before striking out on his own at the age of six. His early knowledge of his grandparents’ heritage gives him the first indication that his quest for identity will involve the recovery of a sense of family and a strong connection with the earth.

As Martín grows older and is shuttled from the orphanage to his bourgeois uncle’s home, he realizes that his life is of the barrio and the land and not the sterile world of the rich suburbs. Martín’s quest eventually leads him on a journey throughout the United States in which he searches for himself amid the horrors of addiction and the troubled memories of his childhood. Realizing that he must restore his connection with his family and home, he returns to the South Valley by way of Aztec ruins, where he ritualistically establishes his connection with his Mother Earth and his Native American ancestry. “Martín” ends with the birth of his son and Martín’s promise to never leave him. The cycle of abandonment and abuse seems to have ended, and Martín is on his way to becoming the good man he so strongly desires to be.

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(The entire section is 417 words.)

Martín: &, Meditations on the South Valley Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Suggested Readings

Levertov, Denise. Introduction to Martín; & Meditations on the South Valley, by Jimmy Santiago Baca. New York: New Directions, 1987.

Olivares, Julian. “Two Contemporary Chicano Verse Chronicles.” Americas Review 16 (Fall-Winter, 1988): 214-231.

Rector, Liam. “The Documentary of What Is.” Hudson Review 41 (Summer, 1989): 393-400.