(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

In Chicano: Twenty-five Pieces of a Chicano Mind, Delgado (who published this collection under just his first name, Abelardo) seeks an artistic voice for Chicano (Mexican American) workers and their families, who during the 1960’s were often hired at extremely low wages to perform the exhausting, difficult work that other Americans no longer wanted to do. The plight of farmworkers, who joined in strikes organized by César Chávez, is the most dramatic example. The poems, some in Spanish, some in English, and some in both languages, speak of land, people, and hopes for the future in voices that are sometimes angry and sometimes sentimentally hopeful. One poem calls the Rio Grande “la puerta mas cruel y mas dura,” or “the cruelest door,” while in another the land is “the patient mother who will listen/ to the sunbaked lament of one who toils.”

The people celebrated range from almost stereotypical figures such as La Hembra, a Mexican earth mother, to Mama Lupe, the apparition of the Virgin Mary at Tepayac Hill in 1531, who as our Lady of Guadalupe is praised in one poem as mother of La Raza, (literally, “the race”). Two of these poems became especially well-known and praised: “El Imigrante” (literally, “the immigrant”) depicts migrant workers as “bumerangas que la mano de dios/ por este mundo tiro” (“boomerangs that the hand of God shoots through this world”); “stupid america,” the only free-verse poem in this collection, invokes the santero, an ancient woodcarving tradition native to New Mexico and dating from the earliest Spanish settlements, (“that chicano/ with a big knife/ . . . doesn’t want to knife you/ he wants to sit on a bench/ and carve christ figures”) and Pablo Picasso, the twentieth century Spanish painter who began the cubist movement. Delgado says the United States is destroying the Chicano artist, who “is the Picasso/ of your western states/ but he will die/ with one thousand masterpieces/ hanging only from his mind.”