When historians and other scholars began to assess the impact of the Chicano Renaissance of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, they soon realized that the social and political upheaval of the time also produced an explosion of artistic creation which needed to be understood. Literary works in particular became the subject of intense scrutiny because for many, they held the secret to understanding the Chicano experience in that age of growing awareness. The process of discovering Chicano literature, to a large extent, also became a process of defining Chicano identity.
The history of Chicano identity in literature can trace its beginnings to José Antonio Villarreal’s novel Pocho (1959), which is generally regarded as the first Chicano novel. In it, Richard Rubio, the protagonist, undergoes the rites of passage that all children and adolescents experience in the process of maturation. Paralleling this transition is another one featuring a movement away, by the protagonist, from the Mexican world of his father, who had been a colonel in Pancho Villa’s army during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Richard is symbolically transformed into a pocho (Spanish for “rotten,” used pejoratively to describe someone of Mexican descent who has adopted Anglo customs and values). Richard occupies, as one born in the United States to his Mexican parents, a new identity, one based on an American cultural landscape. In Pocho, Richard discovers...
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