Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 271
Rudolpho Anaya's Heart of Aztlán follows the Chávez family, a Chicano family moving from Gaudalupe, New Mexico to a barrio on the outskirts of New Mexico called Barelas. The title comes from the name of the mythological Aztec homeland, and the Chavez family members struggle—each in their own way—to identify...
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- Critical Essays
Rudolpho Anaya's Heart of Aztlán follows the Chávez family, a Chicano family moving from Gaudalupe, New Mexico to a barrio on the outskirts of New Mexico called Barelas. The title comes from the name of the mythological Aztec homeland, and the Chavez family members struggle—each in their own way—to identify their homeland. "Aztlán" was also a popular term in various movements for Chicano rights throughout the twentieth century. The major characters of this story are the members of the Chávez family.
The paterfamilias, Clemente Chavez, works for the railroad in the city, but loses his job as the result of a strike. The family members—three boys and two girls—each face different hardships. The father turns to alcoholism, his youngest is killed, and his daughters turn to prostitution.
Clemente's son Jasón misses his native town, but he finds peace in the city by befriending a local girl whose father has died. The youngest son, Benjie Chávez, becomes involved in drugs and is killed by the end of the novel.
Crispin, a spiritual healer (popularly known as a curandero), rescues Clemente after he has had too much to drink. Crispin is a blind musician who plays music for the workers in the railroad yard. Crispin's figure is an archetypal "benevolent guide" or "sage" (a characteristic that is underscored by his blindness). Crispin helps Clemente find power inside of himself to find peace in his new home in the barrio.
Jasón Chávez also makes an appearance as a minor character in Anaya's first book in the trilogy, Bless Me, Ultima (published in 1972).
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 502
Clemente Chávez (kleh-MEHN-teh CHAH-vehs), the patriarch of the Chávez family. A man tied to “the sacred earth,” he is forced to sell his three acres in Guadalupe and move to the city of Santa Fe. He takes a job at the railroad but soon loses it during a dispute over working conditions. Unable to support his family and uncomfortable with the new ways of city life, Clemente believes his wife has taken his authority from him and turned his children against him. He drinks to numb his pain and confusion, until one night he is rescued from death by Crispín. Revived by the legend of Aztlán, Clemente gradually charts a new course. Though timid at first, he involves himself in the workers’ efforts to improve their working condition. Clemente is not the leader the workers seek, but after his son Benjie’s injury, he has an epiphany and becomes a leader.
Jasón Chávez (hah-SOHN), Clemente’s son. Like his father, Jason is tied to the land and the mythology of their people. He too seems about to lose himself in the whirl of city life, but he meets Cristina Sánchez, the daughter of the man whose death he witnessed at the rail yard, and finds new peace. Although he is younger than his brother Benjie, Jason defends him against drug dealers and gang members. He even keeps quiet when he is falsely accused of having impregnated Cindy, the girl that Benjie impregnated. Jason saves Benjie’s—and perhaps Cristina’s—life at the end of the novel.
Benjie Chávez, Clemente’s son and Jason’s brother. On arrival in Barelas, a Chicano barrio of Santa Fe, Benjie immediately begins living the high life. He becomes involved with a fast crowd and begins selling marijuana and “junk” (heroin) for them. Frankie and Flaco, two drug dealers, want the money he owes them, but Jason steps in to defend his brother. This is a short-lived victory, however, because Flaco’s friend Sapo swears to kill Benjie.
Sapo (SAH-poh), also called Lawrence, a bully who is especially mean when he is high on heroin. Holding Cristina as hostage, Sapo (whose name means “toad”) forces Benjie to climb the ladder of the water tank. Shooting wildly, Sapo hits Benjie in the hand. Benjie falls to the ground, alive but paralyzed.
Adelita Chávez (ah-deh-LEE-tah), Clemente’s wife, who adjusts more easily to city life than he does. A strong matriarchal figure, Adelita seems to be a bridge for her family between the old and new life.
Crispín (krees-PEEN), a man with a blue guitar. Known only as Crispín, he plays magical melodies. He is said to be able to play the song of life and death and thus bring someone back to the living. He is the repository of ancient knowledge and seems to have mystical connections with the gods.