Historical Context

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Ríos frequently draws upon real places, people, and events in creating his fabular poems, but he injects his writing with a sense of the fantastic and strange. Critics often mention Ríos’ affinity with the magical realist writers of Latin America such as Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas...

(The entire section contains 1267 words.)

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Ríos frequently draws upon real places, people, and events in creating his fabular poems, but he injects his writing with a sense of the fantastic and strange. Critics often mention Ríos’ affinity with the magical realist writers of Latin America such as Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Manuel Puig to name but a few who have helped to popularize Latin-American fiction in the last thirty years. A term with a long and complicated history, magic realism, when used to describe literature, refers to a mixture of familiarity and strangeness. Critics often describe Latin-American magic realism as an attempt to liberate the facts and things that stories describe from historical reality and to place them in a setting that more closely resembles that of a fairy tale, where characters and plot take on allegorical and mythical meaning. Márquez, a Colombian who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, is often cited as the central figure of this style of writing. Propelled by the popularity of magic realists of the 1960s and 70s, and helped by the booming population of Hispanics in the United States in the 1980s and 90s, Mexican-American writers produced a raft of novels, poems, short stories, and essays which met with both critical and popular success. Chicano and Chicana writers such as Ríos, Ron Arias, Juan Felipe Herrera, Francisco X. Alarcon, Ray Gonzales, Rudolpho Anaya, Lucha Corpi, Sandra Cisneros, and Alma Luz Villanueva all give voices to the Mexican-American experience and validate the important contributions of Mexican culture to the United States.

In the early 1980s when “Island of the Three Marias” was published, Ronald Reagan was President of the United States and his administration was heavily involved in attempting to alter the political direction of Central America. One of Reagan’s first acts after assuming office was to suspend economic aid to Nicaragua, claiming that the Sandinista government under Daniel Ortega was a puppet state of Cuba and the Soviet Union and that a communist country to the south of the United States threatened national security. Reagan authorized the CIA to help rebel forces overthrow the Nicaraguan government. During the mid-1980s, in violation of the Boland Amendment passed by Congress which prohibited CIA activity in helping the Contras, the CIA continued to interfere in the domestic affairs of Nicaragua. After American pilot Eugene Hasenfus was shot down on a covert mission over Nicaragua and confessed to his spying activities, the Iran-Contra Affair began to unfold. During a lengthy process which included televised House and Senate committee hearings and a presidential commission investigation, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a former marine and consultant to the White House National Security Council, testified that he had helped to divert funds from thirty-eight million dollars in Iranian arm sales to the “freedom fighters” in Nicaragua in 1985. North was dismissed from his White House National Security Council position and national security adviser John Poindexter resigned his post. Reagan, though admonished by a bi-partisan House investigation committee for letting these events happen under his watch, was never indicted.

Literary Style

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Metaphor and Symbol

“Island of the Three Marias” employs metaphor and symbol in its three quatrains to comment on the description in the three longer stanzas.

The “scars” in the first quatrain are suggestive of the scars of Christ on the cross; the “Easter lilies” in the second quatrain suggest Christ’s resurrection; and the “story of the child martyrs” and the “stale candies said to be blessed” in the last quatrain attest to the ongoing presence and importance of belief, however conceived, and how it is passed down from one generation to the next.

Paleness is used in the first stanza and white in the second and third to symbolize naivete, innocence, purity, rebirth, and hope. All of these images together resonate with both hope and a kind of naivete and are juxtaposed with descriptions of men who are, essentially, hopeless. The most important symbol in the poem is the island itself, Maria Madre, which Ríos refers to as “Island of the Three Marias.” Mother Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Bruce-Novoa, Juan, Chicano Poetry: A Response to Chaos, University of Texas Press, 1982.

Ellman, Richard, and Robert O’Clair, eds., The Norton Anthology Of Modern Poetry, 2d edition, Norton, 1988.

Jenks, Deneen, “The Breathless Patience of Alberto Ríos,” in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Fall/Winter, 1992, pp. 115–23.

Joseph, Lawrence, Review in American Book Review, May–June/July–August, 1987.

Melgosa, Adrián Pérez, “Alberto Alvaro Ríos,” in American Writers Supplement, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1996, pp. 537–56.

Muske, Caro, “Disc Jockeys, Eggplants and Desaparecidos: Five Indiscretions,” New York Times Book Review, February 9, 1986, p. 28.

Ratner, Rochelle, Review in Library Journal, May 1, 1985, p. 64.

Ríos, Alberto, Five Indiscretions, The Sheep Meadow Press, 1985.

———, “West Real,” Ploughshares, Spring, 1992, pp. 1–5.

Saldívar, José David, “Alberto Alvaro Ríos” in Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by Francisco A. Lomeli and Carl R. Shirley, Vol. 122: Chicano Writers: Second Series: Gale Research, 1992, pp. 20–24.

Saldívar, Ramon, Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference, University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

Sartre, Jean Paul, “Existentialism,” in Classic Philosophic Questions, 6th edition, edited by James A. Gould, Merrill Publishing Co., 1989.

Stuttarford, Genevieve, Review in Publishers Weekly, April 12, 1985. p. 97.

For Further Reading
Lopez, Tiffany Ana, ed., Growing Up Chicana/o, Avon Books, 1995. A collection of coming-of-age stories in America from Chicana/o writers such as Rudolfo Anaya, Denise Chavez, Alberto Alvaro Ríos, Marta Salinas, Gary Soto, and others. These stories celebrate the tremendous diversity of Chicana/o life through the universal themes of boundaries, family, education, and rites of passage.

Martinez, Julio A., and Francisco A. Lomeli, eds., Chicano Literature, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1985. The book is arranged alphabetically with comprehensive coverage of the individual authors’ lives and examination of their works by more than forty critics of Chicano literature. The selected bibliography provides access both to the authors’ works and to secondary sources.

Ríos, Alberto, Capirotada: A Nogales Memoir, University of New Mexico Press, 1999. Ríos’ memoir of his childhood in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico, is well worth reading. He weaves together memories of family and friends to create a vivid portrait of growing up Chicano in the 1950s.

Soto, Gary, ed., Pieces of the Heart: New Chicano Fiction, Chronicle Books, 1993. Introduced by Soto, this collection of Chicano fiction includes stories from well-known writers such as Sandra Cisneros, Helena Viramontes, Alberto Ríos, and Dagoberto Gilb.

Compare and Contrast

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  • 1988: Carlos Salinas de Gortari is elected president of Mexico amidst charges of widespread election fraud. Salinas signs the North American Free Trade Agreement, clamps down on unions, and privatizes many state enterprises.

    2000: Mexico signs a free trade treaty with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The treaty lifts tariffs on many agricultural and manufactured goods within twelve years.

    2000: Opposition candidate and former Coca-Cola executive Vicente Fox of the National Action Party wins Mexico’s presidential elections, ending the ruling party’s seventy-one-year lock on the presidency. Fox promises to improve education, fight corruption, and help the poor.

Media Adaptations

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The Academy of American Poets sponsors a page on Ríos at http://www.poets.org/poets/poets. cfm?prmID=51.

Arizona State University’s online magazine carries a story on Ríos at http://researchmag. asu.edu/articles/alphabet.html. Ríos teaches at Arizona State University.

Ríos’ poem “Chileñno Boys” from Five Indiscretions has been set to reggae music by David Broza for CBS Records.

Las Islas Marias, a Mexican movie about a revolutionary fighter who ends up in Las Islas Marias was released in 1951. It is in Spanish and stars Pedro Infante and Tito Junco.

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