Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Macho!, published under the name Edmund Victor Villaseñor, was the author’s first novel. Part of a larger outpouring in the 1960’s and 1970’s of Latin American literature, it was critically acclaimed when it appeared in 1973.

Each chapter of Macho! begins with a prefatory sociopolitical comment on the times immediately preceding (and including) the turbulent American milieu of the late 1960’s. Villaseñor’s intent is to heighten the reader’s awareness of the historical context within which the novel’s fictional characters come to life. The novel’s main character, serious and intelligent but naïve, endures the type of coming-of-age conflicts that young men in many societies have traditionally encountered. The resulting story dramatizes the struggles of the migrant Mexican farmworker in much the same way that John Steinbeck dramatized the plight of the displaced Okies in The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

Villaseñor’s later works also rely heavily on dramatization of history. In 1977, Villaseñor’s account of the trial of the convicted California serial murderer Juan Corona stirred even more controversy. At issue was the concern that Villaseñor’s interpretation of historical events was more creative than current authorial conventions allowed.

Having captured the public’s attention, Villaseñor’s dramatic talents were given full rein in his 1981 television screenplay The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, which won first place in the National Endowment for the Humanities television drama category that year. The film was subsequently released to theaters and on videocassette. More recently, Villaseñor’s 1991 Rain of Gold, the story of his family’s immigration from Mexico to California, is also historical, yet charged with the author’s fictionalized personal drama.

Although Victor Villaseñor has established himself as an important and principled chronicler of the Mexican American experience, he has received relatively little critical notice to date. Part of the reason may be that he writes in English about people whose first language is Spanish. Yet that argument may be put to rest by his readers, who immediately recognize the universal appeal of his Macho! hero, a hero who challenges the limited stereotypical image of the Latino male. That appeal lifts Villaseñor’s work beyond narrow regional or linguistic boundaries, to a genuinely international level of human understanding.