Roland Hinojosa-Smith Biography

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Although Rolando Hinojosa’s father, Manuel Guzmán Hinojosa, was born in the United States—as Manuel’s own parents had been—Manuel was distinctly Mexican American in his outlook. Mercedes, Texas, the border town where the author was born and where his father’s family had lived since the 1740’s, fell three miles north of the border when the United States-Mexico boundary was drawn in 1845. Manuel’s family claimed “accidental” United States citizenship, remaining loyal always to the Mexican government.

Rolando’s mother, Carrie Effie Smith, arrived in Mercedes in 1887, when she was six weeks old. Her father, a Union soldier in the Civil War, brought his family to Mercedes from Illinois. Carrie, raised in a bicultural and bilingual environment, was equally comfortable speaking Spanish and English. She had two daughters and three sons (one of whom died early). Rolando was her youngest child.

Carrie taught school; Manuel, who fought in the Mexican Revolution, worked variously as a farmer, a shepherd, a dancer, a dairyman, a policeman, and owner of two dry-cleaning establishments. Manuel suffered a stroke in his forties and died instantly; Carrie Smith lived to be eighty-eight.

Rolando’s early education was in private, Spanish-language schools, which his parents hoped would increase his knowledge of his Mexican heritage and reinforce his pride in it. This early training played a significant role in making Hinojosa the ethnic writer he became.

Surrounded by older Mexicans struggling to survive, Rolando became a perceptive listener to the yarns they loved to spin. He developed an early appreciation of how Mexican Americans in small border towns live, but he needed eventually to distance himself from it to understand what he had absorbed. Upon completing high school in 1946, he joined the Army and left Mercedes. His two-year military commitment completed, he entered the University of Texas at Austin, but he was soon redeployed and served in Korea. Separation from Mercedes deepened Hinojosa’s understanding of the Rio Grande Valley and its people.

Upon discharge, Hinojosa returned to the University of Texas, receiving a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in 1953. His first post-college job was teaching at Brownsville (Texas) High School. The diversity of his teaching responsibilities—Spanish, Latin, history, government, and typing—combined with substandard pay forced him to quit and become a laborer in a chemical plant.

Between 1954 and 1958, Hinojosa , continuing a pattern his parents had instilled in their children, read everything he could, including major Hispanic and Russian classics. He married in 1956. That union, which ended in divorce, produced one son, Robert Huddleston.

After another brief stint of high-school teaching, Hinojosa was encouraged by the dean of humanities at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas to begin graduate work, which he did in 1962. He received the master’s degree in 1963, the year he married Patricia Louise Mandley. They had two daughters, Clarissa and Karen.

Rolando and his new wife set out for the University of Illinois in Urbana, where he entered the doctoral program in Spanish. He received a Ph.D. in 1969, completing a doctoral dissertation on Benito Pérez Galdós during a two-year (1968-1970) teaching stint at San Antonio’s Trinity University. This was the beginning of Hinojosa’s fruitful academic career.

Although he was a strong doctoral student, Hinojosa did not relish the thought of becoming a literary theorist. He knew that he wanted to write, to create stories drawn from his background. In 1970, he met prize-winning Hispanic novelist Tomás Rivera, who encouraged Hinojosa to submit Estampas del valle, y otras obras/Sketches of the Valley, and Other Works (1973) to Quinto Sol Publications, which published it and, in 1972, awarded its author the press’s literary prize for fiction , which Rivera had won in 1970. In 1983, a revised version of the book was published in...

(The entire section is 1,616 words.)