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...
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Rolando Hinojosa-Smith was born in Mercedes, Texas, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, to parents who came from mixed ethnic backgrounds—his father, Manuel Guzmán Hinojosa, was a Texas Mexican, and his mother, Carrie Effie Smith, was a Texas Anglo. On his father’s side, he is descended from the first Spanish Mexican land-grant settlers who colonized the region in 1749. On his mother’s side were Anglo-Texan settlers who arrived in South Texas in 1887. He studied English and Spanish in Texan and Mexican schools, and he was reared to be both bilingual and bicultural in a family that fostered a rich reading environment, with literature from both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border and both sides of the Atlantic. This family background influenced his future literary and cultural interests.
At seventeen, Hinojosa enlisted in the U.S. Army, and after serving his time he entered the University of Texas at Austin under the G.I. Bill. His education was interrupted by the Korean War, but after his tour of duty in Korea, he returned to Austin and in 1953 received his B.S. degree in Spanish literature. He then married, had a son, taught high school, and worked at several other jobs; he and his wife later divorced. After completing an M.A. in Spanish literature at New Mexico Highlands University in 1962, he remarried and entered a doctoral program in 1963 at the University of Illinois, Urbana. There he received a Ph.D. in Spanish literature in 1969...
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Rolando Hinojosa, one of five children of Manuel Guzmán Hinojosa and Carrie Effie Smith, was born in the lower Rio Grande Valley town of Mercedes, Texas, on January 21, 1929. His self-educated father earned a living as a rice farmer and then as a horse salesman. During the early years of the Great Depression, Manuel Guzmán Hinojosa would leave his family in Mercedes, where his wife taught elementary school, and cross the nearby Mexican border to work weekdays as a gambler in the communities of Río Rico, Matamoros, and Reynosa. Recalling this time in his life, Hinojosa has half-seriously remarked that he did not know his father until he was four years old, when his father came home to stay. Then Manuel Guzmán Hinojosa joined the three-man Mercedes police force, a fact recalled in the dedication of Ask a Policeman.
Until he was in junior high school, Hinojosa primarily spoke and read Spanish. During the late 1940’s he served two years in the army, and then as a second lieutenant platoon leader in a reconnaissance regiment, he saw military duty in Korea during 1950-1951. In 1953 Hinojosa earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating, he taught at Brownsville High School (1954-1956; 1961-1962). He also has worked as a civil servant for the Social Security Administration, an office manager for a clothing firm, and a data processor. In 1963 he married Patricia Louise Sorensen, who died in 1999.
Hinojosa earned a master’s degree from New Mexico Highlands University in 1962 and completed a doctorate in English at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in 1969. After two years as an assistant professor at Trinity University (1968-1970), his academic career developed rapidly. At Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University) in Kingsville, he was appointed associate professor and chair of modern languages (1970-1974), professor of English and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (1974-1976), and then vice president of academic affairs (1976-1977). From 1977 to 1981 he held a professorial appointment in English and Chicano studies at the University of Minnesota but then returned to his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Texas, where he served as the director of the Texas Center for Writers (1984-1993) and became the Ellen Clayton Garwood Professor in creative writing.