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Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems

Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems: History and Influence in Mexican-American Social Poetry

José E. Limón
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    Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems
    Book Description:

    Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poemscombines literary theory with the personal engagement of a prominent Chicano scholar. Recalling his experiences as a student in Texas, José Limón examines the politically motivated Chicano poetry of the 60s and 70s. He bases his analyses on Harold Bloom's theories of literary influence but takes Bloom into the socio-political realm. Limón shows how Chicano poetry is nourished by the oral tradition of the Mexicancorrido, or master ballad, which was a vital part of artistic and political life along the Mexican-U.S. border from 1890 to 1930. Limón's use of Bloom, as well as of Marxist critics Raymond Williams and Fredric Jameson, brings Chicano literature into the arena of contemporary literary theory. By focusing on an important but little-studied poetic tradition, his book challenges our ideas of the American canon and extends the reach of Hispanists and folklorists as well.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91187-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-4)

    This study is an exploration of the social origins, continuity, transformation, and ideological meanings of a particular range of political poetry produced by men of Mexican descent, mostly in the United States. I begin with the oral folk poetic form known as the corrido, or Mexican ballad, produced on both sides of the Mexico-United States border at least since the mid-nineteenth century. Next, I take up the political poetics of one of the most distinguished scholars and intellectuals of Mexican descent in the United States, Américo Paredes. This poetics is examined in an analysis of one of his formal poems...


    • 1 Borders, Bullets, and Ballads: The Social Making of a Master Poem
      (pp. 7-43)

      In 1915, as European imperialist powers fought their bloody Great War, and two years before the Bolshevik uprising in Russia, both war and revolution raged in Mexico and briefly on the northern side of the Mexico-United States border. During the initial phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910 to 1911), various allied revolutionary groups had deposed the autocratic, United States-supported dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. However, this initial unity fragmented when the more conservative groups in the coalition took power but failed to demonstrate a clear commitment to the speedy realization of the Revolution’s ideals, principally serious land redistribution. The more liberal...

    • 2 Américo Paredes, Tradition, and the First Ephebe: A Poetic Meditation on the Epic Corrido
      (pp. 45-59)

      “In 1915, oh but the days were hot! So says thecorrida, ‘Los Sediciosos’ commemorating the Texas-Mexican uprising of 1915.” And so comments Américo Paredes, who was born along the Lower Border that same year, even as “bands of Border men under the leadership of Aniceto Pizaña and Luis de la Rosa raided as far north as the King Ranch, burning ranches, derailing trains, killing American civilians, and attacking U.S. army detachments” (1976:32-33).

      Though widely acknowledged as the master of corrido scholarship and as the elder statesman of Chicano intellectual activists, Paredes is almost wholly unknown as a poet. Yet,...

    • 3 With His Pistol in His Hand: The Essay as Strong Sociological Poem
      (pp. 61-78)

      Américo Paredes’s classic work of corrido scholarship,With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero(1958), offers us the poetically mature and politically engaged resolution of the dialectical tensions between the precursory tradition and contemporary creativity that “Guitarreros” articulates but does not resolve. But to speak of scholarship aspoeticallymature requires that we blur genres, a tendency already evident in Georg Lukács’s “On the Nature and Form of the Essay” ([1910] 1974) and requiring Clifford Geertz only to “poetically” label and conceptualize that which by 1980 was a growing, if not quite “mainstream” intellectual practice...


    • 4 Chicano Poetry and Politics: The Later Recognition of the Precursor
      (pp. 81-93)

      It was a little difficult to read the rough, hand-lettered collapsing sign that once had been firmly tied to one of the oak trees on the West Mall of the University of Texas at Austin. In the early fall of 1966, a steady drizzle had done its slow destructive work, but most of the writing was legible enough to attract my attention. Scrawled on one of the several pieces of the sign, the word “Mexican,” like a powerful magnet, arrested my fast walk to the library and pulled me toward the oak. I went up to the tree and visually...

    • 5 My Old Man’s Ballad: José Montoya and the Power Beyond
      (pp. 95-113)

      No Mexican-American intellectual coming to political and cultural awareness in the mid-1960s could have missed the enormous significance of the appearance ofEl Grito: A Journal of Contemporary Mexican-American Thought, published in Berkeley in 1967. Edited by Octavio Romano and Nick Vaca in its initial phase,El Gritowas the first major publication of the Chicano movement, and its effect on the emergent political and cultural consciousness of young Chicanos cannot be overestimated. The first political analyses of race and class domination, the first trenchant critiques of the social sciences, and the first contemporary creative writing by Chicanos appeared in...

    • 6 The Daemonizing Epic: Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales and the Poetics of Chicano Rebellion
      (pp. 115-129)

      With José Montoya we were instructed in the ways that too close an adherence to the precursor can vitiate a contemporary political poetics. We have a radically different case with Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’s “I Am Joaquin: An Epic Poem,” a more ambitious poem that, after a long review of the history of greater Mexico, asserts the right of Mexican-Americans to national self-determination and the creation of a mestizo nation.

      In this poem, as we shall see, the dominant revisionary strategy isdaemonization, which I call Rebellion, a movement that entails the poetic fiction of a radical break with the precursory...

    • 7 Juan Gómez-Quiñones: The Historian in the Poet and the Poetic Form of Androgyny
      (pp. 131-154)

      In the last two chapters I have been evoking the image of an ideal ephebe to the strong precursory poem, the corrido. Such a poetry would need be one of multivocalic and simultaneous image, form, and social engagement; a text at once in fruitful dialogue with its precursor and in a politically creative resonance with its present. Finally, in the most creatively antithetical and completing incorporation of the precursor, it would be a poetry that responds to the latter’s patriarchal epic poetics by bringing to it the poetics of woman as well as a fine but critical sense of modernism....

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 155-171)

    On the basis of the foregoing analysis, I want to now address several key issues in the study of literary culture. In an interrelated sequence, these concern current debates regarding new historicist practice, especially as these broach the subject of folklore; the emerging question of minorities and modernisms; and, finally, the state of Chicano cultural criticism. Let me pose the first of these issues as the repression of folklore in literary study, a repression that always threatens to return.¹

    Whether conservative or radical, contemporary literary criticism, almost without exception, denies folklore any serious status as literature, usually by speaking of...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 173-176)

    The case of a Chicano vernacular or populist modernism that I have presented in these pages is an example of a vital and dynamic dialogue between a traditional and powerful folklore and a confirmation of “traditional” modernism. This dialogue, in turn, intersects and poetically defines a crucial period in the history of the greater Mexican people, the years 1965-1972. By attending to the enduring power of the corrido and its countervailing maternal traditions, I have sought to render an active, complex, socially engaged literary history of this period.

    Yet these long poems are themselves literary histories of the period—that...

  9. APPENDIX A. Harold Bloom: An Exposition and Left Critique
    (pp. 177-186)
  10. APPENDIX B. Juan Gómez-Quiñones, “Canto al Trabajador”
    (pp. 187-188)
  11. APPENDIX C. Juan Gómez-Quiñones, “The Ballad of Billy Rivera”
    (pp. 189-194)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 195-200)
  13. References
    (pp. 201-214)
  14. Index
    (pp. 215-219)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 220-220)