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Conversations with Mexican American Writers

Conversations with Mexican American Writers: Languages and Literatures in the Borderlands

Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak
Nancy Sullivan
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Conversations with Mexican American Writers
    Book Description:

    Through a series of interviews with nine acclaimed authors,Conversations with Mexican American Writersexplores the languages and literature of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as a confluence of social, cultural, historical, and political forces. In their conversations, these authors discuss their linguistic choices within the context of language policies and language attitudes in the United States, as well as the East Coast publishing industry's mandates.

    The interviews reveal the cultural and geographical marginalization endured by Mexican American writers, whose voices are muted because they produce literature from the remotest parts of the country and about people on the social fringes. Out of these interviews emerges a portrait of the borderlands as a dynamic space of international exchange, one that is situated and can only be understood fully within a global context.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-472-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. STORIES THAT MUST BE TOLD An Introduction
    (pp. vii-2)

    In a 1984 essay, Sandra Cisneros, now a longtime resident of San Antonio but then a relative newcomer to South Texas, records a Midwestern Chicana’s impression of tejanos and their texts. A resilient group of survivors, she writes, their literature is “a testimony to the silenced (though not a silent) people: a literary-scape as vast and varied as the Texas terrain.”¹ Cisneros’s characterization of tejano writing equally resonates with Mexican American literature. Even today, twenty-four years after Cisneros wrote these words, this literary tradition, while thriving, does so without much public acclaim or significant recognition by the mainstream. Writing in...

  4. “THE STUFF THAT YOU PULL OUT OF YOUR KISCHKAS” Conversation with Montserrat Fontes
    (pp. 3-20)
    Montserrat Fontes

    EMJ:When and how did you start writing?

    MF: I started as a child. I always wanted to write songs because I was growing up at a time when Mexican singers—Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante—were really taking off, and we had maids that also sang. Singing was a very clear form of expressing emotions beautifully, so I thought. My mother was a poet as well as a poetry reader, and she would teach me how songs are poems. So when I wasn’t achieving in school, she said, “Write a poem before you can come in the house.” Some...

  5. BRAIDING LANGUAGES, WEAVING CULTURES Conversation with Diana Montejano
    (pp. 21-34)
    Diana Montejano

    NS:When did you become aware that you were a writer?

    DM: I think that I was fifteen years old. I had a nun who taught me, and I try to impress this on my students, it tookoneteacher. I was the scourge of school. I was a lot of trouble, and I acknowledge that now; at that time I would not acknowledge that I was any trouble at all. But I was a natural rebel. Part of that rebellion was speaking Spanish because at that time Spanish was totally forbidden. one of the weird things was that the...

    (pp. 35-45)
    Pat Mora

    NS:Why did you become a writer, or when did you become aware that you could write?

    PM: I’ve always joked that I became a writer when I saw the age of forty coming at me. There’s a lot of truth to that. I had thought about writing, I would say, when I graduated from eighth grade. My parents gave me a typewriter, and they gave me this very pretty stationery. I clearly remember that they had a party for me, and after people left, I sat there and wrote all of this rhyming, religious poetry, which, when I thought...

  7. BETWEEN BELONGING AND EXILE Conversation with Benjamin Alire Sáenz
    (pp. 46-61)
    Alire Sáenz

    EMJ:I’m intrigued by something you wrote in your essay “Notes from the city in Which I Live,” “This city on the border . . . has given me words. I return them to the city.”¹ What do you mean by that?

    BAS: I think one of my fascinations with words and language came from the fact that I was bilingual. When you are a kid you think your reality is universal, and then you find out, no, it’s not, it is just specific to my little community. It’s not universal at all. I remember when I first met someone...

  8. “MUY PAYASA” Conversation with Sandra Cisneros
    (pp. 62-78)
    Sandra Cisneros

    NS:It’s nice that you give so much of your time to students and teachers. how do you keep up the energy with all of the interviews you do and everybody wanting a piece of you?

    SC: I sleep. I sleep more than most people do—I sleep a lot, and that’s how I recharge. I also have a lot of animals, and animals are, you know, god. They’re light. I have six dogs, four cats, and a parrot. So I just play. I used to call schools and say, “Would you like me to visit?” Now they all want...

  9. “YOU CARRY THE BORDER WITH YOU” Conversation with Helena María Viramontes
    (pp. 79-94)
    Helena María Viramontes

    EMJ:Congratulations on the publication this month ofTheir Dogs Came with Them.How long did you work on this novel?

    HMV: Actually this was my first novel because I started it in ’91 or ’92. I did a couple of drafts of it—I went to Puerto Rico and wrote the second draft in just one month, being completely enclosed and working from five in the morning until about four in the afternoon. I was so tired of doing that that when I came back home I started just reading. You just don’t want to write anymore; you want...

    (pp. 95-114)
    Dagoberto Gilb

    EMJ:You must be very proud of your latest publication,Hecho en Tejas, a wonderful collection of writing, photography, and artwork. It must have taken you years and years of work.

    DG: No, it didn’t take me years and years. I’m kind of tenacious—I go at it. It took about a year and a half, and probably one of its flaws is that there’re a few little typos in this first edition that probably come from me driving everybody too hard. It’s been quite an experience. I am proud of it, but not in a personal sense. I just...

  11. TESTIMONIO, RECONNECTION, AND FORGIVENESS Conversation with Norma Elía Cantú
    (pp. 115-137)
    Norma Elía Cantú

    EMJ:First of all, congratulations on receiving the 2007 NACCS, Tejas foco, Premio Letras de Aztlán Award.

    NC: Oh yes. That’s really special.

    EMJ:You are both a creative writer and a scholar interested in ethnography and culture. Your dissertation is on the pastorelas, you’ve worked on the matachines tradition in Northern Mexico and New Mexico, on women’s life-cycle rituals, and similar topics. How do you combine those two roles of creative writer and scholar? How do you decide what is going to be a journal article, a poem, a short story, or part of a novel?

    NC: I will...

  12. “¡AY, EL INGLÉS TAN BONITO!” Conversation with Denise Chávez
    (pp. 138-156)
    Denise Chávez

    EMJ:Mama Lupita, the protagonist’s grandmother, says inFace of an Angel: “Everyone has a story.”¹ Your novels have a huge cast of characters, many different voices, and embedded stories. There is a distinctly oral quality to the texts. What is it about storytelling that intrigues you?

    DC: I grew up with stories. My mother was a wonderful storyteller and so was my father. When you come from that oral tradition, listening to stories is very important—sitting around the dinner table or, as in theTaco Testimony, sitting around the taco table, sitting outside in the backyard eating sandía,...

  13. INDEX
    (pp. 157-161)