Creating a Chicano Literary Space

Chicano Sketches an invaluable contribution to the study of Chicano fiction

By Daniel A. Olivas
Published on LatinoLA: May 17, 2005

Creating a Chicano Literary Space

In their introduction to Chicano Sketches, the editors assert that the late short-story writer Mario Su?rez ?represents a unique case of an early Chicano author who remained faithful to his original purpose of creating a distinctively Chicano literary space.?

How early? The first eight of the nineteen stories included in this collection were first published by the Arizona Quarterly between 1947 and 1950. The ?distinctively Chicano literary space? Su?rez created was grounded in the harsh realities of a barrio in Tucson called El Hoyo (literally ?The Hole?) which the editors term ?an urban wasteland.? Su?rez, who was also a journalist, social activist and educator who relocated his family to Southern California in 1958, possessed a sharp eye for quotidian human experience. He populated his ?sketches? (his term) with preening pachucos, avuncular barbers, unrepentant womanizers, chisme-loving comadres, clever swindlers and many other examples of humanity.

Su?rez did not romanticize the Chicano experience; indeed, he acknowledged such social dysfunctions as alcohol abuse (?Cuco Goes to a Party? and ?Loco-Chu?), indolence (?Kid Zopilote?) and economic struggle (?The Migrant? and ?Los Coyotes?) while celebrating the beauty of Chicano culture (?Mexican Heaven?), human kindness (?Do?a Clara? and ?Se?or Garza?) and the work ethic (?Something Useful, Even Tailoring?). Quite often, Su?rez relied on biting irony and comedic juxtapositions to illustrate his characters? vices and virtues.

In the first story, ?El Hoyo? (first published in 1947), Su?rez set the stage for his following sketches. In it, he defined the term ?chicanos? (lower case his) by equating it with the Mexican dish capirotada which can be fixed in innumerable ways: ?While many seem to the undiscerning eye to be alike, it is only because collectively they are referred to as chicanos. But like capirotada, fixed in a thousand ways and served on a thousand tables, which can only be evaluated by individual taste, the chicanos must be so distinguished.?

The editors unobtrusively annotate this posthumous collection (which includes eight stories never before published), offer insightful historical context and thematic analyses, and include several wonderful photographs of Su?rez and his family. Combined with a touching foreward by one of Su?rez?s children and a biographical introduction by the editors (one of whom is Su?rez?s widow, Cecilia, who passed away in March 2004), Chicano Sketches is an invaluable contribution to the study of Chicano fiction and gives Su?rez his due as a seminal figure in Chicano literature.

Chicano Sketches
By Mario Su?rez
Edited by Francisco A. Lomel?,
Cecilia Cota-Robles Su?rez and
Juan Jos? Casillas-N??ez
(University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.
ISBN 0-8165-2404-1, paperback,
184 pp., $17.95, 2004)

[This review first appeared in Southwest BookViews.]

About Daniel A. Olivas:
Daniel lives and writes in the San Fernando Valley. For news of his upcoming book signings and appearances, visit his Web page at www.danielolivas.com

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