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History of Latin Americans
Before the class begins analyzing the different art forms in the Latino culture, I will give a brief history of the different Latino populations in this country. The earliest of Latinos to come to the United States was Christopher Columbus in 1492. In his three other trips he discovered Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Bahamas. In 1542, approximately 300,000 Spaniards came to what they called the New World. They divided the land into four sections: what is now the United States, Nueva Galica, Mexico, Guatemala, and Santa Domingo. Racial lines blurred over a number of years, due to the fact that the Spaniards were reproducing with the indigenous people and women. This racially mixed group was called Mestizos. An important issue to cover in this introduction is how over 4000 Spaniards died in the American Revolution, which is too often forgotten or not included in our history. Hispanics also fought during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Further, in WWII, between approximately 250,000 and 500,00 Latinos served in the armed forces, making up 2.5 5% of all enlisted (Hispanic America USA, Inc.). In American history, we tend to downplay the role of all our American citizens in the participation of war.
Mexicans are some of the oldest residents of our country. In fact, in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the Spanish southwest was annexed to the United States, and many Mexicans instantaneously became American citizens. California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico became part of the United States. The now Mexican Americans found themselves members of a society that did not have laws that protected them. Most had their land taken away from them and became bankrupt. In the 1930 s about half a million Mexicans were deported, due to prejudice and discrimination. Then starting in 1948 many Mexicans were brought back to the United States, hired to farm the land. This was called the Bracero Program. Many of these workers were mistreated and poorly paid. Racism continued to plague the lives of Mexican Americans. Even though America treated them like second-class citizens, over 500,000 Mexican Americans served in World War II and in the Korean War. Even after they served, they were still treated poorly. Mexican Americans, Chicanos, have been ridiculed and oppressed throughout our history, and it wasn t until the 1970 s that Chicano literature began to flourish. It is important to discuss Cesar Chavez and his contribution to the Latino civil rights movement. The civil rights movement is what helped spark this Latino literature influx. Traditionally, the Chicano population wanted to gain political power through education, but this was and still is difficult when the incoming immigrants are largely uneducated (Augenbraum and Stavans).
Cuban-American history is a bit different, but the immigrants still encounter the prejudice of the other Latino groups. Cuba was a Spanish colony until the Spanish-American war in 1898. America felt its victory was a great achievement, because Cuba was in a great location and offered economic opportunities for many Americans, especially in sugar, tobacco, and coffee. The 19th century brought the first wave of immigrants to America, but because of Fidel Castro s dictatorship in Cuba, in the late 1950 s and throughout the 60 s the first truly big wave of Cuban immigrants entered the country as refugees. They had to leave in Cuba all of their money and possessions, but they brought along with them a rich culture as is seen in their literature, art, and music. The Cubans that arrived were mostly well-educated, middle class citizens who rose in society and also economically. Many Americans, as well as Castro, called them Gusanos, which means worms, showing prejudice that was sometimes shown towards them. Many Cuban refugees were Caucasian, though, so they didn t receive as much prejudice as many other Latino immigrants did. The second big wave of immigrants came to Miami in the 1980 s. These immigrants had lower incomes than their predecessors. They were also more rural, less urban; in fact, some were convicted criminals released from Cuban jails. Most were political prisoners, but about 3,700 were dangerous criminals or criminally insane (Novas). Many, though, were blue-collar workers looking for the economic opportunities America had to offer. Also included in this wave were people looking for their relatives from whom they were separated during the revolution. Many Cuban-Americans expect to go back to Cuba when Castro s reign comes to an end.
Latinos from Puerto Rico have a different story. They are American citizens, without the right to vote unless they live on the mainland. In 1898 in the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American war, America came to possess Puerto Rico. For a long time, America was directly involved in the affairs of the island. Puerto Rico was in a state of dissatisfaction about being a United States protectorate. About 20,000 Puerto Ricans served in World War I. Even though they fought for the U.S., the U.S didn t help their poverty until Eleanor Roosevelt and Luis Munoz Marin raised awareness of the struggling island. President Roosevelt then made helping the island one of his priorities and conditions improved. Puerto Rico became a commonwealth in an election in 1952, and voted to maintain that status in 1993. There is still great debate on the island about the commonwealth status. If Puerto Rico were to lose this status and become a state, the unemployment rate would skyrocket. This would be due to the fact that companies don t have to pay federal tax on profits there. Residents would also have to pay federal income tax, and since one third of all islanders live in poverty, it would be unbearable (Novas). Because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, movement to the mainland is not considered immigration. The Puerto Rican population on the mainland grew to large numbers in the 1940 s. The immigrants were mostly concentrated on the East Coast, especially in New York. They were the first population to be able to easily return to their original country, which put them at an advantage over many other Latino populations. Many came for better economic opportunities, for they had the lowest standard of living compared to other Hispanics in the United States (Augenbraum and Stavans). The Puerto Rican community stuck together, often living in barrios, as many Latino cultures do.
Dominican Republicans live under poor economic conditions. Under the rule of Joaquin Balaguer, over half the residents live in poverty. In the 1960 s, due to the civil war going on in the Dominican Republic, immigration into the United States rose greatly. An economic depression caused another wave of immigration in the 1980 s, which has continued into present day. Because they are one of the newest Latino groups to enter the U.S., they are not economically well off, yet. They have met a lot of prejudice and discrimination, the kind that Latinos and African-Americans have run into. They have a reputation for being poorest from the island, but they are in fact quite educated professionals, but most can only get low-income jobs (Novas).
Central and South Americans are also immigrating into the United States. I will give a brief history of the different cultures represented in these regions, but will not go into as much detail as the others, unless students show great interest or request more information.
With knowledge of the different Latino populations, students will then begin to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of each culture and its art and literature with a greater understanding. The Latino community in The United States is split in many ways, besides the origin of country from which people came. One way the Latino community is split is that many Latinos are here temporarily and may return to their original country when they retire. Others are here permanently, and still others have been here before there even was a United States of America. Further, there is a conflict with Latino authors. If they write in Spanish, less Americans will read the work, although more in the country of origin would read it. If these writers write in English, the Spanish speaking readers often attack the text. It is seen as selling out to White America (Augenbraum and Stavans). Another problem that many Hispanics share is combating stereotypes, both positive and negative in literature. When Anglo-Americans use Latinos as main characters, it usually reinforces stereotypes. The one element that most Latino writers have in common is that writers combine both English and Spanish, called Spanglish or code switching.
Latin American Women Writers
As in most cultures, women s histories differ from men s. In fact, this difference is what makes the literature between men and women often vary. To fully understand a culture, we have to look at all people of that culture. I found the following history of Chicana women in a great book called Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, edited by Tey Diana Rebolledo and Oliana S. Rivero. I ve had trouble finding information about other Latino groups of women. In the 1500 s, women went to New Mexico with the men to explore. They lived on farms and ranches, located far from each other. Life was very difficult for the women, but they had more rights than most of their Anglo-American counterparts. Spanish women had the right to inherit and own property. Under Spanish law, they had the right to take legal action for themselves, separately from their husbands. During the next hundred years or so, the racial lines blurred, because men and women of both Anglo and Mexican descent began to reproduce. This multiracial individual was called coyota/coyote. In 1680 during the Pueblo Revolt, in which Native Americans rebelled against their oppression, approximately 400 men died. Due to the fact that the women were widowed, the Chicana women became very strong and independent. Historically, women are survivors. When Mexico freed itself from Spain, again many women were left without husbands.
In 1848, the time of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, many Yankee immigrants fled to America. Due to the history of oppression caused by the Yankees, the Mexicans lost a great deal of their land and became impoverished. Prejudice invaded their lives, forcing many to change not only their dress, but also their language. Spanish wasn t allowed to be spoken in the schools, and in fact, students were severely punished when caught speaking Spanish. Also with the influx of Anglos, many of the more elite Mexican women intermarried.
Throughout Latino history, women have played the role of the storyteller. Actually, this role was valued by all and was source of power for the women. It created a voice for them. When Hispanics lived in the barrios, the literacy rate for Latinos rose. This rise in literacy enabled these stories to evolve from the oral tradition to the written tradition. The Spanish Language Press was a place for the written tradition to be shared among the people of the culture. In the early 1900 s Los Angeles tripled in size to over 300,000. This large grouping during the Great Depression had women working to help combat poverty.
Literature of resistance sprouted up during this time period. In the 1930 s, women captured in writing what they perceived to be a vanishing culture. They did this by following five strategies. The first strategy is filling the pages with the great detail of the people, names, the self-hatred often found during the time period. The second is by using a nostalgic tone, longing for a past environment that revolved around community. Strategy three is mixing different genres in order to create attention to details, as in the tradition in oral storytelling. The fourth is including a purely feminine voice, which was usually not seen in writing. The fifth and final strategy is including in the writing the cultural misunderstanding and the oppressive nature of the Anglos.
During World War II, women went to work to help out the war effort, as well as to take over for the men away in the war. This war contribution did not curb the prejudice that Hispanics encountered, though. Children s names were Anglicized in school and still no Spanish was allowed in schools. In the 1960 s and 70 s, a Chicano Renaissance flourished. Although the writing was predominantly male, some women were included. Chicana literature became more mainstream in the 1990 s. More personal essays by women were being published and read. Further, the traditionally patriarchal society was challenged. Women faced the male figure and even poked fun at them. Similarly, women writers faced their own sexuality, celebrating rather than being ashamed of this part of them. To sum up the 90 s for Chicana writers, these women explored the forbidden aspects of their culture.
Infinite Divisions breaks up Chicana literature into subdivisions. These divisions make sense in the order of which to teach this subject. First, discuss Foremothers in the Chicano culture. The grandmother was traditionally the storyteller, a very important role. While the men were out mining, the women would do the laundry or clerk at offices. Young girls lived a sheltered life, having a chaperone with them at all times. The storyteller was criticized for promoting stereotypes in their writing. At this point I will discuss the role that hegemony plays in society and how it makes the victims internalize the stereotypes. Many Chicana writers wanted the women of the past to confront the issues head on as the writers of the 90 s did. Some of the foremothers document the struggle to preserve their cultural heritage and land. Certain themes are repeated in these writings: the importance of family, the preservation of tradition, and the folkloric element of healing. The women safeguarded these stories and poems by hiding them away in storage or in drawers (39).
The next subsection is titled Self and Identity . This one is an important issue for my curriculum, because I want the students to explore their own self and identity, which is what adolescence is all about. Recurring themes are the alienation felt by both Mexican and American peers and society, political affirmation, class and race struggles and the affect on their self-image as individuals as well as a culture. Most students will be able to relate to this is some way, which is what makes this literature so engaging for students. Many of my students are also living between languages and cultures. Further, Chicana women are caught between stereotypes and roles, as are most women today. They are drop-outs, educated and Anglicized, dope-pushers or community organizers. . . (77). Women are also traditionally the caretakers and nurturers of the young and of the men. And of course, they are still oppressed. The literature reflects all of these struggles and problems.
Self and Others is the next subsection covered. What others think of us and how they treat us helps define our roles in society or helps us combat those modes. In the Chicana culture, the father and grandfather weren t the nurturers, they were the discipline givers. The patriarchal authority that was dominant in the culture oppressed women. The literature of the past explores this and the literature of the present challenges this patriarchy. The aging woman in the family was revered, though. All treated her with respect and love. Chicano children had a strong bond with their mothers and grandmothers.
Myths and archetypes largely show values of a culture through religious figures and heroes. They display the traits considered desirable by a group or society (189). The legend of Marianismo depicts the Virgin Mary as a heroine. The Virgin of Guadalupe represents the merging of European and Native American culture. The valuable character trait of unselfish giving, as well as being the ideal mother is shown. But many consider this myth a symbol of failure, because they say the Virgin wasn t active enough. This discrepancy shows the generational gap between mothers and daughters. Her critics say she advocates acceptance and endurance, not action (191). Further they compare her to the Stature of Liberty, because she represents the lie of freedom and equality. La Malinche is an Aztec woman who was sold into slavery by her family. She was also raped and pillaged. Some would say that she represents the male oppression in society. She also represents the European conquest of the Native American, acknowledging the relationship between the Mexicans and the Native Americans. She is seen as a translator and also as a survivor. La Llorona is a weeping woman who is mourning the murder of her children; hence, she is stuck in purgatory as a ghost. She represents the mother who has lost her children to the Anglo-American culture, through assimilation. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz is a 17th century nun who represents a strong, independent woman who put the law of god ahead of the law of man. She defied the authority that told her she could not continue her studies. She elevated everyday chores into science. The virtues that she embodies are her fierce love of knowledge, her writing ability, her power of language, her independent spirit and agony and her eventual silence (Rebolledo and Rivero).
What a culture celebrates conveys what that culture values. Women wrote about celebrations within the Chicana culture. Many contemporary writing celebrates being women, as well as an appreciation of their foremothers. Love is celebrated, which ties Chicano culture to other cultures. Chicana writers celebrate their joy of being (342). Chicana people have great pride and cherish this, as is seen in their writing. The writing rejoices in the fact that they feel solidarity as one people, strong family ties, etc.
Some famous Latina women are Manuela Medina, who led rebels during the struggle for Mexican independence. She won many battles. Another strong woman of this time was Dona Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez. In 1810, Gertrudis Bocanegra organized revolutionary armies. Josefina Sierro, in the 1930 s, helped organize an underground railroad that helped Mexicans come back to the United States after being deported. Many of the Mexicans helped were actually United States citizens. In the great book Everything You Need to Know About Latino History, by Himilce Novas, there is a list of Nine Latinas who have made a difference . This list includes Joan Baez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Linda Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Virginia Musquiz, Antonia Novello, Helen Rodriguez, Josefina Sierro, and Emma Tenayuca.
The art portion of the unit will be refined as I teach it and learn more about it myself. What I have studied is incredible and important. Each piece that I will use has a message and teaches the students something about Latin culture. Some of the themes that will be explored is hybridity, or the mixture of the Latin and American cultures and genes, oppression, family, heritage, and healing.
Carmen Lomas Garza is a wonderful contemporary artist. She grew up in Texas and her art is a tribute to her roots. In her paintings, she explores the Chicano way of life. In a book of her paintings, A Piece of My Heart, her works are narrated, so the reader can learn some of the underlying messages of the works, as well as gain help in interpreting her work. I will show five of her works to the class. Curandera depicts the faith healers, while the home altars are in the background. The painting shows tradition and also shows some of the values of the Chicanos. Many artists paint for a self-healing purpose. This will also be discussed. El Milagro depicts devotional practices. The Virgin of Guadalupe has appeared on a water tower. This devotion is mixed with different aspects of Chicano life, including the offerings of the men, snakes. Tamalada shows the importance of family, with a twist. The scene is around the kitchen making tamales, but the men are participating which is unusual. There is great symbolism in the painting, including the picture of the last supper and the calendar. This painting also shows the role of food in the culture, as well as the tradition of the food itself. Para la Cena shows the generational gap between mother/grandmother and children. It depicts the misunderstanding of tradition as well as the acculturation of the young.
Other art pieces I will use will be from a fabulous book, Contemporary Art and Multicultural Education. Luis Cruz Azaceta is a Cuban exile and has lived in the United States for over 30 years. His Lotto: American Dream shows the hopelessness of many Latinos, for whom the only hope for economic success is, he depicts, winning the lotto. Isla del Encanto by Marin Gutierrez uses symbols from Puerto Rican culture, both historically and contemporarily. The next piece is very important and one of my favorites. Yolanda M. Lopez did Portrait of an Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe. Many contemporary Latino artists and writers question their heritage, and that is exactly what Lopez is doing with this piece. She takes the Virgin og Guadalupe and modernizes her, creating a modern role model for Chicanas. Her version of the mythological figure also challenges the patriarchal society, and encourages women to be self-assertive. Dolores del Rio VI, by Amalia Mesa-Bains, shows an altar that memorializes the actress, but more importantly shows the importance of home altars in Latin culture and can lead to a discussion of the important holiday, Day of the Dead. Elizabeth Sisco, Louis Hock, and David Avalos created a highly controversial public art piece called Welcome to America s Finest Tourist Plantation, which is actually a bus poster. It depicts the exploitation of Mexican labor and led to many heated debates.