For last week’s 7th Annual Anaya Lecture for Literature of the Southwest, writer Rigoberto Gonzalez discussed masculinity in Chicano literature.
The event was sponsored by the UNM English Department, and was followed by a reception and book signing for the Albuquerque community.
Anita Obermeier, chair of the English Department, said the series was born out of a generous donation from Rodolfo and Patricia Anaya, as a way to raise money for the Rudy Scholarship Fund for prospective English students interested in Chicano literature.
The fund has yet to reach endowment status but is only $1,000 away from the necessary benchmark of $24,000, Obermeier said.
Gonzalez is a prolific writer in the Chicano community, having written 17 books, including children’s books, poetry, memoirs and novels.
One of his best-known works is the American Book Award-winning “Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa.” His most recent collection of poetry, “Unpeopled Eden,” won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.
Gonzalez’ new book, “What Draws the Flowers in Your Mouth,” will be out next year, he said.
Anaya has been a major influence for Gonzalez since the early 1990s. After he graduated in 1993, Gonzalez sent a letter to Anaya. In response, Anaya offered Gonzalez a stay in a casita in the Jemez Mountains that Anaya lent to young Chicano writers, an offer Gonzalez said he accepted.
Anaya also received the National Humanities Medal, presented by President Barack Obama, earlier this year.
In his lecture, Gonzalez spoke about Loteria cards — a popular Spanish version of bingo — and explained how they represent different stereotypical roles of masculinity. There is an expectation that comes with masculinity and machismo, he said. Moreover, masculine expectations are critiqued in Chicano literature.
For example, Gonzalez said that the Loteria card “El Soldado” — a soldier and patriot — represents someone who fights for their country, “but also for his convictions such as religion, community and family.”
“El Valiente” represents the valiant or the macho — the tip of his machete covered in blood.
“His warrior’s stance is defensive — his machete might as well be his penis. The tip is bloody because it has just penetrated someone. Yes, it’s Freudian symbolism 101,” Gonzalez said.
“El Musico,” the musician, “is an artist but an employed artist.” A party cannot start without him and “if he works long hours, it is likely he is feeding a wife and children.”
Gonzalez explained how these social gender roles are present in Latino culture and represented in literary works, and he spoke of how these roles come to be rejected and “redefined.”
“I am narrowing my study of literature to works written by male authors simply because I’m curious to examine how men see themselves and what they want to change about themselves,” Gonzalez said. “I am further narrowing my search to Latino authors who identify as Chicano because of Loteria’s prominence in Mexicano/Chicano heritage of the American Southwest. And as contentious writers and thinkers of the new millennia, I expect to show that they attempt, if not succeed, in critiquing and redefining machismo in the fictions of prose and poetry.”
In an interview with the Daily Lobo after the Lecture, Gonzales said he started writing because he was a “voracious” reader with a sense of responsibility to his literary community.
Furthermore, if you are an avid read it’s not very hard to make the transition to an avid writer, he said.
“The journey from a reader to a writer is a very small one,” Gonzalez said. “After spending so much time being wrapped up in the imaginations of other people, I became hungry for the possibility of being one of those people that created these worlds and these places where others could escape to or connect with.”
He said after he became a writer he felt a sense of responsibility to add to the Chicano narrative and help fill the bookshelf with Chicano literature. That responsibility made him a prolific writer, he said.
“It was a sense of responsibility for me. I felt that when I was becoming educated and learning how to be a writer, there were so few Latino books on the shelves for me to access. I thought, if ever I could have the opportunity, I’m going to add and add and add to that shelf, because it is important for other writers.”
Gonzalez said he has influences inside and outside of the Chicano community. Some of his influences are Gabriel Garcia Lorca, Rudolfo Anaya, Gary Soto and African-American author James Baldwin.
Gonzalez emphasized the importance that this lecture series has on the community — and not only the Latino community, but the literary community as a whole. It is important to continue to honor writers like Anaya, but it is also important to embrace new literature and realize that Chicano literature is part of a much larger framework. When we place the importance on literature, we are also placing an importance on history, culture and community, he said.
Gonzalez finished the interview by giving advice to young UNM student writers.
“Read, read their history, and read works of other communities to enrich their imaginations and know that their stories, their experiences are valid for sharing.”
Gonzalez’s novels of poetry, fiction, and memoir can be purchased anywhere books are sold.
Donations for the Rudy Scholarship Fund go to help young UNM authors get an advanced education, and can be made here.
Jonathan Natvig is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @natvig99.