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American Literature Helena Maria Viramontes
by
Leigh Johnson

Introduction

Helena María Viramontes was born in East Los Angeles on 26 February 1954, one of nine children. Occasionally one will read that there were eleven children, but this seems to be a mistake based on Viramontes’s comment that she comes from a family of eleven, which is six girls, three boys, a mother, and a father (“Nopalitos,” p. 33). Her family was working-class, and her parents spoke Spanish at home. Viramontes received her MFA from University of California-Irvine. She calls herself a failed poet (“Nopalitos,” p. 37). The Moths and Other Stories (1985) garnered much critical interest. Under the Feet of Jesus brought more critical acclaim in 1995, and the John Dos Passos Prize in 1996. Viramontes has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and she won the Luis Leal Award in 2006. Her most recent work, Their Dogs Came with Them (2007), is less studied, but takes up the themes of urban poverty, history, and racism that her earlier work engages. Her short stories are widely anthologized in texts meant for undergraduates studying Chicano/a and Latino/a literature, women’s studies, and multicultural literature. Viramontes has been active in community projects, literary editorships, and teaching creative writing. Much of her work draws from her experiences as a child in California dealing with issues of work, racism, and language. Viramontes is a professor of English and creative writing at Cornell University. She has two children and continues to lecture around the country and organize and participate in conferences.

Primary Texts

Viramontes’s breakout collection of stories is The Moths and Other Stories (1985), which includes the widely anthologized “The Moths” and “The Cariboo Cafe.” The collection has been reprinted four times. Her first novel, Under the Feet of Jesus (1996), also was widely acclaimed and is frequently taught as part of Chicano/a literature classes and multicultural literature classes. Their Dogs Came with Them (2007) is her most recent novel. The University of California, Santa Barbara holds her personal papers in its Special Collections.

  • Viramontes, Helena María. The Moths and Other Stories. 2d ed. Houston, TX: Arte Público, 1995.

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    The most easily accessible edition, the second edition offers an introduction by Yvonne Yarbo-Bejarano that contextualizes and interprets the stories. The eight stories in the collection are “The Moths,” “Growing,” “Birthday,” “The Broken Web,” “The Cariboo Cafe,” “The Long Reconciliation,” “Snapshots,” and “Neighbors.” First published in 1985.

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  • Viramontes, Helena María. Their Dogs Came with Them. New York: Atria, 2007.

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    The novel returns to the East Los Angeles barrio Viramontes dissects in The Moths and Other Stories. Viramontes claims this is actually her first novel, as she began it long before she began Under the Feet of Jesus, but it took her longer to complete and find a publisher for.

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  • Viramontes, Helena María. Under the Feet of Jesus. New York: Plume, 1996.

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    This book is the most widely read and studied of Viramontes’s novels. Accessible to undergraduates and advanced high school students, but complex enough to yield productive readings at the graduate level, the novel weaves a story of Estrella and Alejo coming of age in the California vegetable fields. Dedicated to the memory of César Chávez.

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Uncollected Stories

Some of the following stories, “Miss Clairol,” “Spider’s Face,” and “Tears on My Pillow,” are interrelated, and critics seem to treat them as a unit, despite the fact that they have not been published together. However, these stories are anthologized almost as frequently as those in The Moths and Other Stories. Other short stories, including “The Jumping Bean,” have been anthologized but remain uncollected. A screenplay, “Paris Rats in East L.A.” (1993) came out of the Sundance Fellowship she completed, studying with Gabriel García Márquez.

Nonfiction

In addition to major fictional works, Viramontes has coedited with María Herrera-Sobek Chicana (W)rites: On Word and Film (1995) and Chicana Creativity and Criticism: New Frontiers in American Literature (1996). Both volumes rely on Viramontes as the creative work editor and Herrera-Sobek as the critical contributions editor. Viramontes has published two personal essays about the writing process; “The Writes Ofrenda” (1997) is more political than “Nopalitos” (1989).

Reference Works

There are few major reference works for Chicano/a and Latino/a writers. Many anthologies include a story with little introductory material, so these references will be useful to teachers and students. Castillo 2004 provides a very thorough analysis of the criticism and obscure works, while Wood 2007 is a good overview of the significant biographical events in Viramontes’s history.

  • Castillo, Debra A. “Helena María Viramontes.” In Latino and Latina Writers. Vol. 1, Introductory Essays; Chicano and Chicana Authors. Edited by Alan West-Durán, 549–568. New York: Charles Scribner’s, 2004.

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    An excellent overview of Viramontes’s published works and biography. Castillo lends her own interpretation to the stories and novels, but she also provides context for the stories themselves, remarking that Viramontes’s experiences as an activist have shaped the narratives. The essay charts the trajectory of Viramontes’s work, from cautiously optimistic to potentially apocalyptic.

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  • Wood, Jamie Martinez. “Helena María Viramontes.” In Latino Writers and Journalists. By Jamie Martinez Wood, 257–259. New York: Facts on File, 2007.

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    A very brief overview of Viramontes’s life and works. A good starting point for undergraduates or teachers interested in introducing basic facts about Viramontes as part of a lesson on her short stories.

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Biography and Interviews

The multiple interviews in this section shed light on Viramontes’s prose and draw her biography into the texts. All are valuable. Viramontes discusses her writing process in almost every interview, but specifically in Heredia and Kevane 2000 and Olivas 2007. Some commentary on the use of Spanish and English in writing appears in almost every interview, but Viramontes discusses the issue at length in Viramontes and Flys-Junquera 2001. Viramontes is situated as part of the Chicana literary canon in Dulfano 2001, Gutiérrez y Muhs 2007, and Mermann-Jozwiak 2009. The most personal interviews are Gutiérrez y Muhs 2007, Heredia and Kevane 2000, and Viramontes and Flys-Junquera 2001. The long view of her career, including Their Dogs Came with Them, is illuminated in Olivas 2007 and Silverblatt 2007. All interviews are readable, intriguing, and illuminating with regard to textual criticism. The annotations describe which of Viramontes’s major works are the focus of the interview.

  • Dulfano, Isabel. “Some Thoughts Shared with Helena María Viramontes.” Women’s Studies 30.5 (2001): 647–662.

    DOI: 10.1080/00497878.2001.9979403Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Dulfano interviews Viramontes right before she accepts the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature. The conversation details Viramontes’s thoughts on her place in the American literary canon and the rise of Chicano/a literature. She mentions several up-and-coming writers, including Lucha Corpi, Demetria Martínez, and Terri de la Peña. Contains significant political commentary by Viramontes. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Gutiérrez y Muhs, Gabriella. “Helena María Viramontes.” In Communal Feminisms: Chicanas, Chilenas, and Cultural Exile: Theorizing the Space of Exile, Class, and Identity. By Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, 123–137. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2007.

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    A strong interview focusing initially on Under the Feet of Jesus but with significant exploration of feminism, female and male characters, and the political and social purpose of literature. Commentary about mothers—fictional and literal—is fascinating. Strong emotional content concludes the interview.

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  • Heredia, Juanita, and Bridget Kevane. “Praying for Knowledge: An Interview with Helena María Viramontes.” In Latina Self-Portraits: Interviews with Contemporary Woman Writers. Edited by Bridget Kevane and Juanita Heredia, 141–154. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.

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    Very conversational. Heredia encourages Viramontes to talk about her childhood and writing process in detail. Information about teaching and the early incarnations of the short stories “The Moths” and “The Cariboo Cafe,” as well as the reason for the title Under the Feet of Jesus.

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  • Kevane, Bridget, and Helena María Viramontes. “Viramontes on O’Connor.” Flannery O’Connor Review 4 (2006): 5–11.

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    A useful discussion of Their Dogs Came with Them and the craft of writing the novel. Also discusses the influence of Flannery O’Connor on Viramontes’s writing of the text, especially with regard to O’Connor’s “The River” and Viramontes’s attempt to capture a child’s narrative voice. Relates the American South to East Los Angeles in terms of themes of racism, poverty, and Catholicism.

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  • Mermann-Jozwiak, Elisabeth. “You Carry the Border with You: Conversation with Helena María Viramontes.” In Conversations with Mexican American Writers. Edited by Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak and Nancy Sullivan, 79–94. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.

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    This interview focuses on the ways that Viramontes and other Chicano/a writers use history in their work to educate Chicano/a and non-Chicano/a readers. Majority of discussion examines Their Dogs Came with Them and the process of its publication. She cites a few literary influences, including William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Gabriel García Márquez. Some funny, charming bits in this conversation.

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  • Olivas, Daniel. “Interview with Helena María Viramontes.” La Bloga, 2 April 2007.

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    A detailed interview on Their Dogs Came with Them. Addresses character, setting, plot, and the relationship between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. Good discussion of writing process and how the process for Dogs differed substantially from that for Under the Feet of Jesus.

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  • Silverblatt, Michael. Helena María Viramontes. Bookworm interview, 16 August 2007.

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    A radio interview on the KCRW program Bookworm. Primarily discusses the trajectory of Viramontes’s career and the aesthetic choices behind Their Dogs Came with Them. Includes good sections of Viramontes reading the work aloud.

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  • Viramontes, Helena María, and Carmen Flys-Junquera. “Helena María Viramontes: Social and Political Perspectives of a Chicana Writer.” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 5 (2001): 223–238.

    DOI: 10.1353/hcs.2011.0090Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interview conducted in Spain. The conversation begins with a strong focus on language and the use of Spanish in English texts. Viramontes points out the hypocrisy of identity politics using Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses (227). A fascinating discussion of work-life balance for a Chicana writer follows the language discussion. The interview concludes with musing on the importance of Chicano community. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Criticism

Viramontes is usually regarded as a powerful voice of social justice in literary production. Many critics still classify Viramontes as a Chicana writer, but more recently critics have shown how her appeal is much broader. Kevane 2001 in particular argues that Viramontes should be more widely studied. Collections like Gutiérrez y Muhs 2013 especially highlight new directions in Viramontes scholarship. Much of her work focuses on childhood and coming of age, and critics such as Lim 2010 (cited under Under the Feet of Jesus), Beck and Rangel 2009 (cited under Viramontes and Other Writers), and Colón 2012 (cited under The Moths and Other Stories) have argued that identity matters to the maturation of the character. Grewe-Volpp 2005 (cited under Under the Feet of Jesus), Hsu 2011 (cited under Their Dogs Came with Them), Herrera-Sobek 2000, and McEntyre 2007 (cited under Under the Feet of Jesus) take up environmental issues, while Rodríguez 2001 (cited under Viramontes and Other Writers) and Fernández 1989 (cited under “The Cariboo Cafe”) examine compassion and justice for political refugees. One reason critics repeatedly situate Viramontes as a Chicana writer is her use of the La Llorona archetype—see Moore 1998 (cited under “The Cariboo Cafe”), Ramírez-Dhoore 2010 (cited under Under the Feet of Jesus), Saldívar-Hull 1996, and Carbonell 1999 (cited under “The Cariboo Cafe”). Sandoval 2008, Saldívar-Hull 2000, and Castillo and Tabuenca Córdoba 2002 address more general themes in Viramontes’s fiction.

  • Castillo, Debra A., and María Socorro Tabuenca Córdoba. “Homely.” In Border Women: Writing from La Frontera. By Debra A. Castillo and María Socorro Tabuenca Córdoba, 149–167. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

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    Examines Viramontes’s uncollected stories “Miss Clairol,” “The Jumping Bean,” “Spider’s Face,” and “Tears on My Pillow” as if they were a full collection. Applies Homi Bhabha’s postcolonial concept of the uncanny/unhomely to the would-be collection. Salient points are made about the La Llorona archetype and Viramontes’s (de)construction of machismo.

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  • Gutiérrez y Muhs, Gabriella, ed. Rebozos de Palabras: An Helena María Viramontes Critical Reader. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013.

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    The first edited volume of critical work on Viramontes is divided into four sections: Latin American Perspectives, The Body, Ethics and Aesthetics, and Interviews. Essays by Juan D. Mah y Busch and Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano especially recontextualize Viramontes’s work into a broad literary history beyond traditional Chicano/a studies.

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  • Herrera-Sobek, María. “The Nature of Chicana Literature: Feminist Ecological Literary Criticism and Chicana Writers.” Chicana Literary and Artistic Expressions: Culture and Society in Dialogue. Edited by María Herrera-Sobek, 123–135. Santa Barbara: University of California, 2000.

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    Herrera-Sobek and Viramontes have collaborated on two book projects; in this essay, Herrera-Sobek draws parallels between environmental injustice and the entire Chicano/a people through the lens of Viramontes’s fiction.

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  • Kevane, Bridget. “The Hispanic Absence in the North American Literary Canon.” Journal of American Studies 35.1 (2001): 95–109.

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    Kevane describes the state of the field of Latina literature and argues that Viramontes, among other writers, should be more widely included in interdisciplinary curriculum. Points out that while Latina writers have enjoyed a mainstream publishing boom, their work is still marginalized in academia. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Saldívar-Hull, Sonia. “‘I Hear the Women’s Wails and I Know Them to Be My Own’: From Mujer to Collective Identities in Helena María Viramontes’s U.S. Third World.” In Feminism on the Border: Chicana Gender Politics and Literature. By Sonia Saldívar-Hull, 125–159. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

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    Classic, foundational reading of how Viramontes’s stories are a part of and stand apart from Chicana literary production. Turns to discussions of family, betrayal, and gender to argue that Viramontes’s short stories intervene in the Chicano nationalist discourse. An important essay for anyone preparing to write about Viramontes’s work.

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  • Saldívar-Hull, Sonia. “Political Identities in Contemporary Chicana Literature: Helena María Viramontes’s Visions of the U.S. Third World.” In ‘Writing’ Nation and ‘Writing’ Region in America. Edited by Theo D’Haen and Hans Bertens, 156–165. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1996.

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    Balanced between a discussion of violence and gender in The Moths and Other Stories and a discussion of La Llorona and gender in the Champ stories.

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  • Sandoval, Anna Marie. “Acts of Daily Resistance in Urban and Rural Settings: The Fiction of Helena María Viramontes.” In Toward a Latina Feminism of the Americas: Repression & Resistance in Chicana & Mexicana Literature. By Anna Marie Sandoval, 65–88. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

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    Traces resistance in Viramontes’s short stories and Under the Feet of Jesus. She argues that la migra is an overbearing presence in the fiction and serves as a point of resistance.

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The Moths and Other Stories

There is a substantial body of criticism on Viramontes’s first short story collection. This section addresses all stories in the collection except for “The Cariboo Cafe,” which has garnered the most critical attention and is in a category by itself. The strongest analyses of stories in this collection are those that root Viramontes’s resistance in a Chicana feminist framework—Alarcón 1996 and Pavletich and Backus 1994. Viramontes’s work inspires creative critical response in poetic form from Bar-Nadav 2003. Colón 2012 offers an interesting spatial/temporal reading of the story.

“The Cariboo Cafe”

Much of the criticism of “The Cariboo Cafe” focuses on Viramontes’s use of the La Llorona archetype to describe the washerwoman who loses her child and kidnaps another. Fernández 1989 is the most cited in this group, as others use its author’s ideas of collective memory and feminism to expand the text. Saldívar 1997 applies narrative theory to the text and reads the liminal border space. Carbonell 1999 is essential to understanding how critics connect the image to a larger body of Chicana literary production, while Fernández 1989 and Swyt 1998 defend the author’s use of myth. Moore 1998 assesses the stylistic choices. Hamilton 2011 and Rodríguez 2008 take up the reading of Saldívar 1997 and apply some of the current movements in literary scholarship, cognitive theory, and transnationalism.

  • Carbonell, Ana María. “From Llorona to Gritona: Coatlicue in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros.” MELUS 24.2 (1999): 53–74.

    DOI: 10.2307/467699Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Foundational to understanding how Chicana writers redeem La Llorona by going back to the pre-conquest goddess Coatlicue—a force of destruction and creation. A radical reading of “The Cariboo Cafe” in suggesting that the women is abandoned by both her home country’s government and by the US government through abuse and neglect. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Fernández, Roberta. “‘The Cariboo Cafe’: Helena María Viramontes Discourses with Her Social and Cultural Contexts.” Women’s Studies 17.1–2 (1989): 71–85.

    DOI: 10.1080/00497878.1989.9978794Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the most often cited essays on Viramontes. Usefully applies Bakhtin’s principle of dialogism (intertextual dimensions) to the short story. The text engages the reader in signification, and the appearance of La Llorona works as “political collective memory” (p. 80). A clear and coherent postmodern reading. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hamilton, Patrick L. “Mapping Persistence in John Rechy’s The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gómez and Helena María Viramontes’s ‘The Cariboo Cafe.’” In Of Space and Mind: Cognitive Mappings of Contemporary Chicano/a Fiction. By Patrick L. Hamilton, 46–73. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011.

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    Chapter in a book-length study of the ways that Chicanos/as create spaces in opposition to the US nation. Compares Viramontes to Rechy to show how Chicanos persist despite continued racism and oppression. Provides a productive examination of layered spaces in “The Cariboo Cafe.” Applies cognitive theory.

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  • Moore, Deborah Owen. “La Llorona Dines at the Cariboo Cafe: Structure and Legend in the Work of Helena María Viramontes.” Studies in Short Fiction 35.3 (1998): 277–286.

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    Excellent stylistic analysis of the story. Comments on fractured plot, decentered narration, and overall narrative structure, leading to analysis of the implication of La Llorona.

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  • Rodríguez, Ana Patricia. “The Fiction of Solidarity: Transfronterista Feminisms and Anti-Imperialist Struggles in Central American Transnational Narratives.” Feminist Studies 34.1/2 (2008): 199–226.

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    Bases some of her commentary on Saldívar-Hull 2000, but is responding to critics like Ana María Carbonell (Carbonell 1999), who examines Viramontes’s cultural interpretation of La Llorona. As part of a study of feminism across hemispheric borders, argues that Viramontes has lost some of the figures of Central American resistance, which are necessary to understand political refugees. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Saldívar, José David. “On the Bad Edge of La Frontera.” In Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies. By José David Saldívar, 95–129. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

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    Applies narrative theory to “The Cariboo Cafe” to show how the narrative strategies reveal a shifting and shifty positionality of the washerwoman. Uses Viramontes’s story as part of a larger reading of border spaces and liminality. Very persuasive.

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  • Swyt, Wendy. “Hungry Women: Borderlands Mythos in Two Stories by Helena María Viramontes.” MELUS 23.2 (1998): 189–201.

    DOI: 10.2307/468019Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Refutes Roland Barthes’s ideas of mythic meanings as reductive process. Argues that Viramontes uses archetypes as figures of transgression that cannot be contained. Considers “The Broken Web” and “The Cariboo Cafe” along with La Malinche and La Llorona. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Under the Feet of Jesus

Critical reception for Under the Feet of Jesus has been largely positive, highlighting the multiple ways the story can be read, interpreted, and taught. Moya 2002 makes a strong argument that the novel should be placed in a social realist canon, not a Chicana literary canon. Most often, the novel is read as a bildungsroman in which Estrella comes of age in the fields through her relationship with her family and Alejo; Lim 2010 does a creative spin on this interpretation by examining education and bilingualism. A comparative reading of the novel as bildungsroman is Beck and Rangel 2009 (cited under Viramontes and Other Writers). Other readings address the issues of space and place in the novel, as Johannessen 2008 takes up where Lawless 1996 ends by arguing the way that real and imaginary events are connected in temporal memory. Rich in symbol and metaphor, the text invites semiotic readings such as Cooper 2010 or symbolic discussions as in Shea 2003. Many critics are rightly concerned with environmental issues and social justice, as Grewe-Volpp 2005, McEntyre 2007, and Ramírez-Dhoore 2010 reveal. Historical importance is evident in Shea 2003 and Johannessen 2008.

  • Cooper, Lydia. “‘Bone, Flesh, Feather, Fire’: Symbol as Freedom in Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus.” Critique 51 (2010): 366–377.

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    Semiotic reading of the text. Argues that the novel has been overstudied as a social justice novel. Particularly productive reading of the La Brea Tar Pits as unstable symbols of empowerment. Argues that most symbols in the text—the barn, the birds, Jesus—contain problematic subtexts when agency is assigned. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Grewe-Volpp, Christa. “‘The Oil Was Made from Their Bones’: Environmental (In)Justice in Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment 12.1 (2005): 61–78.

    DOI: 10.1093/isle/12.1.61Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Takes an ecocritical approach to the novel and links questions of the landscape and environment to the identification of a Chicano homeland, Aztlán. Effectively develops an argument about working conditions that spur activism and the development of Chicana feminist consciousness in the novel. Very effective argument regarding Estrella’s ability to challenge dualistic thinking. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Johannessen, Lene M. “The Meaning of Place in Helena María Viramontes’ Under the Feet of Jesus.” In Threshold Time: Passage of Crisis in Chicano Literature. By Lene M. Johannessen, 147–160. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2008.

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    Part of a larger study on the temporal elements in literature. Argues that Under the Feet of Jesus can be read as a bildungsroman but should not be given such a shallow reading. Fascinating argument about how the land creates memory for the characters.

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  • Lawless, Cecelia. “Helena María Viramontes’ Homing Devices in Under the Feet of Jesus.” Homemaking: Women Writers and the Politics and Poetics of Home. Edited by Catherine Wiley and Fiona R. Barnes, 361–382. New York: Garland, 1996.

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    Explores the idea of home in the novel through the barn and silences in the characters’ speech. Useful as one of the first critical essays to take up the spatial and temporal politics of Under the Feet of Jesus.

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  • Lim, Jeehyun. “Reimagining Citizenship through Bilingualism: The Migrant Bilingual Child in Helena María Viramontes’ Under the Feet of Jesus.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 38.1–2 (2010): 221–242.

    DOI: 10.1353/wsq.0.0221Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Casts the central question of the novel as how to understand Estrella’s citizenship and agency through language. Provides a compelling reading of the pitfalls of literacy and learning to read through the novel’s depiction of Estrella’s interest in her stepfather’s tools. Useful for those interested in how the novel deploys education or belonging to a community. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • McEntyre, Marilyn Chandler. “Sickness in the System: The Health Costs of the Harvest.” Journal of Medical Humanities 28.2 (2007): 97–104.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10912-007-9031-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares Under the Feet of Jesus to Cherríe Moraga’s Heroes and Saints (1994) in terms of themes of environmental causes of illness and the lack of support for the very poor from the health-care system. Springboards into this discussion from McEntyre’s experience teaching both texts in an undergraduate course on literature and medicine. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Moya, Paula M. L. “Reading as a Realist: Expanded Literacy in Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus.” In Learning from Experience: Minority Identities, Multicultural Struggles. By Paula M. L. Moya, 175–214. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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    Positions the novel in the social realism canon in the company of Faulkner and Steinbeck. Argues that the language (or lack thereof) in the text points to expanded notions of literacy and intervenes in the structuralist/post-structuralist debate. Most important, through literacy, Estrella develops new ways to interpret her unequal world.

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  • Ramírez-Dhoore, Dora. “Dissecting Environmental Racism: Redirecting the ‘Toxic’ in Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s Desert Blood and Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus.” In The Natural World in Latin American Literatures: Ecocritical Essays on Twentieth Century Writings. Edited by Adrian Taylor Kane, 175–195. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.

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    Makes a strong logical leap beyond ecocriticism of social justice in the text to examining the rhetoric of environmental contamination and toxins as it applies to people. Discusses both texts with regard to the presence of the laboring female body. Addresses myth of La Llorona to assess how children survive as a product of the mother’s response to oppression.

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  • Shea, Anne. “‘Don’t Let Them Make You Feel You Did a Crime’: Immigration Law, Labor Rights, and Farmworker Testimony.” MELUS 28.1 (2003): 123–144.

    DOI: 10.2307/3595249Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers an informative brief survey of the politics of migrant labor from the 1920s to the 2000s and situates Under the Feet of Jesus as a pivotal work that breaks stereotypes of the Mexicano/a and Chicano/a farmworker. A good discussion of the symbolism of the crowbar follows. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Their Dogs Came with Them

Because this novel is so recent (2007), not as much scholarship on it has emerged as on Viramontes’s earlier works. Length (336 pages) might also have an effect on scholars’ willingness to tackle the volume. Sedano 2007 has a good initial discussion of the politics of representing a racial community and the seedier elements within it, while Hsu 2011 approaches the text from an environmental justice standpoint, placing it within a body of ecocriticism of Viramontes’s work.

  • Hsu, Hsuan L. “Fatal Contiguities: Metonymy and Environmental Justice.” New Literary History 42.1 (2011): 147–168.

    DOI: 10.1353/nlh.2011.0007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Articulates a relationship between metaphor, metonymy, and Viramontes’s novels. Begins by pointing out the excessive use of metaphor, but then argues that these metaphors and the ensuing metonymy shore up a link between racism and environmental justice in the text. While Under the Feet of Jesus is commented on, the bulk of analysis is of Their Dogs Came with Them. Available online by subscription.

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  • Sedano, Michael. “Review: Their Dogs Came With Them.” La Bloga, 21 August 2007.

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    A good starting point for critical discussion of the novel, this review would be useful to teachers looking for a place to begin class discussion. Most importantly, notes that while the novel covers the 1960s (old ground in Chicano/a literature), it focuses on intimate personal lives rather than the movement (new ground in Chicano/a literature).

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Viramontes and Other Writers

Viramontes’s work, while many consider it Chicana feminist and compare it to other Chicana writers’ work, has also been compared to Chicano writers, white writers of the American South, and African American writers. Burford 2008 and Carbonell 1999 link Viramontes with other Chicana feminists, while Beck and Rangel 2009 compares her unfavorably with Tomas Rivera. Both Mujcinovic 2003 and Rodríguez 2001 situate her within a larger context of Latino/a literature and hemispheric identities. Androne 2007 and Franco 2002 make surprising and productive cross-racial comparisons, and Hewitt 2006 sees Viramontes as relatable to Flannery O’Connor.

  • Androne, Helane Adams. “Revised Memories and Colliding Identities: Absence and Presence in Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’ and Viramontes’s ‘Tears on My Pillow.’” MELUS 32.2 (2007): 133–150.

    DOI: 10.1093/melus/32.2.133Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Takes up the critical charge in ethnic studies to discover ways that texts can be compared cross-culturally. Successfully argues that there is an ethnic component to the ways that protagonists remember their mothers in the short stories. Argues that the mother is the connection to racial and ethnic identities. Good discussion of archetypes. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Beck, Scott A., and Dolores E. Rangel. “Representations of Mexican American Migrant Childhood in Rivera’s . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra and Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus.” Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe 29.1 (2009): 14–24.

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    Compares the two texts, arguing that Viramontes is retelling Rivera’s work from a feminist perspective. Surveys formalist, culturalist, and historical-dialectal approaches to the texts. Concludes that Rivera’s is more hopeful and superior from a literary perspective. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Burford, Arianne. “Cartographies of a Violent Landscape: Viramontes’ and Moraga’s Remapping of Feminisms in Under the Feet of Jesus and Heroes and Saints.” Genders 47 (2008).

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    Does a nice job of laying out the divisions at the heart of feminism. Discusses political and economic violence Anglo feminists might do inadvertently. A productive reading of the image of the Sun-Maid raisins in the text. Uses a spatial argument to root feminist interpretation.

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  • Carbonell, Ana María. “From Llorona to Gritona: Coatlicue in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros.” MELUS 24.2 (1999): 53–74.

    DOI: 10.2307/467699Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Foundational to understanding how Chicana writers reconfigure the La Llorona myth. Viramontes frequently compares herself to Sandra Cisneros in interviews, and this essay compares them thematically and critically. Argues that both writers redeem La Llorona by going back to the pre-conquest goddess Coatlicue—a force of destruction and creation. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Franco, Dean. “Re-Placing the Border in Ethnic American Literature.” Cultural Critique 50 (2002): 104–134.

    DOI: 10.1353/cul.2002.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Draws parallels with Jewish literature to show how “The Cariboo Cafe” reveals that US foreign policy is part of a border crossing that the ethnic subjects also undergo in the text. Interesting connection that considers the café owner, Reaganomics, and political refugees. Looks through a lens of American Jews’ assimilation in the West to assess concepts of home and diaspora. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hewitt, Avis. “‘Somebody to Shoot Her Every Minute of Her Life’: Maternity and Violent Death in Helena María Viramontes and Flannery O’Connor.” Flannery O’Conner Review 4 (2006): 12–26.

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    Compares the deaths of the mothers (who suffer as mothers) in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The Cariboo Cafe.” Draws comparisons between O’Connor and Viramontes and contains a good discussion of the use of triptych in both stories.

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  • Mujcinovic, Fatima. “Multiple Articulations of Exile in US Latina Literature: Confronting Exilic Absence and Trauma.” MELUS 28.4 (2003): 167–186.

    DOI: 10.2307/3595305Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares Viramontes’s “The Cariboo Cafe” to Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban and Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Argument centers on loss and erasure in conjunction with border crossings. Discusses the potential of overcoming the alienation of exile.

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  • Rodríguez, Ana Patricia. “Refugees of the South: Central Americans in the U.S. Latino Imaginary.” American Literature 73.2 (2001): 387–412.

    DOI: 10.1215/00029831-73-2-387Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Well-researched, sophisticated essay that heralds the hemispheric turn in American literary scholarship. Situates Viramontes as part of a tradition of US Latinos writing about and sympathizing with Central Americans. Does well to problematize this power difference. Available online by subscription.

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Teaching Viramontes

Because she is so widely anthologized, approaches to teaching Viramontes’s short stories and novels may be valuable to teachers. Lauter 1999 and Olsen 2000 observe ways to include shorter pieces by Viramontes, while McEntyre 2007 plugs into a larger tradition of seeing Viramontes as part of an environmental justice and health movement.

  • Lauter, Paul. “Teaching History through Immigration Stories.” OAH Magazine of History 13.2 (1999): 10–13.

    DOI: 10.1093/maghis/13.2.10Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Places Viramontes’s “The Cariboo Cafe” in an American Dream/immigration story context. Uses it alongside Upton Sinclair, Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Antin, and Edith Eaton, among others. Acknowledges the difficulty of the story with its perspective shifts, but remarks that it brings a contemporary view to these earlier texts. Suggests the versatility of Viramontes’s work in a classroom. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • McEntyre, Marilyn Chandler. “Sickness in the System: The Health Costs of the Harvest.” Journal of Medical Humanities 28.2 (2007): 97–104.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10912-007-9031-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Good suggestions for making these texts work with nursing or premed students. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Olsen, Kristin, et al. “Teacher to Teacher: What Novel, Short Story, or Poem Would You Recommend for Inclusion in a ‘Curriculum of Peace?’” English Journal 89.5 (2000): 22–25.

    DOI: 10.2307/822291Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gregory Shafer recommends Viramontes’s The Moths and Other Stories as a way of exploring dilemmas in identities for young people. He specifically offers strategies for “Growing” and “The Moths.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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LAST MODIFIED: 07/24/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199827251-0110

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