In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section American Southwestern Literature

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Enduring Native American Indigenous Influence
  • Exploration, Settlement, and Nation-Building
  • Legend, Myth, and History: Folklore Across Literary Borders
  • Memoir and Poetry
  • Fiction and Drama
  • Transnational Borderlands Studies

Latino Studies American Southwestern Literature
Lydia CdeBaca-Cruz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0272


If there can be said to exist any single defining feature of Latine literature of the American Southwest, its shifting, overlapping, and often conflicting colonial, indigenous, and national histories emerge as the primary contender. These histories continue to exert influence on the literature of the region. It is a literature that speaks with the multilayered voice of a people at once indigenous and migrant, a voice responding to Spanish, Mexican, and US powers yet defined not as response but rather a variable and fluid emergent expression in its own right. Defining the expanse of the region itself depends heavily on the historical period and national context under consideration. Generally speaking, the American Southwest is demarcated from the current boundaries of the US-Mexico border to the south, Texas to the east, California to the west, and Colorado, Utah, and Nevada in the north. Although literature from throughout this region, as well as what Américo Paredes termed “Greater Mexico,” exerts an influence in the study of Latine literature of the American Southwest, much scholarship has focused on the literature from Texas, New Mexico, and California, as well as from those communities in close proximity to the U.S-Mexico border as defined after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ended the US-Mexican War in 1848. Defining “literature” poses an additional challenge to the discussion of literature of the American Southwest, as the culture of the Southwest has so often been defined by the folk expressions of its various inhabitants. Traditional literary genres thus often share boundaries with folklore and song, blurring border lines and, at times, crossing over into the realm of the anthropological. Indeed, in the history of Chicane studies, scholars have often crossed disciplinary divides between literature, folklore studies, and anthropology. The study of Latine literature of the American Southwest is thus as expansive as the landscape itself and as multifaceted as its unique history.

General Overviews

Spanning the breadth of southwestern literary history as well as a variety of theoretical lenses, overviews of Latine literature of the American Southwest often begin with one of two focal points: Aztlán as the mythical homeland or the Spanish colonial Southwest. Frequently, the two intertwine, although rarely do authors address the contradiction maintained in discrete discussions of each font of contemporary southwestern literature. Nevertheless, as these overviews—and borderlands literature in general—demonstrate, maintaining contradiction or tension in balance is a central feature of borderlands writing. Indeed, the very story of Aztlán, the mythical homeland of the Aztec-Mexicas believed to have existed in the US Southwest, demonstrates these tensions as the narrative of the Aztec migration to Tenochtítlan was manufactured by the 15th-century ruler Itzcoatl to strengthen Mexica legitimacy as the Triple Alliance between Tenochtítlan, Tetzcoco, and Tlacopan emerged as an imperial power in Mexico. As traced in the collection of essays edited by Rudolfo Anaya (Anaya, et al. 2017), the mythical nature of the place does not diminish the political or historical work that Aztlán has exerted over at least five centuries. The irony that Aztlán served as an origin point for a migration story is not lost on those who recognize its symbolic mobilization in the effort to define and reclaim Chicane indigeneity. After the fashion of the “Aztec palimpsest” for which Daniel Alarcon (writing in Anaya, et al. 2017) argues in his essay of the same name in Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, María Herrera Sobek (Herrera-Sobek 1993) develops a revised historical narrative of her own by reclaiming literature written in Spanish during the colonial period in the region that would, after the US-Mexican War (1846–1848) become the US Southwest. Herrera Sobek’s work sets the stage for the mestizaje of identities and literature that comes to define Chicane literature of the Southwest, blending its indigenous, Spanish, and, ultimately US roots. Calderón and Saldívar 1991 explores the tensions and contradictions that emerge in this literature as it resonates with a cultural voice that comes into its own by the mid- to late-twentieth century. Calderón 2004 continues this exploration with a focus on the development of narrative innovations in Chicane literature of the Southwest, tracing narrative engagements with the various borderlands, national, imperial, and indigenous influences the land has exerted on its storytellers. More recently, in his introduction to a special issue of American Book Review focused on “The Latino West,” Dagoberto Gilb (Gilb 2011) highlights the tensions and contradictions of viewing the US Southwest as part of American history and the American landscape without recognizing its Mexican roots or contemporary reality. Surveying the rise and evolution of Chicane literature, he turns his attention to the contradictory identities of contemporary writers who may or may not speak Spanish, who dream of traveling to New York City as much as to Mexico City, and whose literary forebears span the globe and history. Many of these emergent writers are authors of the reviews in this special issue and provide an updated glimpse into the future of the Latino West, a future in which Brown is an inescapable contour on the Southwest literary landscape.

  • Anaya, Rudolfo, Franciso Lomelí, and Enrique R. Lamadrid, eds. Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland. Rev. and exp. ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017.

    This collection of essays by historians, literary critics, authors, and anthropologists chronicles the various uses to which the idea, mythology, legend, and history of Aztlán has been put, from Mexican cartographers seeking to chronical the geopolitical space of the mythical homeland of the Aztecs to the marshalling of the idea of Aztlán in the service of Chicano nationalism.

  • Calderón, Héctor. Narratives of Greater Mexico: Essays on Chicano Literary History, Genre, & Borders. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.

    Each essay focuses on a particular author positioned in his or her respective state, borderlands position vis-à-vis Mexico, and/or historical period. Essays move from tracing the history of the borderlands from the Spanish Southwest through Paredes’s “Greater Mexico,” to exploring authors from Rodolfo Anaya and Tomás Rivera to Cherríe Moraga and Sandra Cisneros.

  • Calderón, Héctor, and José David Saldívar. Criticism in the Borderlands: Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822382355

    Reframes American literary and cultural studies from the position of the Southwest and Mexican American literature and cultural production as central—rather than peripheral—sites of American studies.

  • Gilb, Dagoberto. “La Próxima Parada Is Next.” In Special Isssue: The Latino West. American Book Review 32.3 (2011): 3–5.

    DOI: 10.1353/abr.2011.0071

    An introduction to the special issue of American Book Review dedicated to “The Latino West” and temporarily renamed Mexican American Book Review for this issue. The issue features emergent Mexican American authors and creatives reviewing contemporary works of Latine literature from throughout the US West and Southwest, highlighting the complexity, heterogeneity, and cultural intersectionality of Mexican American identities.

  • Herrera-Sobek, Maria, ed. Reconstructing a Chicana/o Literary Heritage: Hispanic Colonial Literature of the Southwest. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993.

    A collection of Chicana/o literature scholars that considers the historical-literary forebears of 20th-century Chicano/a literature by examining writings in Spanish by explorers, friars, poets, and dramatists as their texts and performances came to express and articulate a regional identity in the Southwest.

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