In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Chicano/a Poetry: 1965–2000

  • Introduction

Latino Studies Chicano/a Poetry: 1965–2000
Marta E. Sánchez
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0278


During the period spanning from 1965 to the early 2000s, the development of Chicano/a literature helped to define a transformative moment of US literature. The vernacular of two main languages—English and Spanish—was animated by poets and marked the inaugural moment of Chicano/a literature. Credit for initiating the modern period of this literature must also go to Luis Valdez’s teatro campesino. But the jump from theater to poetry is not far. Valdez’s energetic, improvised actos (one-act satirical plays) and mitos (one-act cultural myths) and his theatrical tour de force Zoot Suit carried elements of performance, orality, music, and song—all base qualities of poetry. Poetry is the point of origin and the thriving genre in the US American public sphere of modern Chicano letters. This article is divided into two parts. Part I: The Emergent Period (1960s–1980s) discusses the foundational works of Chicano Poetry. Part II: Beyond Aztlán (1990–2000s) notes the opening of Chicano literature to the formulation of new identities and perspectives.

Part I: The Emergent Period (1960s–1980s)

Poetry was the foundational genre of Chicano literature, the most preferable genre for expressing and promoting the “new” modern identity of the Chicano movement. Why was poetry the most preferred genre? The strength of oral song and poetry of greater Mexico; the long duration of the border ballad or corrido; the era’s preference for poetry readings and performance, which emphasized the poem as heard rather than read; poetry as a quicker, more compact artistic medium to spearhead a Chicano/a identity and to arrive more rapidly at a print collection of poems—all these reasons made poetry the most congenial genre of the Chicano movement for a community without strong representation in textual print culture. The new poetic identity was captured by the signifier “Chicano,” a word known in Mexican and Mexican American communities but that entered a US English lexicon for the first time. For the sons and daughters of farmworker and urban working-class families of the post–World War generation, it became an emblem of a “new” social and political consciousness, during an era of primarily nonviolent militancy, farmworker strikes and boycotts, the Black civil rights movement, and Vietnam campus and community protests. From 1965, the year that marks the beginning of the Chicano movement, to 1995, its thirty-year anniversary, Chicano/a poetry underwent significant developments. Poetry readings, energetic events in the 1970s, incentivized interest in reciting and writing poetry that produced sources for relevant textual material. A new, unique feature of this poetry was the overt alteration of English and Spanish in the same poem, or in bilingual face-to-face format—English on one side of the page, Spanish on the other side. The existence of newspapers, chapbooks, journals, and anthologies spread and popularized the first writings, as this generation attempted to “burst open” the exclusive “they” that mainstream society used to refer to them and turn it into an inclusive “we.” The constructed imagined reference “Aztlán” emerged as the master trope of a cultural nationalist strain to express a people’s longing for the stolen homeland that previously had belonged to Mexico. Together with emblems of La Raza (the folk), the barrio, and La Causa, Aztlán became this generation’s rallying cry. Journals emerged and proved major outlets for the diffusion and production of the literature. Following the incipient phase, Chicano literature becomes a legitimate area of academic study, making the Chicano generation the first to enter the Academy in a critical mass. A cadre of literary writers and scholars incorporate a corpus of poetic texts and literary criticism into an academic curriculum. Numerous scholarly articles and book-length critical studies on poetry are published by independent, university, and mainstream presses.

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