| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Rudolfo A. Anaya
Bless Me, Ultima (1972), Rudolfo Anaya’s first
novel, is the single literary work most responsible not only for introducing
American readers to Mexican American experience but for suggesting something of
its vast imaginative potential. Bless Me, Ultima compelled its readers to
discard the traditional American stereotype of Mexican American culture as
a minor regional phenomenon, a curious, even degraded blend of customs and
values drawn haphazardly from either side of the United States–Mexico border.
Anaya delineated instead a distinctive culture rooted in the rich traditions of
pre-Columbian aboriginal America and golden-age Spain. To be sure, Anaya’s
fictional terrain was a highly individualized and relatively remote region of
east-central New Mexico; nevertheless, Bless Me, Ultima had the effect of
validating Mexican American culture from California to Texas and beyond.
many first novels, Bless Me, Ultima contains various autobiographical elements.
Anaya is himself from east-central New Mexico, having been born in Pastura. He
attended school in nearby Santa Rosa and later in Albuquerque where he has
lived most of his adult life. He earned several degrees in English and guidance
and counseling and taught for seven years in the Albuquerque public schools.
Anaya had become director of counseling at the University of Albuquerque when
Bless Me, Ultima appeared. Two years later, in 1974, Anaya joined the faculty
of the University of New Mexico where he maintains an appointment as professor
Bless Me, Ultima, Anaya has published a steady sequence of novels, short
stories, plays, and even a travel book entitled A Chicano in China. Despite the
subject of this last book, Anaya retains his fascination with New Mexico, its
clash and blending of cultures and its unique qualities as a setting for the
engagement of fundamental religious and moral questions. His most recent works
perfectly illustrate the range of his interest in his native state. The drama
“Matachines” explores the cultural meaning of a ritual dance combining Moorish,
Spanish, and Indian elements; the novel Alburquerque (spelled as in the
original Spanish) concerns a young man’s search for his father against the
backdrop of a city losing its cultural moorings and beset by urban problems.
None of Anaya’s subsequent writing has matched either the appeal or the power
of his first novel.
Me, Ultima focuses on the experiences of Antonio Marez as he begins school at
the conclusion of World War II. As the last of four sons in the family, Antonio
carries the burden of his parents’ increasingly desperate hopes. His mother, of
a sedentary, tradition-bound clan of farmers, wishes Antonio to become a priest
to absolve the indiscretions of one of her forebears. The father, equally alert
to tradition, wants his son to maintain the vaquero customs of his family, most
notably their fierce independence and self-reliance. As the battlelines for the
control of Antonio’s destiny are drawn, the revered Ultima appears to nurture
the boy in her own extraordinary way. Ultima is a curandera, a folk healer who
joins the Marez household ostensibly to merely live out the rest of her days.
Under Ultima’s tutelage, Antonio flourishes and begins preparations to fulfill
his true destiny: to write, record, and thus preserve the traditions of his
father’s and mother’s families alike.
Me, Ultima is a novel rich in folklore. Anaya appropriates legends such as La
Llorona (the crying woman), folk medicine, and superstition to convey a feeling
of Mexican American culture in rural New Mexico. For Antonio, the folklore
transmitted to him by Ultima serves as the very core of his cultural identity.
the passage from Bless Me, Ultima presented in the book, Antonio recalls events
surrounding his first communion. Even as a very young boy, Antonio has doubts
about the Catholic church, its morbid emphasis on sinfulness, the
unintelligibility of some of its practices, its inability to justify God’s
treatment of his friend Florence who, just a boy himself, has already lost his
parents and watched helplessly as his older sisters drifted into prostitution.
Already, Antonio finds himself attracted to the stories of the Golden Carp, a
local, pagan symbol of benevolence. But for all his growing doubts, Antonio is
still very much the product of his mother’s religious training and so, for now,
he acquiesces and participates in the church’s rituals.
Raymund A. Paredes|
University of California, Los Angeles
In the Heath Anthology
Bless Me, Ultima
Heart of Aztlan
The Silence of the Llano: Short Stories
The Legend of La Llorona
The Adventures of Juan Chicaspatas
A Chicano in China
Lord of the Dawn: The Legend of Quetzalcoatl
The Season of La Llorona (play)
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Rudolfo A. Anaya
A biography, a list of primary and secondary texts, and student comments on Anaya.
Stop, You're Killing Me!
Provides a list of Anaya's major books and a link to biographical facts.
World Literature in English: Review
A review of Anaya's Jalamanta originally published in World Literature Today