| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
(1925 - 1998)
Mario Suárez is probably the first contemporary
“Chicano” writer. He used the term, with pride and humor, to refer to urban
Mexican Americans when the term was widely regarded, both inside and outside
the Mexican American community, as derogatory. Suárez’s primary setting was “El
Hoyo” (The Hole), the barrio in Tucson where he was born and raised. “El Hoyo”
is inhabited by a colorful array of characters who represent the range of
Chicano culture and experience: Señor Garza, who closes his barbershop when a
rush of business interferes with the “idle gossip” he so much enjoys with his neighbors;
Gonzalo Pereda, who laments his sons’ preference for baseball over the Mexican
pastime of cockfighting; Pepe García, a young man who becomes a zoot suiter,
complete with bright plumed hat, oversized jacket, and tapered pants, after a
memorable summer in Los Angeles. In only a handful of stories, Suárez
chronicled the urban acculturation of Mexican Americans in the 1930s and 1940s
more perceptively and authentically than anyone, including John Steinbeck.
was the first of five children born to an immigrant couple, Francisco, from the
Mexican state of Chihuahua, and Carmen Minjárez Suárez, from Sonora, across the
border from Arizona. After an undistinguished high school career in Tucson,
Mario joined the U.S. Navy, serving during World War II on patrol off the New
Jersey coast and on various assignments in Brazil. After his discharge, he
returned to Tucson and enrolled in the University of Arizona, where his writing
an avid reader, Suárez was drawn to John Steinbeck, especially his Tortilla
Flat (1935), a chronicle of the primitive—and, ultimately, clueless—paisanos of
Monterey, California. Startled that Mexican Americans and other Latinos could
be figures of interest to an eventual Nobel Prize winner, Suárez determined to
present a more nuanced view of Mexican American life drawn from his own
experience. His stories began to appear in Arizona Quarterly in 1947 while he
was still an undergraduate. Suárez subsequently worked as a journalist and
college teacher. Although he continued to compose stories and novels, after his
Arizona Quarterly sketches, only one story reached publication.
three stories collected here display Suárez’s literary skills: his casually
fluent, engaging style, his sharply and concisely drawn characters, and his
ability to identify the small behaviors, institutions, and practices that
define a culture. In “El Hoyo,” Suárez notes the symbolic importance of
capirotada, a Mexican dish that consists of leftovers from the night before and
represents the diversity and contradictions of barrio life. In “Señor Garza,”
Suárez marks the limits of capitalism for at least one Chicano with these
closing lines: “Garza, a philosopher. Owner of Garza’s Barber Shop. But the
shop will never own Garza.” And in “Kid Zopilote,” Suárez poignantly chronicles
the experiences of a young pachuco (zoot suiter) struggling to forge an
identity from the elements of two cultures, Mexican and American, long
antagonistic to one another.
Raymund A. Paredes|
University of California, Los Angeles
In the Heath Anthology
The Barrio and Urban Redevelopment
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"Chicano: the term and its meanings"
An article which cites Suárez's "El Hoyo" as it defines "Chicano."
J. Allen Englekirk, "Mario Suárez" in Francisco A. Lomeli and Carl R. Shirley, eds., Chicano Writers: First Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography v.82. Detroit: Gale Research, 1989
Raymund A. Paredes, "The Evolution of Chicano Literature," MELUS (Summer 1978):71-110