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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Victor Hernández Cruz
(b. 1949)

Born in Aguas Buenas, a small mountain town in Puerto Rico, Víctor Hernández Cruz moved with his family to the States when he was five. He attended Benjamin Franklin High School in New York City and was associated with The Gut Theater on East 104th Street. He published Snaps, his first collection of poetry, when he was twenty. From the early 1970s, Hernández Cruz lived in San Francisco; in 1990 he returned to Aguas Buenas, where he continues to write in both English and Spanish.

His poetry has been described as “the most conscious of literary forms, and the most influenced by present tendencies in American literature” among Puerto Rican writers in the United States. It is, indeed, highly introspective and abstract, preoccupied with form, rhythm, and language. His poems lack the referential context to popular culture and life in El Barrio which characterizes the work of Tato Laviera and Miguel Algarín, for example. Rather, his intellectualizing voice exhibits influences of various literary movements, such as minimalism and concrete poetry, among others. Nonetheless, his poems and prose pieces capture Hispanic images and symbols in the urban milieu.

One distinguishing feature of Hernández Cruz’s poetry is its conscious language choices. The poet plays with both English and Spanish words, with spelling and phonetics, suggesting at times simultaneous American and Puerto Rican readings. The title of his book By Lingual Wholes illustrates his playful and witty use of language. By Lingual echoes the word “bilingual,” and the concept wholes, which implies both totality and absence—(w)holes—unifies the poems in this collection. The book itself is a collage in which spatial and visual signs are part of the poem’s meaning, as they are in the work of the Brazilian concrete poets. Poetry and prose are intertwined with one-word poems, haikus, short stories, prose poems, and an empty appendix. The epigraph to the book signals this playful yet serious hybridization: “Speech changing within space.”

Hernández Cruz’s vision of the transformation of literary English because of its contact with Spanish is his unique contribution to American literature. Just as Spanish in the States has been transforming itself into the distinct dialects of the various Hispanic groups who live here, English also has been affected by Hispanic writers. Hernández Cruz believes that the English syntax is being changed through the Spanish influence. His work is substantially enriched by the mixture and interplay of the two languages, and by the meaningful intersections between English and Spanish. However, in Panoramas, he proposes that English and Spanish not be mixed.

His poetry has evolved from the fragmented and often violent images of urban life, experiences with drugs, and existential beliefs during his youth—as in Snaps—to a dynamic and sometimes profound expression of biculturalism and bilingualism. Cosmopolitan and urban, his poetry stands without sacrificing images of Hispanic origin, culture, and tradition. His is the language of the urban, intellectual Latino who nevertheless cannot survive without transforming the past into the present.

Frances R. Aparicio
University of Illinois at Chicago

In the Heath Anthology
urban dream (1969)
Mountain Building (1982)
Table of Contents (1982)

Other Works
Snaps (1969)
Mainland (1973)
Tropicalization (1976)
By Lingual Wholes (1982)
Rhythm, Content and Flavor (1989)
Red Beans (1991)

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Home Is Where the Music Is
A review of Panoramas.
Cross Connect
Etext of Cruz's kobayashi issa.
Victor Hernandez Cruz
Includes a biographical sketch, selecte d bibliography, and photograph.

Secondary Sources

Frances Aparicio, "On Sub-versive signifiers" in Tropicalizations, 1997

Edna Acosta Belen, "The Literature of the Puerto Rican National Minority in the United States," 5:12 The Bilingual Review (Jan.-August 1978): 107-116

Arnaldo Cruz, "Teaching Puerto Rican Authors: Modernization and Identity in Nuyorican Literature," ADE Journal published by The Modern Language Association, December, 1988

William Luis, Dance between Two Cultures: Latino Caribbean Literature Written in the U.S., 1997

Where Poems Come From (video), 1991

Marc Zimmerman, U.S. Latino Literature: An Essay and Annotated Bibliography, 1992