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

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith
(b. 1929)

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, son of a Mexican American father and an Anglo-American mother, is a product of the Mexican-U.S. border’s cultural synthesis. He grew up in the southern Rio Grande valley of Texas, where Spanish and English still compete for dominance. His paternal family roots in Texas go back to the 1740s, predating the U.S. annexation by a century. Justifiably, there is no sense of immigration in him, but rather one of legitimate ownership and belonging. After serving in the Korean conflict and then completing a doctorate in Spanish literature, he held several teaching assignments, including Chairman of Chicano Studies at Minnesota. In the early 1980s he switched academic departments to become a professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at Austin.

Hinojosa’s books form a multi-volumed story that, through the life of two cousins, relates the history of a fictional South Texas county of Belkin. His main preoccupation is the survival of what he calls Texas-Mexican Border Culture despite constant repression by the economically dominant Anglo-Texans in league with some traitorous Mexican Americans. History itself becomes a battleground for conflicting versions of the past, and the Tex-Mex communal oral tradition is revealed as more reliable than the official written texts, the latter being controlled by the Anglo-American colonizers, who manipulate historical records, as they do the legal and academic systems, to assure a favorable status quo. His work resembles a vast detective novel, with social protest overtones, in which the neglected truth of Texas history is sought through the fragmented memories of numerous witnesses. The villains and criminals are the invaders and their stooges, the Texas Rangers. The original Mexican inhabitants are the plaintiffs; and the narrator, who constantly cedes the word to others, is like an investigative reporter gathering evidence to slowly piece together into an indictment of oppression.

Concern for the oral tradition explains both Hinojosa’s conversational tone and the constant intercalations of documents, testimony, and transcriptions of oral memoirs. Writing must remain faithful to the people it reflects and to their traditional form of expression, the spoken word. His texts engage the dominant culture’s repressive writing, juxtaposing it to oral versions. Hence, the framing newspaper notes that not only persist in repeating what the oral evidence disproves, but reveal, through the errata, the written media’s callous indifference to Chicanos. This conflict between the written and the oral, as well as the need to make writing embody suppressed traditions, is a key to understanding not only Chicano writing, but that of many marginal groups as they begin to produce a literature.

Juan Bruce-Novoa
University of California at Irvine

In the Heath Anthology
Sometimes It Just Happens That Way; That's All (1983)

Other Works
Estampas del Valle y otras obras/Sketches of the Valley and Other Works (1973)
Klail City y sus alrededores (1976)
Generaciones y semblanzas (1977)
Korean Love Songs (1978)
Mi querido Rafa (1981)
Rites and Witnesses (1982)
Partners in Crime (1986)
Becky and Her Friends (1990)

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Crossing Literary Borders
An interview conducted by Barbara Strickland for The Austin Chronicle.

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith
A biographical article from The Bakersfield Californian.

Secondary Sources