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

Mario Suárez
(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.

Suárez 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 talent emerged.

Always 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.

The 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
El Hoyo (1960)
Kid Zopilote (1960)
Senor Garza (1960)

Other Works

Cultural Objects
Text fileThe 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."

Secondary Sources

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