Rudolfo “Rudy” Añaya is one of the most celebrated of Chicano authors. His coming of age novel, Bless Me Ultima is perhaps the most widely read novels by a United States born Spanish surnamed author. The National Education Association recommended the novel as the book to read in 2008. LATINOPIA asked Rudolfo Añaya about the oral tradition in New Mexico and how an appreciation of this led him to write his landmark novel.
IN HIS OWN WORDS:
Well, when you speak of the Chicano experience in this country, you have to remember that our literature is in the form of the oral tradition. That we had a really rich material of cuentos and songs, corridos, refranes, dichos, adivinanzas, so we did have the literature, it’s called an oral tradition. We’re not in the library reading about our people, about our community. We’re hearing it at home, everybody that comes to visit tells stories.
Storytelling is part of our inheritance. And I think that’s where I get my sense of being a storyteller, it wasn’t at school. We didn’t depend on the school system, we depended on our culture and what was at home.
All of my work has to do with the people of New Mexico and the place. It’s the people and the place that have inspired me. So when I say I was born in Pastura, a little village on the llano of eastern New Mexico, that’s going to be part of what I write about. When we moved to Santa Rosa and I grow up, that’s my hometown, a town that has a lot of water around it. It’s got Pecos River, artesian wells that come up, it has beautiful little streams, it has lakes, all of that will influence me because as a boy.
I’d run around the river, to the lakes, go fishing, and then began to get a sense very early of what I call the spirit of the place. That both people and place are imbued with a spirit and that as a child I felt it and I heard it. It became part of me. It was at times La Llorona, at times El Cucuy, and at times it was something else. What I call in Bless Me Última, the essence of the river is the soul of the river. Place has soul.
Well when I started writing, a great deal of my search was personal. I think, most of art, music or poetry or stories are a reflection of our human nature, what we’re going through. What we have experienced and what we what we see in life around us and so for me it was starting to write Bless Me Última and looking at my childhood, looking back, and asking what formed me, what made me who I am.
If the world is animated, how does that spirit work? What does it mean to me? And trying to write Bless Me Última, it was great deal reflecting my childhood but I think very quickly what I learned to do, to go deeper and begin to try to make sense of the symbols and the images that seem to be coming in as I wrote the story. Seem to be part of me that I couldn’t explain.
You know, I had read a lot of literature, as a student, but somehow it didn’t speak to the real essence of who I was at that time and so writing became an exploration, a journey. Trying to put together all those strands that seemed to be affecting me and it wasn’t just that I came from a Hispanic family in New Mexico. My family spoke Spanish, they were Catholic, the extended family, all the tíos and the tías uh spoke Spanish. So I knew that history. But then some of the symbols were speaking of another part of my history.
And I think those have been the Native American inheritance, so the golden carp comes out of a mythology, it comes out of world mythology , it comes out of personal mythology, in other words, I have seen the beauty in nature and it’s embodied in this beautiful fish that swam in those rivers that I hunted as a child. And so I began to pull everything in the novel– all the indo-hispano, the history, the tragedies of the people, the poverty that was there. And, along with that a kind of beauty I think that can only come when one indulges in that imagination, in that creative imagination.
The individual search parallels the communal search. Individual identity is tied into the community identity. They work back and forth. My community formed me, gave me life, nurtured me. Gave me a language, gave me a creative imagination when I heard the cuentos of my grandfather of my parents of the vecinos who came to visit. They were feeding me and so I had to respond and create out of what they gave me. So it’s a two way street.
The community is me, I am the community. And the community is bigger than just raza. It’s bigger than just the Chicanos, it’s a world community because of the mythology, because of legend. Once you have the mythology that we, as Chicanos look for in the 60’s, the Aztec legends. Aztlán, Quetzalcoatl, Huitchilopochtli , the whole idea of migration. Once we tie into that, we’re tying into world mythology, and it’s been there all along.
In the Chicano community in the United States, we hadn’t quite developed the contemporary literature and that’s what we did during the Chicano movement. And we were giving our identity back to the community and telling them, it came from you. And once you have that metaphor, that meaning, I think that’s why the community, the Chicanos, responded to Bless Me Última. They were saying , Ah! This guy is one of us, you know!
BOOKS BY RODOLFO ANAYA:
THE MAN WHO COULD FLY UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS, 2006
CURSE OF THE CHUPACABRA UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS, 2006
JEMEZ SPRING UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS, 2005
THE SANTERO’S MIRACLE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS,. 2004
SERAFINA’ STORIES UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS, 2004
ELEGY ON THE DEATH
OF CÉSAR CHÁVEZ CINCOS PUNTOS PRESS, 2000
ROAD RUNNER’S DANCE HYPERION PRESS, 2000
SHAMAN WINTER WARNER BOOKS, 1999
ABUELA HYPERION PRESS, 1998
JALAMANTA: A MESSAGE
FROM THE DESERT WARNER BOOKS, 1996
RIO GRANDE FALL WARNER BOOKS , 1996
ZIA SUMMER WARNER BOOKS, 1995
THE ANAYA READER WARNER BOOKS, 1995
THE FAROLITOS OF
CHRISTMAS HYPERION PRESS, 1995
ALBURQUERQUE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS, 1992
LORD OF THE DAWN UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS, 1987
A CHICANO IN CHINA UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS, 1986
LEGEND OF LA
LLORONA QUINTO SOL PUBLICATIONS, 1984
THE SILENCE OF
THE LLANO QUINTO SOL PUBLICATIONS, 1982
TORTUGA JUSTA PUBLICATIONS, 1979
HEART OF AZTLÁN JUSTA PUBLICATIONS, 1976
BLESS MY ULTIMA QUINTO SOL PRESS, 1972
You can purchase many of these books from Arte Publico Press ( www.artepublicopress.com ) and Bilingual Review Press (www.asu.edu/brp).