Méndez, Miguel 1930-
MÉNDEZ, Miguel 1930-
PERSONAL: Born June 15, 1930, in Bisbee, AZ; son of Francisco Méndez Cardenas (a farmer and miner) and Maria Morales; married Maria Dolores Fontes; children: Miguil Fontes, Isabel Cristina. Education: Attended schools in El Claro, Sonora, Mexico, for six years.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Arizona, Modern Languages, Tucson, AZ 85721.
CAREER: Writer. Went to work as an itinerant farm laborer along the Arizona-Sonora border at the age of fifteen; bricklayer and construction worker in Tucson, AZ, 1946-70; Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ, served as instructor in Spanish, Hispanic literature, and creative writing, beginning 1970; University of Arizona, Tuscon, AZ, instructor in Chicano literature, professor emeritus, Spanish and Portuguese.
MEMBER: Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.
AWARDS, HONORS: Honorary Doctor of Humanities, University of Arizona, 1984; Jose Fuentes Mares National Award of Mexican Literature, Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez, 1991; Creative Writing fellowship, Arizona Commission on the Arts, 1992.
(With others) Octavio I. Romano and Herminio Rios-C., editors, El Espejo/The Mirror, Quinto Sol, 1969.
Peregrinos de Aztlan (novel), Editorial Peregrinos, 1974, translation by David W. Foster published as Pilgrims in Aztlan, Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue (Tempe, AZ), 1992.
Los criaderos humanos y Sahuaros (poem; title means "The Human Breeding Grounds and Saguaros"), Editorial Peregrinos, 1975.
Cuentos para ninos traviesos: Stories for Mischievous Children (short stories; bilingual edition), translations by Eva Price, Justa (Berkeley, CA), 1979.
Tata Casehua y otros cuentos (short stories; bilingual edition; title means "Tata Casehua and Other Stories"), translations by Eva Price, Leo Barrow, and Marco Portales, Justa (Berkely, CA), 1980.
Critica al poder politico, Ediciones Universal (Miami, FL), 1981.
De la vida y del folclore de la frontera (short stories; title means "From Life and Folklore along the Border"), Mexican-American Studies and Research Center, University of Arizona (Tuscon, AZ), 1986.
El sueno de Santa María de las Piedras (novel), Universidad de Guadalajara, 1986, translation by David W. Foster published as The Dream of Santa María de las Piedras, Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue (Tempe, AZ), 1989.
Que no mueran los suenos, Era (Mexico), 1991.
Los Muertos También Cuentan, Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez (Chihuahua, Mexico), 1995.
Entre letras y ladrillos: autobiografia novelada, Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue (Tempe, AZ), 1996, translation by David William Foster published as From Labor to Letters: A Novel Autobiography, 1997.
Río Santacruz, Ediciones Osuna (Armilla, Granada), 1997.
El Circo que se perdió en el Desierto de Sonora, Fondo de Cultura Económica (Mexico), 2002.
Also author of El Hombre vibora; Pasen, lectores, pasen. Aqui se hacen imagenes (poems); Cuentos para ninos precoces (short stories); and Cuentos y ensayos para reir y aprender (title means "Stories and Essays for Laughing and Learning"), 1988. Contributor to periodicals, including La Palabra and Revista Chicano-Riquena. The spring-fall, 1981, issue of La Palabra is entirely devoted to Méndez' work.
SIDELIGHTS: Miguel Méndez has attracted the admiration of many critics with his richly poetic prose, his erudite language, and his depictions of the poor members of an uprooted society at odds with the Anglo-American culture that threatens their heritage. His first novel, 1974's Peregrinos de Aztlan (translated as Pilgrims in Aztlan in 1992), is considered a landmark in Chicano literature for its experimental use of Spanglish (a mixture of Spanish and English), its blending of mythology with social realism, and its attention to poor, itinerant farm workers who formed the bulk of early Mexican immigration to the United States.
Much of the author's work uses elements from his Spanish and Yaqui Indian heritages. The name Aztlan in Peregrinos de Aztlan, for instance, is taken from the mythic northern homeland of the Aztec Indians of Mexico, and is believed to have been somewhere in the southwestern United States. Loreto Maldonado, the main character of Peregrinos de Aztlan, who now wanders the streets of Tijuana, Mexico, making a living by washing cars, was once a revolutionary and served under Pancho Villa. The title character in "Tata Casehua," found in the short-story collection Tata Casehua y otros cuentos, is actually the hero warrior Tetabiate, and the story details his search for an heir to whom he can pass on his tribe's history. And Timoteo, a key character in the novel El sueno de Santa María de las Piedras, ventures across the United States in search of the earthly god Huachusey, apparently with success, as he is repeatedly told "What you say?" by Americans in answer to his questions about the creator of things he encounters.
Méndez also draws upon his personal past, growing up in a Mexican government farming community and later working in agriculture and construction, for his stories. "During my childhood," he told Juan D. Bruce-Novoa in Chicano Authors: Inquiry by Interview, "I heard many stories from those people who came from different places, and, like my family, were newcomers to El Claro. They would tell anecdotes about the [Mexican] Revolution, the Yaqui wars, and innumerable other themes, among which there was no lack of apparitions and superstitions. Those days were extremely dramatic. I learned about tragedy, at times in the flesh." When at the age of fifteen Méndez left Mexico to find work as an agricultural laborer in the United States, he met the exploited people who appear in his fiction—indigent workers, prostitutes, and Hispanics looking for jobs in the North, among others.
Another major component of the author's work is the oral tradition handed down by these poor people; indeed, Méndez sees their plight as one symptom of the loss of that tradition. "Familial, communal, ethnic, and national heritage, which once was preserved by word of mouth, is disappearing into silence," explained Bruce-Novoa. "At the same time, written history represents only the elite classes' vision of the past, ignoring the existence of the poor. Thus, as the poor abandon the oral preservation of their heritage and simultaneously embrace literacy, alienation and a sense of diaspora possess them. Méndez counterattacks through his writing, not only by revealing the threat to the oral tradition, but also by filling his written texts with oral tradition." The author's interest in reclaiming this lost tradition is evidenced in El sueno de Santa María de las Piedras, in which he "employs the narrative voice of five old Mexicans . . . in order to unfold the historical fragments of a fictitious, yet universal Mexican town in the Sonora desert between 1830 and 1987," remarked Roland Walter in Americas Review.
In 1997, the author's autobiography was published and translated into English as From Labor to Letters: A Novel Autobiography. In it Méndez recounts his extraordinary life, going from six years of grade school to manual labor to a university professor and acclaimed writer. Writing in Melus, Marco Portales noted, "Presenting himself as the subject of a Cinderella life that he alternately eschews and suggests, Méndez skillfully weaves a narrative from the warp and woof of this consciousness on the experiences he has amassed and imagined, everything in life serving as useful material for the ever-creating Chicano author." In his autobiography, Méndez weavers together passages that read like a diary with other sections that are written in stream-of-consciousness style. He ponders the hardships he experiences and his own doubts about his status as an author. He also talks about his love of life and academia. Portales praised Méndez as a "natural-born writer, an author who has worked and sacrificed to develop the talents with which he is endowed for writing stories and for detailing the seldom recorded and hard lives that Chicanos daily face in the Arizona-Mexico border region of the Mexican-American Southwest." The reviewer also noted that the author's "intuition and legacy is that time will continue to bring out the truth in his writings about the inner feelings and lives of Chicanos, and I believe his book hits the necessary target again."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Anaya, Rodolfo A., and Francisco A. Lomeli, editors, Aztlan: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, Academia/El Norte (Albuquerque, NM), 1989.
Bruce-Novoa, Juan D., Chicano Authors: Inquiry by Interview, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1980.
Martinez, Julio A., Chicano Scholars and Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Directory, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1979.
Rodriguez del Pino, Salvador, Interview with Miguel Méndez M., Center for Chicano Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1976.
Tatum, Charles M., Chicano Literature, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1982.
America, July 18, 1992, p. 42.
Americas Review, spring, 1990, Roland Walter, pp. 103-112.
Bloomsbury Review, March-April, 1994, pp. 3, 5.
Booklist, December 15, 1992, p. 719.
Denver Quarterly, fall, 1981, pp. 16-22; spring, 1982, pp. 68-77.
La Palabra, spring-fall, 1981, pp. 3-17, 50-57, 67-76.
Library Journal, March 15, 1993, p. 108.
Melus, spring, 1998, Marco Portales, review of From Labor to Letters: A Novel Autobiography.
Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1993, p. 83.*