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There are countless genres of literature throughout the world. From fiction, to nonfiction, biographies and autobiographies, they are all different. Yet they all share a common purpose which is to convey a message. Some pieces of literature known as autoethnographic texts are written to illustrate the hardships of people in contact zones. Contact zones are areas in which two different cultures meet and live in very different ways. This often creates an uneven power relationship between the two cultures. One culture will almost always have a greater legitimacy and is seen as dominant.
The other, in contrast, is much less significant and is seen as marginalized. A few examples of autoethnographic texts are Pocho by Jose Antonio Villarreal, …And the Earth Did Not Devour Him by Tomas Rivera and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. In all three texts, the protagonists are a part of a marginalized culture of Mexican Americans in the United States. In order to survive, the marginalized group must adapt and take on the ideals of the U. S. dominant culture. This presents many essential themes and gives a greater understanding of the protagonists’ lives as members of a marginalized group.
The primary themes portrayed in the novels Pocho by Jose Antonio Villarreal, …And the Earth Did Not Devour Him by Tomas Rivera and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros are machismo, religion and education. Machismo is an exaggerated sense of manliness. This is something that Mexican men didn’t take lightly during this time period. They all believed that as men they were entitled to machismo and full responsibility of their families. Sadly for Richard Rubio, who is the young protagonist in Pocho, this concept was a struggle for him to understand.
At one point, he fights a girl named Zelda and she chases him all the way home. Once Juan Rubio, his father, realizes what has happened to his son, he gives Richard a lesson on manliness. The narrator describes it like this, “Juan Rubio took his belt off and beat his son on the legs and buttocks with it. ‘Go out there! ‘ he said angrily. ‘I’ll show you what will happen to you any time you run from a girl! ” (Villarreal 68). Even though Richard goes back out and is beaten up again by Zelda, he learns “an important lesson” from his father. Richard is taught to stand up for himself like a man and that he cannot fear a girl.
Throughout the novel, Richard learns the importance of machismo. Sadly, the disrespect of woman was very common in this time period due to the overwhelming prevalence of machismo. With all of the power in the hands of men, there was often little say for women. Many were beaten, abused, and treated poorly by men. In the novel …And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, there is a prime example of machismo when a boy confronts his ex-girlfriend about her unfaithfulness. Here, Rivera writes, “I don’t care if we broke up or not. You’re gonna pay for this. Nobody makes a fool out of me.
You’re gonna pay for this one, one way or another. ” (Rivera 126). This passage shows the theme of machismo because the boy has no regard for the girl’s feelings. Even though the girl does not necessarily do anything wrong because they are broken up, in his eyes she has disrespected him. He believes that she must make up for the pain that she has caused him because she owes it to him as a man. This is a reoccurring theme in the novels because most of the men carry this persona with pride at all times. The household is likely to be a place where machismo is exposed and modeled in Mexican-American families.
Due to the stereotypical masculine father, machismo is present in many situations. This is evident in the text The House on Mango Street. One girl in the text, Sally, comes to school with bruises and scars because her dad abuses her at home. In this section, the reader is presented with conversations. Here, the author states, “But who believes her. A girl that big, a girl who comes in with her pretty face all beaten and black can’t be falling off the stairs…Sally doesn’t tell about the time he hit her with his hands just like a dog, she said…” (Cisneros 92).
Though everybody can guess what is going on with Sally, they fail to do anything about it other than gossip. The machismo mentality imposed discourages women from defending themselves. This makes a lot of the woman feel trapped in their lives because they believe they do not possess any free will. This text is a prime example of the struggles many woman face due to the machismo mentality. Religion is another theme revealed regularly in the texts. In the novel Pocho, a young Catholic boy named Richard is in the midst of figuring out the complexity of life and its ties with God.
As critic Ramon Saldivar writes in his essay, “Dialectics of Difference”, the protagonist has a “desire for an authentic existence” (77). This way of life is driven by Richard’s curiosity and spiritual influence. During a conversation with his mother, Richard is overwhelmed in the search for the answers of life and God. Here, the protagonist states, Last year I tried to reach Him… I used to go out into the orchards or the meadows and concentrate and concentrate, but I never saw Him or heard His voice or that of one of His angels.
And I was scared, because if He willed it so, I knew that the earth would open and it would swallow me up because I dared to demand explanations from Him. And yet I wanted so desperately to know that I found courage to do it. (Villarreal 65) In this passage, Richard confronts his uncertainty of God’s existence and power. He is unable to understand why God could allow such bad things to happen and demands an answer from Him. Eventually, Richard decides that he will never receive a legitimate response and must end this investigation of faith.
This example proves how greatly religion affects his childhood as he matures into a man. The theme of religion is revealed many times in …And the Earth Did Not Devour Him by Tomas Rivera. It becomes an important issue for the protagonist as a member of the struggling marginalized group. As reviewer Raymund Parades states in his original essay “The Evolution of Chicano Literature”, the boy is “embittered by a series of family tragedies” (30). As a result, the boy curses God expecting to be swallowed up by the earth, as his mother tells him he will be.
Instead, the protagonist feels more comforted and confident in himself than he ever has before. At this time, Rivera writes, “He felt as though he had become detached from everything. He no longer worried about his father nor his brother. All that he awaited was the new day, the freshness of the morning. ” (Rivera 111). The protagonist finally relieves himself from the anger in which he has been harboring inside. Instead of feeling a sense of guilt for the misfortune his family has encountered, he is able to accept everything that has happened and let it go.
This illustrates the beauty of religion for the people of the marginalized culture because sadly for some, it is the only thing they possess. The theme of religion is also shown many times in The House on Mango Street. In this text, religion is a substantial aspect in the people’s lives. Some, in fact, believe there is a greater being controlling their fate. This can be perceived as relieving for some, but it also can cause people to lose control of their lives. In one piece of the text, a young boy is acknowledging his place in Hell because he was told he was “born bad”.
Here, Cisneros writes, “Most likely I will go to hell and most likely I deserve to be there. My mother says I was born on an evil day and prays for me…I don’t know who decides who deserves to go bad” (Cisneros 58). This is a typical example of a boy contemplating his meaning of life based on religion. Many people in the marginalized culture are lower class but do not attempt to change this. Instead, they believe that because they pray things will get better for them without really doing anything. Many people become lethargic and forfeit their attempts at creating a better life for themselves and their families.
This often lead to a laid-back lifestyle that many people gave into. The last theme that is exposed frequently is the theme of education. In the text Pocho, education is repeatedly a problem in the household. This is due to the fact that Richard mainly speaks English while his parents can only speak Spanish. One time, Richard tries talking to his mother about college but she isn’t able to help him. She has to explain to Richard that she never had the opportunity for a good education like he has. In this scene, his mother states, “You see, we are simple people, your father and I.
We did not have the education, because we came from the poorest class of people in Mexico. Because I was raised by the Spanish people, I was taught to read and write. But that is all we can do, read and write. We cannot teach you the things that you want us to teach you…we cannot even talk to you in your own language. ” (Villarreal 61) The theme of education is shown here when Richard’s mother, Consuelo, explains to him that in Mexico, education was restricted to those only who were rich enough to afford it. This frustrates Richard because his mother doesn’t understand that money isn’t the issue.
Now that he lives in America, he was able to attend public schools for free. These opportunities allow Richard to view schooling as more of an opportunity to grow in a more personally productive manner. Being a part of the marginalized group, the people spend most of their time working and have little time for learning. This created an important theme of education which is shown numerous times in the text …And the Earth Did Not Devour Him. Some people are so uneducated that they don’t even know the geography of where they live.
In one scene, two Mexican Americans are discussing job opportunities as the conversation leads to an avoidable debate, “‘Compadre, do you plan to go to Utah? ‘ ‘No, compadre. I’ll tell you, we don’t trust the man that’s contracting people to go work in-how do you say it? ‘ ‘Utah. Why, compadre? ‘ ‘Because we don’t think there’s such a state. You tell me, when’ve you ever heard of that place? ‘ ‘Well, there’s so many states. And this is the first time that they’ve contracted for work in those parts. ‘ ‘Yeah, but tell me, where is it? ‘
‘Well, we’ve never been there but I hear it’s somewhere close to Japan. ” (Rivera 91) Since these men only spend their time on the fields working, they were never given the opportunity of proper schooling. This leads to the unnecessary dispute regarding the existence of Utah. Not only that, but the man who believes Utah is real thinks it is in a place far from where it really is. This shows how a lack of education affects the marginalized group and verifies that the theme of education is a very regular topic in the lives of these people. The theme of education is interpreted to be very significant to the marginalized group.
In contrast to the other texts, where education was much less important, The House on Mango Street glorifies the hardships of a person seeking an education. In the vignette “Alicia Who Sees Mice”, the protagonist Esperanza talks about her friend Alicia who is attending a university. Here, Cisneros writes, “Alicia, who inherited her mama’s rolling pin and sleepiness, is young and smart and studies for the first time at the university. Two trains and a bus, because she doesn’t want to spend her whole life in a factory or behind a rolling pin.
Is a good girl, my friend, studies all night and sees the mice, the ones her father says do not exist” (Cisneros 31). This quote accurately represents the theme of education because Alicia faces struggles every day. The reader can see how she is able to overcome the stress of having to ride two trains and a bus just to get to the university. The level of dedication shown here is much higher than the ones of the previous texts, where education was represented as having less value. As a result of Alicia’s situation, the reader is presented with the theme of education as it appears in the lives of Mexican-Americans in the 1940’s.
The most relevant themes revealed in the texts Pocho by Jose Antonio Villarreal, … And the Earth Did Not Devour Him by Tomas Rivera and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros were machismo, religion and education. In the heart of a contact zone the protagonists’ must live and adapt to the different American lifestyles that they are exposed to. As a part of the marginalized culture they begin a brand new life while also overcoming the many hardships brought their way. With the numerous different examples of autoethnographic text, these texts show the suffering of the early Mexicans in America in the 1940’s.
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