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What Chicano Literature Taught Me

The longer I've been on my college journey, the more I feel well-versed in what the community college system offers. I've been through and completed a STEM program, and I've been through and completed a humanities program. So, "senioritis" manifested as a somewhat ugly self-assuredness when I set myself up for a semester of electives as a cushy send-off. Little did I really know how much things could change in only thirteen weeks.

When I took Chicano Lit., I learned more about my culture than ever before. I was astonished and humbled at my previous ignorance, as I grew up in a blended household as a Chicano myself. Still, there was so much more to learn.

Historical Background & Discourse

One of the first things you'll face with a Chicano studies course is establishing a baseline of familiarity. Briefly going over what our culture was like pre-colonization (before the word Chicano was a twinkle in anyone's eye!) and the ripple effects in different areas afterward.

My course focused on southern North America, northern South America, going down to Guatemala and up to Mexico, and the cultures that have since popped up along "the border.”" Chicano populations are nearly everywhere in America, but certainly predominantly in these regions and along the west coast.

While I brought my perspective to the table in my responses to assignment prompts, I truly cherished getting to read responses from others, Chicano or otherwise. I learned from our assigned readings about events and key figures I'd never heard of before! These histories inform the background of the literature of the people I come from; they contribute to the uniqueness of everything from folklore to memoirs. Speaking of which….

Folklore, Short Stories, Poetry, Oh My!

As with any literature course, there was – of course – tons of reading! Which, I know, for some people, may sound like a tall mountain to climb. However, what made the journey so much easier was that, nearly every week, my instructor would switch things up on us. Newspaper articles, opinion columns, personal essays, academic journal entries – you name it! All varied in length and, generally, in opinion. By including different generations of study into one class, prepared me to understand the scope of Chicano Lit. as a field of exciting expertise. My favorite assigned reading was a collection of short stories, "Eat the Mouth That Feeds You" by Caribbean Forgoza; I'd urge anyone to rush out and read it, if they're not too squeamish. It's technically a horror collection in some ways, or at the very least uncanny and uncomfortable. I think "The Twilight Zone" is an apt enough comparison – Forgoza throws intense and challenging situations at the reader, almost all of which left me feeling dazed and hungry for more.

Recommended Reading

  • Poetry: "Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff" by Sara Borias

  • Memoir: "Children of the Land" by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

  • Drama: "Zoot Suit and Other Plays" by Luis Valdez

  • Short Fiction: "Eat the Mouth That Feeds You" by Caribbean Forgoza

Final Thoughts

By the end of my time in Chicano Lit., I was also asked to reflect on my journey with my instructor, Juan Guzman; and I can safely say I feel comfortable highlighting him in specific as an SCCCD instructor worth seeking out.

Chicano Lit not only taught me more about my own culture but about what it meant to grow as a student. Taking this course, I felt comfortable experimenting in my responses, taking up alternative assignments, and going beyond the essay to show what I'd learned through different mediums, such as poetry and reviews. Being able to "breathe" academically enabled me to write some of my favorite responses and read some of my favorite new literature from a genre I care more and more about as time passes.

But it doesn't have to be just me that feels this way. If you have the chance next semester — take Chicano Literature, and start a new chapter of your academic career.

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