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Rudolfo Anaya: Heart of Aztlan

While not up to the standards of Bless Me, Ultima, this is still not a bad book and deserves to be better known. As with Bless Me, Ultima, while there is a plot and concerns about the everyday life of Chicanos and the prejudice and difficult economic conditions they face, Anaya is just as much concerned with the soul of the people, represented by the mythical Aztlan. For him, this is the key to Chicano well-being and community and how they, as a people, can survive.

The story concerns Clemente Chávez and his family, his wife Adelita, his sons, Jason and Benjamín (Benjie) and his daughters, Juanita and Ana. As in Bless Me, Ultima, the daughters play a minimal role, except to show the changing role of the generations and the greater freedom children of both sexes expect to have. At the beginning of the book, they are leaving the rural town of Guadalupe and moving to the Barelas suburb of Albuquerque. Clemente has debts from his father and brother and the only way to pay them is to sell the family farm and move to Barelas, where his eldest son, Roberto, already lives with his wife, Rita. The move is relatively easy and they are able to rent a house near to Roberto’s house. Clemente gets a temporary job at the railroad. However, the first day, when Jason brings him his lunch, Jason sees a man called Sánchez killed because of unsafe equipment. Clemente, however, benefits, getting Sánchez’ job.

Benjie soon gets in a with a bad crowd. Jason starts an affair with Cristina, daughter of one of the richest men in the area but also gets in a fight with the local thug, defending Benjie. Much of the novel concerns Jason’s attempt to stay clean and focused while Benjie gets into more trouble, though Jason’s crowd do not always behave well. At the railroad things are getting bad for the workers, with layoffs due to a recession and a corrupt union. Lalo, a left-wing agitator, tries to start a strike but people are too concerned about their jobs. Clemente is fired for hitting the corrupt union boss. It looks as though the novel will drift along though there have been hints of the old ways, with Crispín, the blind blues guitarist who can see the future and the unnamed old lady with her magical stone. Clemente turns more and more to drink and when he nearly dies from it, realises that the time has come to act. With Crispín he goes to the old lady, touches the magical stone and is transported to Aztlan. When he recovers – which takes some time – he becomes a leader of the workers, though the struggle is by no means easy or straightforward and, as any good leader, he himself has to pay a bitter price.

Publishing history

First published 1976 by Justa