The cultural forces that gave rise to Texas-Mexican fiction date from the late sixteenth century, when Spanish explorers moved north from the interior of Mexico and began the colonization of what is now Texas and the southwestern United States. These explorers brought with them their cultural traditions, religion, folklore, literature, and language. The lower Rio Grande valley especially became a region where the cultural traditions of the old and the new worlds intersected after the establishment of the province of Nuevo Santander by José de Escandón in 1749. With the coming of the Anglo settlers in the early nineteenth century with their own cultural traditions, the characteristic feature of Texas-Mexican fiction, its narrative diversity, was firmly established. Isolated from the main cultural centers to the south and north, early Texas-Mexican communities developed a simple pastoral life, based on economic self-sufficiency, social interdependency, and formal family ties. Their narratives of life, the sources of much contemporary fiction, have come down to us in the form of corridos, stately folk ballads in Spanish, representing daily life. It is from the folkloric material of these early settlers, recorded in corridos, proverbs, and other sayings, that contemporary Texas-Mexican fiction developed.
Only since the early 1920s and 1930s have Texas-Mexican authors written widely in English. Jovita González de Mireles, born in Roma, Texas, and descended from the first settlers of the area, became in the 1930s the first Mexican American president of the Texas Folklore Society. Her writings tell the story of early twentieth century Texas from the Texas-Mexican perspective. "Among My People" and "With the Coming of the Barbwire, Came Hunger" are indicative of the author's sense of the realistic detail that became one of the hallmarks of later Texas-Mexican fiction. Fermina Guerra, also a descendant of the early colonizers, was born in the Laredo area. Typical of her work is "Rancho Buena Vista," a sketch drawn from her research into the history of life on the Texas frontier in the nineteenth century. The works of both authors serve as precursors to contemporary fiction. Américo Paredes draws directly from his experiences of border life for his fiction. Paredes, born in Brownsville, Texas, in 1915, and also a descendant of early border settlers, taught at the University of Texas at Austin from 1956 to 1984. In addition to his many scholarly writings, Paredes's works include a novel, poetry, and short fiction. These works celebrate, with gentle irony and a haunting sense of the transformation of a culture, the vitality of life on the border. With His Pistol in His Hand (1958), Paredes's study of a ballad about Gregorio Cortez Lira, an early twentieth century Texas-Mexican defender of social justice, and a short story entitled "The Hammon and the Beans," an elegant reminiscence, have helped to establish a literary tradition for Texas-Mexican fiction.
John Rechy's three novels, City of Night (1963), This Day's Death (1969), and The Fourth Angel (1973), depict a new scene, the seamy underworld of urban life, in his narratives of the border area of El Paso, Texas. The works of Tomás Rivera of Crystal City and Rolando Hinojosa Smith of Mercedes altered the course of Mexican American literary history. Rivera's novel, Y no se lo tragó la tierra (1971), is taut and lean. In the original South Texas Spanish, the vocabulary and syntax are tightly limited to the language of the Texas migrant worker. The fourteen sections of Rivera's novel follow a stream-of-consciousness thread relating the seasonal events in a year of the life of an unnamed migrant child. Apart from the reality of economic exploitation, Y no se lo tragó la tierra also represents the anguish of spiritual exploitation. Winner of the 1970 Quinto Sol Prize for literature, Rivera's novel opens new thematic and stylistic possibilities for Texas-Mexican fiction. Rolando Hinojosa Smith's works have also won the Quinto Sol Prize (1972) and the Casa de las Americas Prize (1976). Several novels in his Klail City Death Trip series have already appeared: Estampas del valle y otras obras (1973), Klail City y sus alrededores (1976), Korean Love Songs (1978), Mi Querido Rafa (1981), Rites and Witnesses (1982), Partners in Crime (1984), and Claros varones de Belken (1986). The author has recast two of his Spanish language novels into English: The Valley (1983) and Dear Rafe (1985). In all of his novels, Hinojosa tells a story-in multiple story-frames and from divergent perspectives, beyond traditional plot lines-of the dignity, strength, and resilience of the Texas-Mexican people of the lower Rio Grande valley. His epic task is to chronicle the life of a community in all of its comic and tragic aspects. Estela Portillo Trambley's Rain of Scorpions (1975) also tells this social story, but from the perspective of the Texas-Mexican woman. Portillo's works move Texas-Mexican fiction into the critical ideological issues of the 1960s and 1970s. This effort is shown again in Genaro González's "Un Hijo del Sol" (1970), a story of the emergence of social consciousness among Texas-Mexican youth; Max Martinez's The Adventures of the Chicano Kid (1984) enters this ideological arena too, but with greater subtlety, wit, and comic spirit than the works of other young Texas-Mexican writers.
As a group, these authors show us not the Texas of western legend or southern romance, but Texas as it might be seen from Texas-Mexican towns and barrios. Their narrative works seek to allow us to see, to feel, and to understand our social reality in a more revealing light. This is their unique contribution to the history of Texas humane letters.