In this piece, I will reflect on the following:
Caballero by Jovita Gonzales
“Mexican Silhouettes, 1928-31” by Josefina Niggli
“The Singing Valley” (1936) by Josefina Niggli
In thinking about how the identity of Chicana literature began to be crafted, I spent some time with Caballero by Jovita Gonzales and two texts by Josefina Niggli, “Mexican Silhouettes, 1928-31,” a selection of her poetry, and“The Singing Valley,” a wonderful play that she wrote in 1936. (For some of the poems, visit my instagram.
In these texts, I see a lot of similarities and obvious connections between both earlier Chicana texts (here I am thinking of Ruiz de Burton) and later texts, from Cisneros to Anzaldua. There is a focus on the old gods, which I think Steinbeck emulated greatly in his To a God Unknown. Then, there is also the Christian context that Ruiz de Burton embraced and later writers felt a need to throw off for their own identity. In these texts the two dichotomous sides of Chicano spirituality (the Aztec and the European Christian) are living side by side. The characters are devout Christians with an almost pagan connection with the land.
In both, there are fathers. Niggli’s father figure is much more likable, but only because his daughter is far less so. These texts can easily be seen as similar stories coming from opposite ends, or perhaps these are stories from succeeding generations (Gonzales’ text, though written later, takes place earlier).
In both, there are daughters who seek to go against their fathers. Here we can begin to see the force of the Chicana—a firm refutation of Ruiz de Burton’s heroines who must rely on men to save them. Again, this is feeding into the later Chicana movement. Also present are the sons who stand by their fathers in spite of their sisters. Although I hesitate to compare Niggli’s endearing Abel to the awful Alvaro, both sons stand by their fathers—Alvaro stands by Don Santiago in his pride, Abel by Don Antonio in his devotion.
Overall, I very much enjoyed both texts. I would love to read more from both authors (and will, just not yet).