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By Manuel de Jesús Hernández-G
Stavans, Escandón, and Ramos are three contemporary Mexican American writers who immigrated in the 1980’s and, in a mere twenty years, have become major literary and intellectual figures.
Pick up the postcard advertisement for María Amparo Escandón’s new novel González and Daughter Trucking Co. (2005) and in the back you will find, among several Anglo-American endorsers, praise by Jorge Ramos (Univisión’s nightly news co-anchor), and an endorsement by Ilan Stavans, author of the recently published Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language (2003). Such endorsements are no mere coincidence; instead, they speak of a mutual generational support between the three writers: Escandón, Ramos, and Stavans. All three have in common that they migrated to the United States in the early 1980’s, and their migration coincides with the last major amnesty for Mexican undocumented migrants. With both things in mind, let us briefly examine representative works by these three contemporary Mexican American writers who immigrated in the 1980’s and, in a mere twenty years, have become major literary and intellectual figures in Chicano, U.S. Latino literature, and mainstream American literature. Their representative works are: The Hispanic Condition: Reflections on Culture and Identity in America (1995) by Ilan Stavans, Esperanzas’s Box of Saints (1999) by María Amparo Escandón, and La Otra Cara de América: Historias de los Inmigrantes Latinoamericanos que Están Cambiando a Estados Unidos (2000) by Jorge Ramos.
Ramos’s 2000 book La Otra Cara de América: Historias de los Inmigrantes Latinoamericanos que Están Cambiando a Estados Unidos, translated three years later into English as The Other Face of America: Chronicles of the Immigrants Shaping Our Future, codes the above mentioned mutual generational support. Under the section “El Sueño Americano” (The American Dream) we find a brief chapter entitled “El American Dream a la Mexicana (o los Santitos de María Amparo)” that contains a mini-biography on highly successful Mexican immigrant María Amparo Escandón: she arrives in 1983 in Los Angeles, returns to Mexico in 1989, writes a novel in English in 1998 with the title Esperanza’s Little Box of Saints, secures a literary agent, gets four offers in a week, translates the novel into Spanish as Santitos, publishes both texts almost simultaneously, travels into 67 cities to promote her book, has a best selling book in Europe, and sells some 300,000 copies of the novel—translated into 13 languages. Moreover, in between this hurried literary activity she writes a movie script, works with the Sundance Film Institute, finds a Mexican director, and helps make a highly successful movie in both Mexico and the United States. In the closing of the chapter “El American Dream a la Mexicana (o los Santitos de María Amparo)”, Escandón identifies not as a “Latin author,” but as a Mexicana immigrant writer living in the United States: “Me siento como una mexicana que vive en Estados Unidos” […]. “No soy un latin author. Yo no puedo decir que soy como Sandra Cisneros u Oscar Hijuelos. No es mi cultura” (Ramos 304).
Ramos’s same book The Other Face of America codes a mutual generational support between himself and Ilan Stavans. In the section entitled “El Spanglish,” Ramos dedicates the chapter “El Profesor de Espanglish” to his cohort. According to Ramos, Stavans is busy researching a Spanglish dictionary, already has six-thousand words, criticizes purists of the Spanish language such as Octavio Paz, argues that thirty million Hispanic speak Spanglish, traces its origins back to 1848 and 1898, dates its flowering to the second half of the XXth-century, observes that in the world there are more U.S. Hispanics than Spaniards, and shares forty-three words taken straight from his Spanglish dictionary in progress—eventually published as Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language. Unlike the section dedicated to Escandón, the essay on Stavans does not contain substantial biographical elements.
To learn about Stavans’s biography, we need to read the chapter “Letter to My Child” in his now highly successful essay collection The Hispanic Condition, revised and updated in 2001 under a new title: The Hispanic Condition: The Power of a People. It is in this chapter dedicated to his U.S. born son that we learn the following biographical details: at the age of 25 Stavans migrates to Manhattan, is born and raised in a middle-class Mexican Jewish ghetto (apart from the rest of Mexican society), learns Hebrew before Spanish, attends a private school, shares with other community members an admiration for a consumerist United States, arrives in New York to attend a Jewish theological school but then is accepted into Columbia University to study Spanish American literature, experiences a cultural transformation from interacting with American ethnic groups and assimilating American intellectual thought, and, to his surprise, evolves into a U.S. Latino.
Although Jorge Ramos has now published a long autobiography entitled Atravesando Fronteras: Un Periodista en Busca de su Lugar en el Mundo: Autobiografía, with its English translation as No Borders: A Journalist’s Search for Home, and has distributed it both in Mexico and the United States, the book that codes a mutual generational support between Escandón and Stavans does the same for Ramos. In fact, The Other Face of America stands as an indirect autobiography. In the agradecimientos or acknowledgements and the prologue sections, placed both at the very beginning of the book, Ramos proudly claims his status as a Mexican immigrant of the 1980’s. According to him, he fled Mexico for its lack of economic opportunities, its press censorship, and its loathed leaders. He also confesses that he left behind in Mexico his friends and family —something that included not being present at the hour of his father’s passing. However, Ramos is grateful that on January 2, 1983 a plane brought him to Los Angeles, and many individuals welcomed and helped him: Shawnesse Colaw, who offered him a place to sleep in a tiny apartment; Marco Mendoza, who helped him with some badly needed funds; Pete Moraga, who helped him secure his first news job in television; and Benjamín Beckhart, who over 25 years has always inquired about Ramos well being (15-16). Ramos clearly establishes his status as a Mexican immigrant in solidarity with many other Latin American immigrants, including the anti-Castro Cuban-Americans.
While there are many other texts that do document a mutual generational solidarity between Escandón, Stavans, and Ramos, we believe this brief examination of The Other Face of America: Chronicles of the Immigrants Shaping Our Future and The Hispanic Condition does provide and establish sufficient facts on the forging of such generational solidarity. All three belong to a new generation of Mexican American writers that needs to be studied. Other Mexican immigrant writers belonging to the 1980s generation are: Yareli Arizmendi, María Hinojosa, and David Muñoz; respectively, their representative works are: the movie A Day without a Mexican (2004), the memoir Raising Raul: Adventures Raising Myself and my Son (1999), and México de Mis Recuerdos (2005).
Ramos, Jorge. La Otra Cara de América: Historias de los Inmigrantes Latinoamericanos que Están Cambiando a Estados Unidos. Miami: Círculo de Lectores, 2000.
Stavans, Ilan. The Hispanic Condition: Reflections on Culture and Identity in America. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.