Rudolfo Anaya's Take the Tortillas Out of Your Poetry

Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

In this lesson, you'll read a summary of Rudolfo Anaya's anti-censorship essay, ~'Take the Tortillas Out of Your Poetry.~' You'll learn about the different types of censorship and how they impacted Chicano writers of the 1960s.

Respect for the Written Word

''I grew up kissing books and bread.''

The writer, Salman Rushdie, known for living through some of the harshest criticism and censorship of any contemporary writer, used these words to describe his childhood. In his house, dropped food or dropped books were both treated with the same gesture of respect and apology - a kiss.

Rudolfo Anaya opens his essay, ''Take the Tortillas Out of Your Poetry'', with a reference to Rushdie's childhood to illustrate the respect that Rushdie and many other writers have for the power of the written word. Anaya is one of the leading figures in the Chicano literature movement, which began in the 1960s. These writers of Mexican or Mexican-American heritage have embraced their culture and language as essential parts of their identities and literary voices, often combining English and Spanish in their texts. Anaya's own history of writing about Chicano issues and telling stories through his cultural lens has led to some professional difficulties.

Book publishers have not always supported writers who integrate English and Spanish. However, Anaya's breakthrough novel, Bless Me, Ultima, won the prestigious Premio Quinto Sol award and has since found a place on reading lists of great contemporary literature. Bless Me, Ultima is a novel written in the magical realism genre, a style that mixes plausible events with moments that bend the rules of reality. Anaya, in ''Take the Tortillas out of Your Poetry'', recalls growing up in a culture that considered words to be magical and strongly argues that writers should stand up for the power of their words.

Self-Censorship

Anaya's main theme is censorship, or the official examining and suppressing of books, films and other types of media. He deals with it in a variety of forms, from the censorship writers impose on themselves to the more publicized type that happens when concerned school boards pull books from library shelves. As an example, he cites a friend of his, a poet, who writes in both Spanish and English to show how self-censorship can be as damaging as the institutional variety. His friend, in an effort to make his work more competitive for a government art grant, only submitted poems that were written entirely in English, even though they were among not his strongest works.

Anaya explains that, in taking the Spanish elements from his poems, his friend was removing the tortillas from his poetry. He states that, when we remove the cultural heart of our writing, the culture itself starts to wither.

Censorship in Publishing

In his essay, Anaya describes the hostility experienced by writers in the Chicano literature movement of the 1960s. Early on, publishers and critics felt the writers in the movement were too political, and their writing didn't speak to the universal human condition. By comparison, Anaya feels that every Chicano poem carries with it a desire for equality, a universal human desire.

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