The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1995, Volume 41, Number 3
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States: Literature and Art.

Edited by Francisco Lomelí. Houston: Arte Público Press and Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana, 1993. Index. $60.00. Buy this book.

Reviewed by Richard Griswold del Castillo, Professor Mexican American Studies, San Diego State University. Author of The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1990) and coauthor of César Chávez: A Triumph of Spirit (1995).

This volume is part of a massive undertaking on the part of Arte Público Press in cooperation with Spanish publishers to provide the general public with a series of in-depth studies of the historical and contemporary cultural contributions of Hispanic communities within the United States. There are four volumes covering the areas of literature and art, history, sociology and anthropology.

The Handbook of Hispanic Cultures first volume on art and literature is an compilation of some of the most outstanding scholars in the profession. The field they propose to “cover” is vast, spacing more than 500 years of literary and artistic production in the United States drawing on the cultural traditions of Puerto Rico, Cuba and Latin America in addition to Mexico.

The introductory essays are essential for an orientation to this complex and immense territory. These are well written and clearly organized including essays on Mexican American literature by Luis Leal and Francisco Lomelí followed by essays about Puerto Rican and Cuban literature in the United States by Frances Aparicio and Rodolfo Cortina respectively. Each essay is followed by a comprehensive bibliography of the most important books related to the field. This resource alone is worth the price of the book.

The volume on literature and art includes specialized essays on the oral traditions, graphic and pictorial expressions, theater, biographies, music, cinema and newspaper and periodical publications. The volume is intended as a reference source, and to this end an index is provided at the back to significant authors and works. It is important to stress that this kind of reference work is not intended to be exhaustive but rather to give an orientation to a complex and enormous body of work. For that reason those looking for some specialized references using the index will not have immediate results. You will have to read the orienting essay and scan the accompanying bibliography to get the context for your research. The volume is ideal for students and the general public who want to familiarize themselves with the Hispanic culture in a holistic way.

In my evaluation among the best essay is the one titled “Hispanic Oral Tradition,” coauthored by John McDowell, Maria Herrerra-Sobek and Rodolfo Cortina. More formalistic approaches to literature might neglect oral expression. Given the richness of the culture in this area and the fact that for centuries only the elites created a written literature, it is impossible to omit its consideration. Under this topic we learn about the songs, legends, myths, proverbs, folk speech, games, riddles, jokes, folk medicine, religion, popular music of not just people of Mexican descent but of Puerto Ricans and Cubans in the United States. As the authors admit, this is an almost unbelievably complex phenomenon.

The essay on “Latino Art,” by Eva Cockcroft will be valuable to those who want to know about San Diego’s contributions. Few know how important in the history of Latino art our own Chicano Park has been. San Diego artist Victor Ochoa is mentioned but owning to space many others from San Diego are not. Comparing Puerto Rican and Cuban art in the U.S. with Chicano art will show how diverse the Latino heritage in our country really is.

It is a shame that his volume is so expensive and undoubtedly will mostly be purchased by libraries rather than the interested public. The series would certainly be an addition to any private library, especially those who want to appreciate more the Latino culture in San Diego.

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