"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Monday, November 06, 2006


Guest post by the Dean of Chicano(a) Literary Criticism, Felipe Ortego y Gasca


By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

Scholar in Residence, Western New Mexico University, Silver City, New Mexico

I was stunned by the email from Carlos Muñoz informing us that Octavio Romano had died on February 26. He was 82 (1923-2005).

I always thought of Octavio as indestructible. Yet here was the unexpected word that he had passed on. I was stunned. I mourn for Octavio not just because he was one of the leading luminaries of the Chicano literary renaissance, but because Octavio was one of those rare visionaries who tread the “boards of life” all too often unsung for the roles they have played in signif­icant events.

He deserves our most profound mourn­ing. Despite our differences over the years, I admired and respected him for his singular contribution to Chicano letters and for his dedication to the cause of Chicano literature. I venture to say that Octa­vio Roma­no gave Chicano literature its primary direction.

Octavio Romano and I met for the first time in Las Cruces, New Mexico in the summer of 1966, when I was an Instructor of English at New Mexico State University and he was visiting Las Cruces with his wife whose mother lived there.

I was still new on campus having only in 1964 left Jefferson High School in El Paso (where I had been a teacher of French) to join the English department at New Mex­ico State University, a relatively small agriculture school then just up the road from El Paso.

By the strangest of circumstances Octavio and I met on cam­pus in front of the library. We exchanged greet­ings and paused to chat. He told me who he was and offered that he was just strolling the campus. He and his wife were visiting relatives in Las Cruces. That serendipitous meeting changed my life.

I didn’t know that then, and would not until the end of that decade when I undertook the study of Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature at the University of New Mexico, first work in the field.

During that chance encounter I suggested a cafesito. Octavio and I talked about sundry academic topics over coffee and pan dulce. He explained that he was an anthropologist in the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley, having just received his Ph.D. in 1962. He also explained that he had worked briefly for the Public Health Department in Santa Fe.

I was sur­prised, for I had never met a Mexican American an­thropologist. I learned that he had received his B.A. at the University of New Mexico in 1952, the year I left the University of Pittsburgh where I had studied from 1948 to 1952. We swapped war stories. He serv­ed in Europe with the army during World War II. I served in the Pacific with the Marines.

I told him about my interests in literature and that I had just completed a study of Hamlet. He too was interested in literature, he remarked.

So much so that he and a cohort of Mexican Americans in the Bay Area, including John Carrillo, Steve Gonzales, Phil­lip Jimenez, Rebecca Morales, Ramon Rodriguez, Armando Valdez, and Andres Ybarra, had been think­ing about publishing a literary journal dedicated solely to Mexican American thought and expression.

That piqued my interest. He said he’d send me info as the journal developed. We parted and met irregu­larly over that summer.

Toward the end of the fall semester of that year, I received a note from Octavio with details about the journal which would be called El Grito: Journal of Mexican American Thought and would be published by Quinto Sol Press.

The symbolism did not escape me. The term “Chicano” was still percolating on the ideological stovetops of many Mexican American activists. Octavio encouraged me to submit work to El Grito. Several of my pieces were published in that first volume of El Grito. I thus became one of the Quinto Sol writers.

However, what radiated elán from the Quinto Sol enterprise was the editorial on the frontispiece of Volume 1 Number 1 of El Grito in the Fall of 1967: that publication of El Grito was a manifesto that Mex­ican Americans would be judges of their own cultural works; that Mexican Americans would speak for themselves henceforth, and that all Anglo discourse about Mexican Americans was suspect and, therefore, would be challenged.

This discourse, the editorial asserted, “must be stripped of its eso­teric and sanctified verbal garb and have its intellec­tually spurious and vicious character exposed to full view.” That has always struck me as a courageous pronouncement.

But the significance of that edito­rial lies in its last paragraph: “Only Mexican Ameri­cans themselves can accomplish the collapse of this and other such rhetorical structures by the exposure of their fallacious nature and the development of intellectual alternatives.”

That was the key: “intel­lectual alternatives.”

The rest is history. El Grito became the premier jour­nal of the Chicano literary movement, not the only one, but it led the way. There is no doubt in my mind that without El Grito the Chicano literary move­ment would have developed differently–if at all.

Without El Grito there would have been no Premio Quinto Sol, an award many of us in Chicano literature came to regard as equivalent to the Nobel Prize or, at least, the Pulitzer.

Who would have pub­lished Rudy Ana­ya’s Bless Me, Ultima? Some other publisher, perhaps, in an alternative dimension or universe.

This scenario reminds me of the film It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart who as George Bailey, the despondent president of a Savings and Loan Credit Union on the verge of bankruptcy, wish­es he had never been born and then learns how im­portant his life has been when the angel Clarence, who had negotiated that wish with God, makes it clear to George that since he had never been born he had never “touched” the lives of those he held dear in the life he did live. Octavio Romano touched many lives.

Manuel Delgado, a student at Berkeley in 1969, re­members Romano as a middle-aged guy in wrinkled khaki pants and a white shirt the day Romano at­tended a meeting of the Mexican American Student Confederation, precursor to MEChA on campus.

Romano and the Chicano students were trying to get a Chicano history course approved at Berkeley for the Spring Quarter of 1969. UC Berkeley was the last of the California campuses to offer a Chicano studies course.

Octavio Romano was tapped as the Instructor for The Mexican American Population 143X, a social analysis course which he described as overdue (Daily Californian, January 6, 1969).

Roma­no went on to say that the course would help to offset the John Wayne syndrome afflicting the Amer­ican population vis-à-vis Mexican Americans, closing with the prophetic words: “the Chicano must realize that he must regain control of his historical function.”

That was Romano’s consistent theme: Chicanos must define themselves.

This self-defini­tion was the same clarion call I sounded as I pre­pared to teach the first course in Mexican American literature at the University of New Mexico in the fall of 1969. There was a surprising congruency be­tween Octavio’s political philosophy and mine.

More importantly, though, Octavio Romano was a pragmatist in the Greek sense of ideation and ac­complishment. That is, for the Greeks praxis is the ideation of deeds and pragma is the deed done, actu­ally bringing them to fruition.

All too often in life, there is a disconnect between what we think should be and its actualization. El Grito (the journal) was actualization of the need for Chicano self-expression in a time when that need was paramount and urgent.

For me, the consequence of that actualization was a direction that gave impetus to my life not only in letters but in Chicano literature. Without Romano’s influence I would probably have completed a disser­tation on Chaucer, which was already in progress, before I decided to write a dissertation on Mexican American literature instead, not knowing it would be the first in the field.

That was how profoundly Octa­vio Romano affected my life.

My first efforts as one of the Quinto Sol writers were published in Volume 1 (1967-1968) of El Grito– “The Coming of Zamora” (a short story based on the trial of Reies Lopez Tijerina) and “The Mexican-Dixon Line” (about the Southern plantation mental­ity in the Hispanic Southwest).

In 1969 Octavio Roma­no published El Espejo–The Mirror: Selected Mexican-Amer­ican Literature, the first “anthologi­cal” salvo of Mexican American writing in the Chi­cano era, in effect “the first anthology of Chicano literature published by Chicanos” (1972, viii).

That September, I reviewed the anthology for The Nation, describing it as “a brown paperback book reflecting ‘brown’ literary hopes and aspirations in this country,” adding that “El Espejo represents the first fruits of a struggling nascent effort on the part of a nueva ola (new wave) of literary Mexican Amer­icans.”

This review engendered my concept of “The Chicano Renaissance” which was published in the May 1971 issue of Social Casework. In the fifth print­ing of El Espejo (1972), Octavio listed the Quin­to Sol writers as part of the introduction he and Herminio Rios wrote (xi-xii).

In 1971 Octavio Romano published Voices: Read­ings from El Grito 1967-1971, in which he included my piece on “The Mexican-Dixon Line.” My aca­demic and literary odyssey led me hither and yon in the 70’s and distanced my contact with Octavio.

That distance, however, did not lessen my regard and admiration of him and his consistent efforts in promoting Chicano literature. Without Octavio Roma­no and Quinto Sol Publications and El Grito would we know about Tomas Rivera, Rudy Anaya, Estela Portillo, Rolando Hinojosa, Jose Montoya, Alurista, and the host of other Quinto Sol writers?

For me, Octavio Romano was la joya inesperada, shining in a firmament of jewels that has become Chicano literature.

Copyright ©2007 by the author. All rights reserved.

Quinto Sol Writers 1967-1972

[From El Espejo (5th Printing), 1972, xi-xii]

Acosta, Oscar Zeta


Alvarez, Jorge

Alvarez, Salvador

Alvidrez, Samuel

Anaya, Rudolfo

Arias, Ron

Avendaño, Fausto

Ballester, Paula

Barron, Robert

Burruel, Francisco

Calderon, Bernie

Candelaria, Frederick

Cardenas, Rene

Carrillo, John

Castañeda, Irene

Castillo, Guadalupe

Chacon, Estelle

Chavez, Cesar

Chavez, Mauro

Clark y Moreno, Joseph

Cobos, Georgia

Cuadra, Ricardo

De Anda, Diana

De Anda, José

De la Guerra, Pablo

De la Torre, Alfredo

Elizondo, Sergio

Espinoza, Raul

Espinoza, Rudy

Estupinian, Rafael

Figueroa, B. G.

Galarza, Ernesto

Gallegos, Alberto

Galvez, Javier

García, Juan

García, Juan Antonio

Garcia, Mario

Garcia, Richard

Garcia, Rupert

Garza, Carmen Lomas

González, José Elías

González, Josué

González, Rafael

González, Steve

Guevara, Juan

Gutiérrez, F. N.

Gutiérrez, José Ángel

Gutiérrez, José E.

Guzmán, Ralph

Haws, Jak

Haro, Robert

Hinojosa, Rolando

Hijar y Haro, Juan

Israel, Harry

Jiménez, Francisco

Jiménez, J. Philip

Lefler, Clara

Lopez, Diana

López, Héctor

Maldonado, Jesús

Marín, Reymundo

Martines, Al

Martines, John

Martínez, Thomas

Mejia, Victor

Méndez, Miguel

Montiel, Miguel

Montoya, Jose

Montoya, Malaquias

Morales, Armando

Moreno, Raquel

Moreno, Steve

Najera, José

Navarro, J. L.

Noriega, Ramses

Olivas, Richard

Ornelas, Charles

Ortega, Frank

Ortego, Philip (Felipe)

Ortiz, Orlando

Padilla, Ernie

Padilla, Raymond

Perez Díaz, Roberto

Ponce, Miguel

Portillo, Estela

Ramírez, Javier

Ramírez, Manuel III

Rey, Tony

Reyna, Thelma

Ríos, Francisco

Ríos, Herminio

Rivera, Félix

Rivera, Tomas

Rodríguez, Ramón

Romano, Octavio

Salaz, Rubén Dario

Salinas, Guadalupe

Salinas, Ricardo

Sanchez, Armand

Sanchez, Ricardo

Segade, Gustavo

Sierra, Pedro Ugalde

Sol, Paco (pseudonym)

Torres, Jose

Torres, Salvador

Trujillo, Manuel

Vaca, Nick

Valdez, Armando

Vasquez, Ricardo

Vega, William

Velez, Carlos

Vigil, J. M.

Villa, Esteban

Villagomez, Edel

Villanueva, Tino

Villareal, Alberto

Villavicencio, Silvio

Yañez, Rene

Ybarra, Banjamin

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