Bless Me, Ultima

Creation and purpose as an autobiography

Bringing Bless Me, Ultima to fruition took Anaya six years. It took another two years to find a publisher. From 1965 to 1971,[11] he struggled to find his own "voice" as the literary models he knew and had studied at the University of New Mexico (BA English, 1963) did not fit him as a writer. He has also remarked on the unavailability of any authors at that time who could serve as mentors for his life experience as a Chicano.[12] Anaya says that the great breakthrough in finding his voice as a writer occurred in an evening when he was writing late at night. He was struggling to find a way to get the novel to come together and then:

I felt something behind me and I turned and there is this old woman dressed in black and she asked me what I am doing. ' Well I'm trying to write about my childhood, you know, about growing up in that small town.' And she said, ' Well, you will never get it right until you put me in it.' I said, ' well who are you? ' and she said, ' Ultima.'[12]

This was the epiphany that Anaya believes came from his subconscious to provide him a mentor and his spiritual guide to the world of his Native American experience (115).[13]

In Anaya's first novel his life becomes the model for expressing the complex process of growing up Chicano in the American Southwest. Michael Fink characterizes Anaya's work as "the search for a sense of place."[14] And the author tells us,"Bless Me, Ultima takes place in a small town in eastern New Mexico and it is really the setting of my home town Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Many of the characters that appear are my childhood friends."[12]

The autobiographical relationship between Anaya and his first novel best begins through the author's own words as he reflects on his life's work as an artist and as a Chicano:

What I've wanted to do is compose the Chicano worldview — the synthesis that shows our true mestizo identity — and clarify it for my community and myself. Writing for me is a way of knowledge, and what I find illuminates my life.[15]

Anaya's authenticity to speak about the Chicano worldview is grounded in the history of his family. He is descended from among those Hispanos who originally settled the land grant in Albuquerque called "La Merced de Atrisco" in the Rio Grande Valley (2).[16] Anaya chooses Maria Luna de Márez as the name of Antonio's mother which parallels his own mother's surname, and her cultural and geographical origins: Rafaelita Mares, the daughter of farmers from a small village near Santa Rosa called Puerto De Luna.[16] In additional ways Anaya's family and that of his young protagonist parallel: Both Rafaelita's first and second husbands were vaqueros (cowboys) who preferred life riding horses, herding cattle and roaming the llano, as did Antonio's father, Gabriel. Anaya's family also included two older brothers who left to fight WW II and four sisters. Thus, Anaya grew up in a family constellation similar to that of his young protagonist. Anaya's life and that of Antonio parallel in other ways that ground the conflict with which his young protagonist struggles in advancing to adolescence. As a small child Anaya moved with his family from Las Pasturas, his relatively isolated birthplace on the llano to Santa Rosa a "city" by New Mexico standards of the time. This move plays a large part in the first chapter of Anaya's first novel as it sets the stage for Antonio's father's great disappointment in losing the lifestyle of the llano that he loved so well, and perhaps the kindling of his dream to embark on a new adventure to move with his sons to California—a dream that never would be.[14]

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