It doesn’t get much more definitively Chicano for an American writer than to be born and raised in East L.A. Just that very term “East L.A.” has the ability—thanks to pop culture portrayals in the media—to conjure up images of Hispanic culture...
Helena Maria Viramontes is a Mexican American writer best known for her portrayal of immigrants, women, and other marginalized groups. She often uses stream-of-consciousness to drift from one character to the next, highlighting different perspectives. Her works often deals with themes of family, religion, culture, and sexuality. Viramontes' stories relate to the social theory of Chicana feminism, also referred to as Xicanisma, which analyzes the roles that Mexican American, Chicana, and Hispanic women fulfill in the United States.
Viramontes attended Immaculate Heart College before studying English and creative writing at the University of California at Irvine. She left her graduate studies to write, working mostly for underground journals. She co-edited Chicana Creativity and Criticism, a journal which celebrated the literary works of Mexican American women. Viramontes later returned to UC Irvine and completed her graduate degree.
Her first major work, The Moths and Other Stories, is a collection of short pieces that explores gender in the context of Mexican American culture. Her best-known writing and first feature-length story is the novella Under the Feet of Jesus, published in 1994. The book follows the lives of Latino migrant workers working in California. Viramontes contrasts the lush, verdant grape fields with the harsh, unyielding realities of the workers themselves. In 2007 she finished her second novel, Their Dogs Came With Them, which follows four Mexican American women as they navigate life in East Los Angeles in the 1960s.
The winner of both the John Dos Passos Award for Literature and a United States Artist Fellowship, Helena Maria Viramontes has successfully given voice to the marginalized groups she captures in her writing. She currently teaches creative writing at Cornell University. When not teaching, Viramontes works on her third novel: The Cemetery Boys.
Study Guides on Works by Helena Maria Viramontes
Often compared to John Steibeck's rural American masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, Under the Feet of Jesus tells the story of a young migrant worker and her family. Set in the Western United States and spanning a single summer harvest, the novel...