Introduction to Latina and Latino Literature/Mario Suárez

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Mario Suárez

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Brief Biography

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In 1923, Mario Suárez was born to Francisco and Carmen Minjáren Suárez. He was raised in a predominantly Chicano neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona called El Hoyo, which later becomes the title of one of his well-known short stories. His father was a tailor and his mother was a seamstress; two professions that required manual labor to provide a comfortable living environment for their family. As the eldest of five siblings, Suárez was encouraged by his father to set the bar high for his younger siblings. Suárez was determined to make his Mexican-immigrant parents proud, and after graduating high school in 1942 he joined the Navy. Suárez was stationed in New Jersey shortly before being transferred to Brazil in 1943.

By 1945, he completed his service as a patrol and he registered at the University of Arizona to major in English. However, during his academic career he switched his major to Spanish. Spencer Herrera informs us that two years after enrolling in college, “he submitted his first sketches to Arizona Quarterly in the summer of 1947. To his surprise, the journal accepted his first five stories”.[1] This was the beginning of Suárez’s career as a Chicano writer. His work varied from fiction writing to writing for the Mexican Press. Later in his career he became a teacher at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California, and he retired in 1990.[2] After battling a severe illness in the 1990’s, Mario Suárez died on February 27, 1998.

Place in Latina/o Literature

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Mario Suárez is referenced by Spencer Herrera as “one of Chicano letters' earliest short-story writers”. [3] Similarly, critic James Lambert states, “Suárez’s work remains integral to a historic understanding of Chicano identity”.[4] Thirdly, James D. Lilley writes, “Suárez’s stories are described as ‘the first literary efforts of an American of Mexican descent, writing in English, to [publish] in a prestigious U.S. journal [the Arizona Quarterly]”.[5] Essentially, Mario Suárez had a large impact on Latina/o literature when his short stories were first published in 1947, but more importantly, his work still represents the foundation for Chicano literature today.

Unfortunately, Suárez’s work is frequently overlooked. Of course there are a few short stories that were placed in an anthology of Chicano literature collections, but “cultural critics and literary theorists alike miss an important moment in the construction of chicanismo and the social conundrums of the Chicano movimiento”.[6] It is the critical aspects of Mexican culture that are highlighted in all of Suárez’s works that establish the boundaries of the Chicano Literature genre. Lambert argues that critics become so infatuated with the literary details presented in Suárez’s work that they overlook the cultural importance exemplified in them. For example, the locations, characters, and themes of community that he uses in his stories serve as a representation of the political and social structure of Chicano society at that time.

Comparison to Other Latina/o Authors

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Suárez was widely recognized amongst other Chicano writers as someone who drastically contributed to the genre of Chicano literature. Lambert states, “many credit Suárez with being the first writer to use the label ‘Chicano’ in a definitive and standardized form”.[7] Although Jovita González did not coin the term “Chicano”, she is also a well-respected Mexican-American known for portraying her culture in her works of literature. González produced much of her work before Suárez, but themes of masculinity and economic superiority are common in both of their works.

Mario Suárez could also be compared to Jovita González in terms of how they portray the role of community. For example in “El Hoyo” when a store manager decides to prohibit Chicanas from working behind the counter, “it was the chicanos of El Hoyo who . . . drove the manager out and the girls returned to their jobs”.[8] Furthermore, in González’s “The Bullet Swallower”, the protagonist is asked to help fulfill the wishes of an unfamiliar old man during his last days alive. Although the protagonist had no personal relations or obligations to the old man or his wife that served as the messenger, he felt inclined to help them: “I decided to do what I would have expected others to do for me, and asked him if there was anything I might do for him”.[9] Both of these stories depict people within the same neighborhood helping each other during times of need. The community is illustrated as caring and considerate, and theme of community is essential to both of these short stories.

Analysis of Specific Texts

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The publication history of “El Hoyo” dates back to 1947-1950. Suárez submitted his first sketches to Arizona Quarterly in the summer of 1947. He was only two years into his college career, and he was not expecting his sketches to be accepted to such a prestigious journal. To his surprise they were, and they have been made available to the public ever since. James S. Lambert states, “In October 2004, the University of Arizona Press published a short volume of Mario Suárez’s short stories simply titled Chicano Sketches”.[10] However, these sketches contain a larger variety of his work than what was included in the Arizona Quarterly.

“El Hoyo” is a short story that highlights poverty and culture in a Mexican town. Suárez begins his story by establishing a definition for the word Chicano: “the short way of saying Mexicano, it is not restricted to the paisanos who came from old Mexico”.[11] He provides a brief description of the social life in El Hoyo while placing emphasis on culture. Suárez creatively identifies the negative qualities of the town prior to introducing the advantages of living there. By doing so, he indicates that the advantages that El Hoyo provides such as, financial security are valued more than personal safety. Although there is crime that occurs in this town, the theme of community is so highly regarded that it outweighs the fears of safety and security. For example, he provides a scenario where Chicanas were prohibited to work behind the counter at a store that had new management, but the Chicanos assured that the Chicanas got their jobs back. To further elaborate on this idea, Suárez provides various scenarios that illustrate similar principles.

Suárez’s short story, “El Hoyo”, provides both a physical and literal description for the theme of community. For example, he writes, “In no sense is it a hole as its name would imply; it is simply the river’s immediate valley . . . it is everything but beautiful”.[12] By describing the physical appearance of El Hoyo early in the story, he allows his readers to grasp the idea that El Hoyo is composed of a lower-class society. Furthermore, Suárez explicitly states, “it is doubtful that the chicanos live in El Hoyo because it is safe”.[13] On the contrary, he portrays community support as something that is highly valued. Suárez states, “El Hoyo is where you are less likely to be reported to the authorities”, and when a woman lost her house and two children in a fire, a man gave her “one hundred dollars in cold cash and then accompanied her on a short vacation”.[14] Suárez intentionally places great emphasis on community support and financial security. These examples suggest that residents stay in El Hoyo because the positive aspects of community outweigh the physical appearance of the community.

Literary Criticism

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In “‘The Short Way of Saying Mexicano’: Patrolling the Borders of Mario Suárez’s Fiction”, critic James Lilley suggests that Suárez focuses on community in “El Hoyo” to attempt to preserve his culture and childhood. For instance, naming the short story after his hometown shows his desire to enlighten people about his own personal influences. Lilley elaborates on this idea by categorizing El Hoyo as a town that is so much more than a hybrid, limitless space. Suárez is living proof of El Hoyo because he carries his experiences from El Hoyo with him to the Navy and throughout the rest of his successful career life. One major concept that is often undermined in literary discourse of Latino/a Literature is the heterogeneous definition of Chicano provided in “El Hoyo”. Suárez’s definition excludes race as a determining factor when identifying a Chicano. With that being said, El Hoyo is a place that is composed of a patriarchal community with distinct cultural codes. Lilley suggests that Chicano literature is intentionally biased, and El Hoyo serves as a representation for his theory. However, Suarez’s bias is determined by culture, not by race.

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Bibliography of Secondary Sources

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  • González, Jovita. “The Bullet Swallower”. Ed. Ilan Stavans. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & C0. 2011.
  • Herrera, Spencer. "Suárez, Mario (1923–1998). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Literature. Ed. Nicolás Kanellos. Vol. 3. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008. 1082-1086. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.
  • Lambert, James S. "‘To Garza's Barber Shop Goes All That Is Good and Bad’: Hybrid Identity and Masculine Space in Mario Suárez's ‘El Hoyo’ Story Cycle”. Bilingual Review / La Revista Bilingüe, Vol. 28 (2). 127-136. Web.
  • Lilley, J. D. “'The Short Way of Saying Mexicano': Patrolling the Borders of Mario Suárez's Fiction”. Melus. Princeton University: 2001. 100-119. EBSCO Host. Web.
  • Suárez, Mario. “El Hoyo”. Ed. Ilan Stavans. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & C0. 2011.


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  1. "The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Literature
  2. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Literature
  3. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Literature
  4. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Literature
  5. The Short Way of Saying Mexicano': Patrolling the Borders of Mario Suárez's Fiction
  6. To Garza's Barber Shop Goes All That Is Good and Bad': Hybrid Identity and Masculine Space in Mario Suárez's Fiction
  7. ‘To Garza's Barber Shop Goes All That Is Good and Bad’: Hybrid Identity and Masculine Space in Mario Suárez's ‘El Hoyo’ Story Cycle'
  8. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature
  9. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature
  10. "‘To Garza's Barber Shop Goes All That Is Good and Bad’: Hybrid Identity and Masculine Space in Mario Suárez's ‘El Hoyo’ Story Cycle
  11. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature
  12. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature
  13. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature
  14. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature


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  • Gutiérrez, Ramón and Genaro Padilla, eds. Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage. Houston: Arte Publicó P, 1993.
  • Madrid-Barela, Arturo. “In Search of the Authentic Pachuco: An Interpretive Essay.”. Aztlan 4.1 (1973): 31-60.
  • Neate, Wilson. “Unwelcome Remainders, Welcome Reminders.” MELUS 19.2 (1994): 17-34.
  • Nericcio, William Anthony. “Autobiographies at La Frontera: The Quest for Mexican-American Narrative.” The Americas Review 16.3-4 (1988): 165-87.
  • Parry, Benita. “Problems in Current Theories of Colonial Discourse.” Oxford Literary Review 9.1-2 (1987): 27-58.