Chicano Studies Influence of Education and Religion on Identity in Two Novels Research Proposal

Pages: 10 (3450 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

¶ … Earth Did Not Part /

Bless Me, Ultima

Bless Me, Ultima / and the Earth Did Not Part

It is not possible to read Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima, and Tomas Rivera's and the Earth Did Not Part without coming to the realization that cultural identity - education, family, and spiritual acculturation - has greatly influenced in a very real sense in the lives of the Chicano peoples along the southern borders of the U.S. This paper will highlight the powerful narrative efforts of both authors, bringing special attention to the economic, historical, social and regional influences that play a dramatic role in these characters, their families and their communities.

Bless Me, Ultima

Anaya's novel actually grabs the alert reader and takes him into the world where the Latino family's traditional interests - including the spiritual and sacred interests - blend with the secular world. World War II has just concluded in this story, which takes place in the small town of Guadalupe in eastern New Mexico. Tony Marez is just six years old when the story begins, but he grows up fast and goes through his maturation period with plenty of conflicts and challenges to confront.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Research Proposal on Chicano Studies Influence of Education and Religion on Identity in Two Novels Assignment

Tony Marez sees his brothers come home from the war then leave again, because they are too bored with the very small town. This hurts him because he idolizes them. The skill in which Anaya brings out the cultural influences that are part of Tony's growing up, and takes readers along for the ride, is superb. Tony also has older sisters in the house and an older woman named Ultima arrives in the house who was the midwife for Tony's mother during his birth and during the births of his two sisters. There are cultural corners to come around during the decision his parents make regarding whether to invite Ultima into the home or not; she is a curandera (something of a mystic healer) but is sometimes misunderstood by those outside of the family to be a person involved in witchcraft. The truth is Ultima can cure some sicknesses through her medicine, and so she is invited to come into the home. She is a big help, and she is something of a mystery because while the family is active in the Roman Catholic Church, Ultima strays a bit from Catholic dogma with her "cures" and methods for healing.

While some attention is paid to the daughters, and to the dynamics of the family, the novel zeros in on Tony, who is a remarkably polite and gracious young man in his interactions with friends at school, his parents, the priest at catechism class.

Clearly this is a story in which the author wants to illustrate the growing up of a young Latino boy through his family experiences, but also through his religious and educational experiences.

Ayala intends to show the conflicts that Tony goes through as to whether to believe in Ultima's magic or the Catholic Church. On page 98 Tony is out fishing, soaking up some sun, when he begins wondering how "...the medicine of the doctors and of the priest had failed." Ultima's medicine had cured his uncle and now he was back at work. So in his young mind he was conflicted; "I could not understand how the power of God could fail. But it did" (Ayala, 98). As time goes on, readers learn that Tony "...felt more attached to Ultima than to my own mother," and he spends "most of the long summer evenings in her room" (Ayala, 115). And so it is set up by the author that Tony's mind was to remain somewhat open as to whether the Catholic Church had all the answers or not.

In fact, Tony was learning that there is more than way to be spiritual, and that Ultima had within her power the ability to do things that the Church could not do. But in the playground at school Tony is rudely confronted by his classmates; they accuse Ultima of being a witch. "At least we don't have a witch around our house," one classmate said. "Hey yeah! Tony's got a witch!" another one chimed in. "Chingada!" "Ah la vecca!" (Anaya, 139). This is very heavy stuff for a young boy who looks up to the older woman in his parents' house. One of the boys accuses Ultima of blinding a man through "witchcraft."

The rudeness continues and into the discussion is introduced the notion that if a person is not a Catholic he or she will go to hell. "It's true," said Lloyd, "heaven is only for Catholics." A fight ensued and following the battle, no one teased Tony about Ultima again. So the book brings the religious issue onto the school playground, and in the rough-and-tumble way of young boys and their fists, in which Tony showed he wouldn't back down, Tony figures there was the "powerful, unknown magic of Ultima." Somehow, her power would protect him, he believed (Anaya, 140).

As the book goes deeper into the lives of Tony and his family, and of Ultima, it becomes clear that a good deal of Tony's education is gained not just through school but also through his association with Ultima. She is the pagan influence - also very much an earthy, honest disciple of herb medicine and magic - while his mother and father are Christian in their influence. Ultima is really more into the original, authentic native world of Mexican history (Aztecas, Mayas) while Tony's parents are Catholics, a religion that was brought into Mexico from Europe and in the big picture of things, is considered perhaps less pure.

On page 227 we find out that Tony's friend Cico goes to the Catholic Church only for his mother, "to please her." Cico tells Tony that he has to choose "...between the god of the church, or the beauty that is here and now" (Anaya, 227). Tony and Cico have been fascinated with the story of a golden carp, a mythical creature that is linked to the magic that Ultima brings into Tony's life. Though all the church influences and school influences have made a mark on Tony, he nevertheless ends up choosing the natural world's lure rather than the Catholic Church. On page 227 the boys see the golden carp, and Tony is locked into his decision on page 228. "We let the sun beat down on us, and like pagans we listened to the lapping water and the song of life in the grass around us."

At about the same time that Ultima placed a pouch of her special herbs around Tony's neck (118), replacing the Catholic scapular - that right there was the symbolic change in Tony's life from Christianity to pagan. It should come as no surprise to readers that Tony would become in effect a pupil of Ultima. On page 14, the author reveals the kind of education that Tony is receiving from this older woman who cures with herbs and relies on her magic for power, rather than the traditional Latino spiritual authority, and who will win over his beliefs later in the book.

And I was happy with Ultima. We walked together in the Llano and along the river banks to gather herbs and roots for her medicines. She taught me the names of plants and flowers, of trees and bushes, of birds and animals, but most important, I learned from her that there was a beauty in the time of day and in the time of night, and that there was peace in the river and in the hills.

She taught me to listen to the mystery of the groaning earth and to feel complete in the fulfillment of its time. My soul grew under her careful guidance."

Even Tony's father understood that there are things the young man needs to learn outside of the family structure. Gabriel drives Tony to visit with his Luna uncles on a farm some distance away from the family. "It will be good for you to be on your own this summer, be away from your mother," he says to his son (235). And when the young man asks why it would be good to be away from his mother, his dad answered, "I can't tell you why, but it is so."

In reviewing this book - and the lessons learned through religion and school - a reader should keep in mind that Tony actually received an education - besides his formal schooling - from three age groups. His own peers were one age group; his parents were the middle group in terms of age; and Ultima represented the old and wise age group. This trio of age groups was a great benefit to Tony as he learned something different from each one, and it helped him to come to terms with the great moral and spiritual questions in his mind.

The author has not written very much in this novel about Tony's mother… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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