Historians who are persuaded that literature both mirrors and shapes history will find here the work of a kindred spirit. As professor of English and anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, José E. Limón brings the perspectives of several related disciplines into this rather ambitious project. It is a study of the origins, content, and evolution of selected northern Mexican and Chicano political poetry between the 1850s and the early 1970s, and of the cultural and historical factors that both influenced and were in turn influenced by that artistic production.

Limón identifies the north Mexican epic heroic ballad, or corrido, as the ancestral poetic form. These narrative folk songs appeared in South Texas by the middle of the nineteenth century and flourished through the Mexican Revolution into the 1930s on both sides of the border. Generated in areas and eras of social and cultural conflict, especially conflict of race and class, the corrido’s dominant theme was the violent confrontation of men over honor and ideology. The corrido, according to Limón, became “a master poem of social struggle” (p. 30).

The form declined in the 1930s as a vehicle of protest and resistance in the face of changing social and cultural conditions. Its historical importance was rediscovered and transmitted to a later generation, Limón explains, by the “corrido’s foremost scholar” and practitioner, Américo Paredes (p. 42). In his work, especially With His Pistol in His Hand (1958), Paredes gradually revived the art form by updating it to address social concerns of Mexican Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. Paredes, with his book, concludes the author, “provides one model for the development of the Chicano movement, and that model was itself wholly indebted to the precursory master poem—the corrido” (p. 90).

With its power and potential thus restored, the corrido clearly influenced the poetry and ideas of a number of prominent literary intellectual activists in the Chicano movement between 1965 and 1972. Of the three most significant, the first was José Montoya, who exemplified the cultural alienation of the initial stage of the Chicano movement. Rodolfo “Corky” González illustrated the second phase of assertive cultural nationalism. Juan Gómez-Quiñones represented an ensuing stage of reflection and maturity. The third poet, Limón finds, transformed the corrido through his appreciation of modernist poets and the cultural importance of women to produce in his “Ballad of Billy Rivera” the “true ballad of our time” (p. 151).

The historian who is patient with the jargon of literary criticism and theory in this book will find the effort well rewarded. Its author provides an engaging, thoughtful, and knowledgeable explanation of the link between the corrido and modern Chicano poetry and a no less informative and persuasive analysis of the relationship of both to Chicano history.