This is a useful book if read with an understanding of the author’s purpose. Steiner states: “This book is not a study. It is not a survey. It is about real people . . .” (p. 394). The book is, in fact, a very well-written and sympathetic journalistic report on the Mexican American activists. The author has spent much time talking with Mexican American leaders and their followers. The subjects’ feelings and beliefs are clearly communicated. Although the construction is loose, the focus of the book is on three areas of Chicano activity: 1) Tijerina’s fight for land in New Mexico; 2) Chávez’ fight for a union in the grape fields of California; and 3) the Mexican American field workers’ fight for justice in Texas. There are also side-excursions into the thought of urban Mexican American youth and into the more conservative world view of the Spanish-speaking middle class.
Throughout the book one feels the Chicanos’ yearnings and quest for identity and participation in a validated Mexican American culture. In part this involves looking back for roots to be found in Indian, Mexican, and U.S. history. In part it is also concerned with a revival of a dynamic Mexican American art, literature, and theater. Above all, perhaps, the Mexican American seeks power to enable him to overcome the social, economic, and political blocks to his own fulfillment. Tijerina sought such power, first in law and then in direct action. Chávez seeks it in a Gandhi-inspired appeal to conscience and humanity. Tijerina’s influence, the author states, is being replaced by cooperatives, while the followers of Chávez are gaining strength. In the movements of both leaders is expressed a nostalgic yearning for the traditional culture associated with the land as well as the need for economic and political power. In both the enemy is seen as the Anglo-dominated upper class.
The Mexican American population is beginning to exert itself, and Steiner has vividly captured the anger, frustration, and action in vivid prose. He has done an excellent reporting job on the Mexican American movements in progress, primarily in the words of the Mexican Americans themselves. He specifically avoids any attempt at a deeper analysis. Many minor criticisms could be aimed at the book, such as his superficial view of the pre-Conquest Mexican culture. More irritating are the few cases of error in Spanish and its translation, For example, the work “El Espejo” comes out as “El Espeso” (p. 224 and p. 403), and somehow he translates “Conejo” as “Rabbit Wire” and “El Nido” as “The Hen’s Nest” (p. 336). But such errors are trivial. Read as a report and not as an analysis, this book is fascinating and extremely useful.