Q: What does Aztlán mean to you?
A: Aztlán is, first of all I think, a myth. And we should understand
it in the context of world mythology. Every community of people that has
ever existed creates myth. And myth I understand as story, as legend.
But it becomes very powerful because the myth tells the people who they
are. Where they came from. And it gives them their value system. And thats
what the idea of Aztlán gives me. I dont need to go find
a place on a map. A lot of people have been searching for the geographic
location. This is true of all myths, right? If you read Greek mythology,
you find scholars that go look for the places where such and such a story
took place. Thats fine! Because youre looking for the ocean
or the cove or the hilltop where the battle took place. And so we can
also search for those signposts in the landscape, in la tierra, where
the migrations of these people took place. But I think the real key is
understanding that these are part of our stories. That they belong to
us. And that they give us a feeling of identity, and they empower us to
People say "You write a lot, Anaya. Youre producing all these
books. Why?" Because I've always been tied to my tierra and my fuente,
and they give me that energy.
Q: To what degree is Aztlán a unifying concept of community among
A: Myth is always communal. Myth does not belong to one person. The beauty
of this story of Aztlán is that it belongs to all of us. Whether
were Native American or Mexicanos or Hispanos, we share in that
myth. Its communal. And it was very important in the '60's and '70's,
and I see it now in the young people. It continues to be important. I
visit a lot of schools and universities and give talks, and the young
people will come out with their T-shirts "Viva Aztlán,"
"Hecho En Aztlán" (Made in Aztlán). The power
of myth is that it doesn't have to be in your rational mind. Its
in your corazón, you know? It's a sub-stratum, underneath, that
everybody incorporates into themselves. And then you share it because
its communal. Thats the beauty of it.
Q: Why did you name your award "Premio Aztlán?"
A: About eight years ago, my wife and I had the idea to create a literary
prize to nurture and encourage young Chicanos [and] Chicanas [that] were
starting to write. So we set up the Premio Aztlán. I think its
obvious that we called it the Premio Aztlán because it relates
to that idea that I believe so strongly in and is still alive. And its
been very good, the awards that we've had have been fantastic people who
have come here to Albuquerque, and read from their work. They don't need
to write about Aztlán in their work. But they all identify with
Q: What is Aztlán's connection to the creation of the Chicano people?
A: Those of us that call ourselves Chicanos have been here for a long
time. [Because of] what happened in the '60's, because of Alurista and
other writers, we begin to find our indigenous mythology. And in that
mythology is the myth of Aztlán. So its kind of like we stumbled
upon a story that helped us understand who we are. [It] gave us a sense
of belonging, that our Native American ancestors had been here, and had
left those stories in the land. We had been separated from those stories
for a long time.
The American system of education gave us their mythology. And now it was
time for us to find our mythology. And there [are] many aspects to it--Aztlán
is only one. There [are] many many beautiful stories that we still have
Q: One time you told us that our stories are really rooted in the pueblos
here, in New Mexico. Can you explain what you meant by that?
A: Chicanos throughout Aztlán will identify with the myth in their
own particular way. I identify, being a [New Mexican], I identify a lot
with the indigenous populations of Nuevo Méjico, that is the Pueblo
Indians. Sad to say, we don't know many of their stories. But I'm sure
that in their stories is incorporated part of this myth of Aztlán.
In fact, there is a very old man in one of the pueblos, he's over a hundred,
that knows this myth. And some people have talked to him. So you see those
stories, as I've said before, are communal. They pass from person to person,
and they work their way into the community. It creates a sense of belonging.
Q: Some people confuse this subject of Aztlán as land versus having
roots here. Can you explain that dynamic?
A: Well, I think its important to say that we do come from the land.
But we live in a country that has a different concept of land. You have
to own the land. You have to have a piece of property. You have to have
a deed. The myth is really the world of the Gods. And what we're really
trying to do when we listen to our old stories and our old legends, is
to connect with that world. And in that world, the land is not owned by
anyone. It nurtures us. We're born from it, and it gives us its fruits.
And we live from it. And its also important to celebrate those people
who work the land, [those] who actually are the workers in the fields
that give us so much and so often are the least appreciated.
Q: How do you react to people who say things like "go back where
you came from," as if we are foreigners here in America?
A: I think when Anglo America tells us to go back where we came from its
a ridiculous statement because we are where we came from. We are a communal
people, and we have a close relationship to our ancestors. Were
a people that really honor our ancestors. And because our ancestors were
from this place, from this land, and left their stories here, we are where
we came from.
Q: Can you tell us where the heart of Aztlán is?
A: Actually, my second novel [is] called Heart of Aztlán. So, if
you want to know where the heart of Aztlán is, you should go read
my novel. The main character, Clemente Chavez, goes out to find Aztlán,
and in the end, he [has] this epiphany when he says "I am Aztlán."
I am the heart of Aztlán. It's within me. It's in my soul, in my
corazón, and from here I go on.