Caras viejas y vino nuevo, 1975 (Old Faces and New Wine, 1981; also known as Barrio on the Edge, 1998)
La verdad sin voz, 1979 (Death of an Anglo, 1988)
Reto en el paraíso, 1983
The Brick People, 1988
The Rag Doll Plagues, 1992
Alejandro Morales (moh-RAL-ehs) is a leading Chicano writer and professor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Born in Montebello, California (locally considered “East L.A.”), Morales grew up in a secure and loving working-class home, though in the midst of a more turbulent barrio. Witnessing the gang fights, drug deals, homelessness, and chaos on the streets of his neighborhood while still in high school, Morales decided to become a writer who would chronicle his community. He recorded his neighborhood experiences in his journals and then set out for college, first to earn a B.A. from California State University, Los Angeles, and then an M.A. (1971) and Ph.D. (1975) in Spanish from Rutgers University. Morales became a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, with an appointment in film studies at UCI, where he teaches courses on Latin American literature. He married Rohde Teaze on December 16, 1967, and they had two children, Alessandra Pilar and Gregory Stewart.
After finishing his Ph.D., Morales pursued publication of his first novel, Old Faces and New Wine, which was based on his youthful journal writings. Offers from American publishing companies proved elusive because of his challenging, experimental prose style and because the journals were initially written in Spanish. His early fiction reflects Morales’s anger at the exploitation of his parents, who worked in manufacturing, his despair over the conditions of the barrio, and his struggles against the racism, subtle and overt, he experienced in the academic world early in his teaching career. The result is an arresting prose style; readers of Morales’s early fiction have to work to make connections between events and their meanings and must also learn to comprehend the peculiar dialect he constructs to describe his subject. Often criticized by reviewers, especially for the way he bends both Spanish and English, Morales has written substantial literature that, because it is not easily accessible, has received less attention than other Mexican American literature of his generation.
Morales wrote two more novels in Spanish, but then, seeking a wider audience in the United States, he wrote The Brick People and The Rag Doll Plagues in English. The critical success of these two works has positioned Morales as a leading Chicano novelist. Since the late 1980’s, he has become a noted spokesman for Chicano writers–and Chicano culture–writing reviews and essays on Mexican American literature and Latino films and conducting interviews with other Chicano writers and poets.
Besides his stylistic innovations, Morales’s early publications demonstrate his interest in local history and biography. For example, his most popular novel, The Brick People, is based on the lives of his parents, who emigrated to California from Mexico and lived and worked at the Simmons Brick Plant in Pasadena, California. The Brick People chronicles the emigration to California of an entire generation of Mexican Americans at the turn of the twentieth century and describes how their labor helped build the growing metropolis of Los Angeles in the early 1930’s. It narrates the Mexican laborers’ exploitation by the paternalistic brick manufacturer. In interviews, public conversations, and symposia, Morales is fond of describing the Simmons brick, which graces the landscaping of his Southern California home, remarking that, like the brick, the lives and labors of Mexican Americans are embedded in the history and geography of California.
Morales’s later works, such as The Rag Doll Plagues, evince a strong interest in science, medicine, and technology. In these works, plots revolve around technological change and the effects of science on social evolution. This turn toward science and its social implications reflects Morales’s interest in how history is shaped and recorded and how it thus guides the present and future. Furthermore, writing about science and technology gives Morales a metaphorical language for describing the ongoing evolution of Mexican American culture, as Mexican Americans, or Chicanos, increasingly integrate with Anglos, Asian Americans, and African Americans, especially in California. In Morales’s allegorical fiction is a mixture of two compelling literary styles which reflect both his realism and his optimism. A gritty depiction of the racism, oppression, and violence that afflict the poor and minority cultures of America sits side by side on the page with fantastic or “magically real” interventions such as ghosts and the mythic powers of culture. Morales’s continuing experimentation reflects his often stated devotion to developing his mastery of the craft of writing.