Places: Heart of Aztlán

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1976

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1950’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Guadalupe

*Guadalupe. Heart of AztlánSmall agrarian New Mexico community in which the central character, Clemente Chávez, is spiritually connected to his land: “His soul and his heart were in the earth.” His family have lived on this same land for generations, so it is literally the “roots of his soul.” As he is leaving his homeland, Clemente represents a problem that all Mexican Americans face when they leave their land in search of better economic opportunities in the cities: Without the land the relationship man created with the earth would be lost, old customs and traditions would fall by the wayside, and the people would be like wandering gypsies without a homeland where they might anchor their spirit.

Clemente’s family not only leaves the physical land behind, they leave their spiritual connection behind them, too, and this loss will create enormous conflict in their lives. To ameliorate their feelings of being uprooted, they make a symbolic attempt to take the land with them by filling a coffee can with rich dirt from their garden.


*Albuquerque. New Mexico’s largest city, the setting in which the novel’s main action occurs. After leaving their home in Guadalupe, the Chávezes make their home in the Barelas barrio in downtown Albuquerque. This city is literally and figuratively “in a new time and in a new place.” In this communal environment, the family at first feels accepted through the experiences they share with their neighbors. However, from Clemente’s first attempt to mix the lush soil from his original home with the “hard city soil,” the novel conveys the hostilities and difficulties the family will face.

The novel is filled with symbols that convey the violence, alienation, racism, poverty, and subjugation the family must confront and overcome if they are to survive. Some symbols are used ironically. For instance, a water tank next to a railroad yard might normally symbolize life, nourishment; here, however, it is a “black tower of steel [that] loomed over everything.” It projects the inherent evil of those who own the railroad, a socioeconomic institution that controls its workers through threats and coercion. Eventually, the tank becomes known as “devil’s tower” because of the injustices that take place there. The evil extends to the houses that surround the railroad yard as they are “dark with soot.” Even the elm trees, normally symbols of fertility and life, are “withered and bare.” The men who survive working in dismal, life-threatening conditions are covered with the black soot, which eventually creeps into their souls and destroys them.

The Roman Catholic Church, which should be a safe haven that offers its parishioners solace and hope, refuses to get involved in the strike against the injustices leveled against the people in the barrio. The public schools instead of being the great equalizer are places in which prejudice and violence flourish and are often even nourished. Rudolfo A. Anaya does not suggest that the people of the barrio should forsake the city and return to their rural environment. He does believe that if the family and the people of the barrio are to survive, they must reestablish their connection with their cultural heritage and forge new identities.


Aztlán. Mythical ancestral homeland of the Mexican American people that represents a spiritual reconnection to their culture, past, and pride as a people. When the people of the barrio rediscover Aztlán, their spiritual foundation, the “infusion of spirit into flesh,” they unite and overcome the injustices, violence, and alienation. Aztlán is a mysterious, spiritual place that could only exist in the Southwest, in particular, Albuquerque.

BibliographyAlurista. “Myth, Identity and Struggle in Three Chicano Novels: Aztlán . . . Anaya, Méndez and Acosta.” In Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, edited by Rudolfo A. Anaya and Francisco A. Lomelí. Albuquerque: Academia/El Norte Publications, 1989. Sketches three versions of the myth of Aztlán. Demonstrates the influence of Mexican and Chicano versions of the myth on Heart of Aztlán.Candelaria, Cordelia. “Rudolfo A. Anaya.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 82. Chicano Writers. Edited by Francisco A. Lomelí and Carl R. Shirley. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982. A somewhat harsh survey of Anaya’s works. Discusses oppressive nature of technology, religion, and capitalism on the Chicano community of Heart of Aztlán.Lamadrid, Enrique. “The Dynamics of Myth in the Creative Vision of Rudolfo Anaya.” In Pasó por aquí: Critical Essays on the New Mexican Literary Tradition, 1542-1988, edited by Erlinda Gonzales-Berry. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989. Compares myth in Bless Me, Ultima as a way of understanding the world versus myth in Heart of Aztlán as a way of changing the world.Márquez, Antonio. “The Achievement of Rudolfo A. Anaya.” In The Magic of Words: Ru-dolfo A. Anaya and His Writings, edited by Paul Vasallo. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982. Thorough discussion of the trilogy and its critical reception.Pina, Michael. “The Archaic, Historical and Mythicized Dimensions of Aztlán.” In Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, edited by Rudolfo A. Anaya and Francisco A. Lomelí. Albuquerque: Academia/El Norte Publications, 1989. Excellent introduction to the history and meaning of the myth of Aztlán, its importance to Chicano nationalism, and its use in Heart of Aztlán.
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