After all of these years Chicano Poet Tino Villanueva has something to say to us. One of the founding fathers of Mexican-American cultural scene of the 1960s and 70s he not only wrote powerful, personal poetry about identity and struggle, he mentored many others and guided careers as a teacher and an editor/publisher.
Villanueva was born in 1941 to a San Marcos, Texas to a family of migrant workers. He was drafted into the Army and served for two years as a supply clerk in the Panama Canal Zone where he became immersed in Hispanic literature, reading Rubén Darío and José Martí. Back in the States he attended Southwest Texas State University on the GI Bill a MA at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and a PhD at Boston University.
Writing in both Spanish and English, often sliding effortlessly between the two languages, Villanueva wrote poems exploring themes of memory, longing, and history. He is the author of several poetry collections, including Hay Otra Voz: Poems (1972): Scene from the Movie GIANT (1993); and So Spoke Penelope (2013). He translated Luis J. Rodríguez’s La Llaman América (1998), and his own poems have been translated into Italian, French, German, Portuguese, Greek, and Korean.
The founder of Imagine Publishers, Inc., Villanueva has edited Imagine: International Chicano Poetry Journal and the anthology Chicanos: Antología Histórica y Literaria (1980).Villanueva received a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Texas State University, San Marcos and has taught at Wellesley College and Boston University.
Villanueva’s more recent work has shifted to finding new meaning in tales from Greek mythology. He has also exhibited his paintings. Now in retirement in Boston a selection of his papers is held at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.
You, If No One Else is one of those poems that found new life amid the activism stirred by the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change, gun violence, and the defense of democracy when it was under siege by Trumpism. All of those movements have quoted or made memes of this poem.
You, If No One Else
who transformed your anguish
into healthy awareness,
put your voice
where your memory is.
You who swallowed
the afternoon dust,
defend everything you understand
You, if no one else,
will condemn with your tongue
the erosion each disappointment brings.
You, who saw the images
of disgust growing,
will understand how time
devours the destitute;
you, who gave yourself
your own commandments,
know better than anyone
why you turned your back
on your town’s toughest limits.
Don’t throw away
the most persistent truth,
as our hard-headed brethren
what your life was like: cloudiness,
and slick mud
after a drizzle;
flimsy windows the wind
in winter, and that
unheated slab dwelling
where coldness crawled
up in your clothes.
Tell how you were able to come
to this point, to unbar
to see your early years
your people, the others.
Name the way
Rebellion’s calm spirit has served you,
and how you came
to unlearn the lessons
of that teacher,
your land’s omnipotent defiler.
Rock Hudson as the family patriarch in the Giant confronts a racist diner owner who has insulted his son's Chicana wife and brown baby in the climatic sene from the sprawling epic. It was a deeply personal experience for Villanueva.
Fight Scene Beginning was a breakthrough verse for Villanueva and appeared in Scene from the Movie GIANT a collection which was published in English and Spanish versions. The English edition won the American Book Award in 1994.
Fight Scene Beginning
Bick Benedict, that is, Rock Hudson in the
Time-clock of the movie, stands up and moves,
Deliberate, toward encounter. He has come out
Of the anxious blur of the backdrop, like
Coming out of the unreal into the world of
What’s true, down to earth and distinct; has
Stepped up to Sarge, the younger of the two,
And would sure appreciate it if he: “Were a
Little more polite to these people.” Sarge,
Who has something to defend, balks; asks
(In a long-shot) if: “that there papoose down
There, his name Benedict too?,” by which he
Means one-year old Jordy in the background
Booth hidden in the bosom of mother love of
Juana, who listens, trying not to listen. Rock
Hudson, his hair already the color of slate,
Who could not foresee this challenge, arms
Akimbo (turning around), contemplates the stable
And straight line of years gone by, says: “Yeah,
Come to think of it, it is.” And so acknowledges,
In his heart, his grandson, half-Anglo, half-
Brown. Sarge repents from words, but no
Part of his real self succumbs: “All right—
Forget I asked you. Now you just go back
Over there and sit down and we ain't gonna
Have no trouble. But this bunch here is
Gonna eat somewhere’s else.” Never shall I
Forget, never how quickly his hand threw my
Breathing off—how quickly he plopped the
Hat heavily askew once more on the old
Man’s head, seized two fistsful of shirt and
Coat and lifted his slight body like nothing,
A no-thing, who could have been any of us,
Weightless nobodies bronzed by real-time far
Off somewhere, not here, but in another
Country, yet here, where Rock Hudson’s face
Deepens; where in one motion, swift as a
Miracle, he catches Sarge off guard, grabs
His arm somehow, tumbles him back against
The counter and draws fire from Sarge to
Begin the fight up and down the wide screen
Of memory, ablaze in Warner-color light.