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 that’s what the idea of Aztlán gives me. I don’t 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. That’s fine! Because you’re 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 do things.
People say "You write a lot, Anaya. You’re 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 Chicanos?

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 we’re Native American or Mexicanos or Hispanos, we share in that myth. It’s 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. It’s in your corazón, you know? It's a sub-stratum, underneath, that everybody incorporates into themselves. And then you share it because it’s communal. That’s 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 Aztlán.

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 it’s 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 to learn.

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 it’s 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 it’s 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 it’s a ridiculous statement because we are where we came from. We are a communal people, and we have a close relationship to our ancestors. We’re 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.

<< Back