NEA Big Read
Bless Me, Ultima

Bless Me, Ultima

by Rudolfo Anaya

A novel is not written to explain a culture, it creates its own.

The Life and Times of Rudolfo Anaya

  1. 1930s
    • 1932: Franklin Delano Roosevelt elected U.S. president.
    • 1937: Rudolfo Anaya born October 30 in Pastura, New Mexico.
  2. 1940s
    • 1941: Japanese forces bomb Pearl Harbor; America enters World War II.
    • Anaya's brothers fight in World War II.
    • 1945: Scientists test the atomic bomb in New Mexico, which the U.S. then drops over Japan, ending World War II.
  3. 1950s
    • 1953: Dwight D. Eisenhower inaugurated U.S. president, cementing a period of economic prosperity.
    • 1953: Anaya becomes temporarily paralyzed after a diving accident.
  4. 1960s
    • 1966: César Chávez organizes a band of striking California fruit pickers, leading to a five-year grape boycott.
    • Anaya graduates from the University of New Mexico with a BA in English in 1963, and marries Patricia Lawless in 1966.
  5. 1970s
    • 1970: Rally in Los Angeles protests high Latino casualties in Vietnam War; three killed, including Los Angeles Times reporter Ruben Salazar.
    • 1972: Anaya's first novel, Bless Me, Ultima, is published.
    • 1979: Anaya receives an NEA Literature Fellowship.
  6. 1980s
    • 1986: Immigration Reform and Control Act institutes sanctions for hiring the undocumented, strengthens border patrol enforcement.
    • Anaya travels to China in 1984, and later publishes his travel journal, A Chicano in China in 1986.
  7. 1990s
    • 1993: César Chávez dies.
    • 1995: Anaya releases Zia Summer, his first Sonny Baca mystery.
  8. 2000s
    • 2000: Anaya's book-length poem Elegy on the Death of César Chávez is published.
    • 2001: Anaya receives the National Medal of Arts.
    • 2002: Pope John Paul II canonizes Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin as the first Indian saint of the Americas.
    • 2010: Anaya's wife, Patricia, dies in January.

The Virgin of Guadalupe (Patron Saint of Mexico)

Twelve years after Spanish explorers landed on Mexican soil, the miracle of the Virgin of Guadalupe occurred. In 1531, the dark-skinned mother of Jesus appeared several times to a peasant Indian man named Juan Diego, a Catholic convert. She asked to have a church built on the site. After Diego told a bishop what happened—only to be turned away—a colorful image of the Virgin was emblazoned on Diego's cloak to validate his story. This miracle led to the conversion of about nine million of Mexico's Indians to Catholicism. The Vatican recognized this miracle in 1745, and the image now hangs above the altar in the Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Anaya's New Mexico

Like his protagonist Antonio Márez in Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya grew up in New Mexico under the shadow of World War II, which his brothers fought overseas. As a young boy in 1945, he would not have realized that, less than a day's ride away on horseback, government scientists in Los Alamos, New Mexico, had manufactured the atomic bomb that would bring the war in the Pacific to its horrific end.

Rural New Mexico in the mid-twentieth century had long been a land of Mexican and Native American tradition both lured by, and resistant to, civilization's advances. Hopi, Navajo, and Pueblo Indians had foraged and farmed there for centuries. When the Spanish arrived in 1540, they were newcomers. But the religion they believed, the laws they imposed, and the language they brought all took root.

The Rio Grande corridor is the bedrock of the Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache Indians, a spiritual setting that informs Anaya's fiction. As Anaya has said, "Into that came the Spaniards and the Mexicans with the Catholic religion; later, Anglo America comes in. So you have a fascinating place where these cultures are mixing, learning from each other, and quite often in conflict." The body of Spanish and Mexican folklore, called cuentos, passed orally from generation to generation, contains the basis of New Mexican values and beliefs. Through Ultima and Antonio, Anaya has created his own story that is as much old as new.

NEA Big Read
Get involved with NEA Big Read!
Learn More

© Arts Midwest