Introduction to Latina and Latino Literature/Estela Potillo-Trambley

Estela Portillo Trambley edit

Brief Biography edit

Considered to be a pioneer of the Chicana Literature, Estela Portillo Trambley was the first Chicana to publish a book of short stories, Rain of Scorpions and Other Writings, 1977, and the first to produce plays, one of which was a musical comedy called Sun Images produced in 1975. Challenging tradition and the status quo are among the common themes recognized in her stories, situations that were not strictly just confined to the Chicano plights in the US. The universality of these stories could be gleaned from the external and the internal. The former was displayed with the struggles specifically experienced by the differences in gender, calling attention to the consequences of the assertion of the patriarchal society on the feminine psyche, while the latter asked the characters and the readers to look beyond these prescribed roles within developed social orders and instead concede back to basic instincts.

Estela Portillo Trambley was born in El Paso, Texas on 16 January 1936, and was the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. She was raised both in Mexico and El Paso, and bilingual. She claimed to be much comfortable and at home with Spanish, although when it came to writing, English was the language where she could express her thoughts creatively. Her interest in writing led to a master’s degree in English Literature from the College of Mines in Texas while going through the hurdles of raising a family. Apparently the demands of being a mother and husband did not prevent her from pursuing other creative endeavor completing a versatility in the English language: She taught high school, wrote and directed plays, wrote fiction and poetry. She also hosted a radio talk show titled, Stella Sez in Texas. She produced a play, Blacklight, which won second place in the 1985 New York Shakespeare festival’s Hispanic American Playwright competition. Her first literary success was the publication of The Day of the Swallows in 1971, but publishing Sor Juana and Other Plays brought her widespread critical acclaim and national attention. Portillo Trambley was also successful in venturing the novel form with Trini in 1986 concerning a Mexican woman’s struggles for survival. Her most distinguished play was Sor Juana in 1983 based on a seventeenth century Mexican nun, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. Portillo Trambley’s interest in her was of her purity, not necessarily her awareness: Sor was not aware of the dire poverty in Mexico, and even wrote about the great traits of the Spanish viceroys and queen and the king’s son. Portillo Trambley brought Sor Juana to the fore as a “touchstone of Chicana feminists.”

Place in Latina(o) Literature edit

Estela Portillo Trambley was highly regarded to be the forefront of Chicana Literature. When asked in an interview what she thought of being labeled ‘Chicana,’ ‘Hispanic,’ ‘Mexican American,’ ‘Latina,’ she responded, “I feel comfortable with any of the labels-‘Hispanic,’ ‘Chicana,’ ‘Mexican American,’ and ‘Latina.’ I am all of them. She added, “Deep in my psyche I am no different than any American- I have greater command of their language than they do.” These comments were exemplified by Portillo Trambley’s numerous achievements in the Literary Arts. She admitted that, “I am a composite of all the heroines of the books I’ve read- legendary, mythological, fictional ones. I wonder if I am real. I want to be.” She viewed Chicana writers as all having in common that focuses on the “exploitation of women, their struggle for emergence as a whole woman, emancipation, and the problem of loneliness.” In regards to other Chicana writers that came in the decades following Portillo Trambley, like Roberta Fernandez, Demetria Martinez, Helena Maria Villamontes, generational gap was none existent to her: “I tend to be very universal in my writing and belong to all time.” Later in life Portillo Trambley rejected the more radical rhetoric of some Chicano contemporaries and acknowledged the influence of European and American classics in her writing. These influences gave her “a marvelous universal spirit. I’m really much more open and accepting.” Portillo Trambley elected the more universal approach to the world instead of thinking in partitioning groups from one another: “I think we should extend ourselves out of the Chicano globule and go out into the world, into not making things black and white, not looking at people as ‘us and them’ but as just being there having a place in the universe as human beings” (63).

Comparison to other Latina(o) Authors edit

Analysis of Specific Texts edit

Estela Portillo Trambley’s treatment of her female protagonists in the stories such as The Paris Gown and If It weren’t for the Honeysuckle was creditable to their gender’s strongest suites, which were deep psychological insights and an encompassing awareness of the self that reverberates emotional depth. These characteristic traits of the feminine stood in stark contrast to the masculine who dominated the world, dictating what’s proper and the pronouncing the consequences of not adhering otherwise. Reading these stories does not necessarily bring to mind specific ethnic groups as Chicano(a), but something more universal that anyone living on the planet could readily relate, especially if he/she is at the receiving end of an abusive relationship regardless of ethnic origin. One thing that could be noticed with these tales were the division of the political to the personal. Portillo Trambley mentioned in an interview that politics should not have any place in our personal lives because that would only suck the life out of “a life,” and “all good literature is based on a human experience which is nonpolitical.” Clotilde in The Paris Gown, when asked by Teresa, “Primitivism-barbarism-don’t these go together?” The response Clotilde thrown upon the reader could be considered as a gift that is enlightening: “Primitives? People of instinct and intuition-free-like children in their thinking, like animals when in fear- brutal. Savages, you might say, but savages do less harm than barbarians. Barbarians are a product of civilization. Artists attempt to preserve our humanity. Civilization destroys it, little by little” (1154). She added that the “creatures of civilization” are “politicians, big business, warmongers for great gain.” Try as Clotilde might in reasoning with her father to send her to Paris, she was consistently denied, so she had to concoct a plan devious enough to have a lasting impact to her father and everyone else in the room. Her dramatic entrance of nakedness before her unsuspecting family, repulsive bridegroom, and friends posts a strong statement against the absurdity of captivity, her captivity by a father whose immovability left her with no other recourse of action, and Portillo Trambley came up with the penultimate idea reserved for the grand finale of a story. This idea of the merits of primitivism extends to Portillo Trambley’s If It Weren’t for the Honeysuckle, but channeled through the “Dionysian covering of a soul.” The honeysuckle was symbolic of an individual such as Beatriz being deeply in touch with her primitive instinct. The story was highly imagistic from the beginning with, “one huge white church towering high over the village. It seemed to stand alone, for the mud huts that surround it gave the appearance of growing out of the mountain, like its fruit” (97). The huts continued “down the mountain” to a river bed where things “were green.” This description was suggestive of Beatriz’ disposition in the scheme of things. She acknowledged that running away with Robles at fourteen was a mistake, but she was trying to escape slavery from family. She figured “washing for one man was better than washing for nine” (99). Portillo Trambley included other women in the story like Sofa and Lucretia, represented as victimized women, but Beatriz was the one relegated to save the day with her steady resolve. These three women symbolized different levels of sensitivity of the feminine gender: innocence in Lucretia, Sofa’s emotional dependence on her cat, Mofi, and Beatriz’ totality representative of close connection with nature, as well as an embodiment of justice for women and the championing of individuality for anyone. Portillo Trambley’s women characters were viewed at times as violent, but she reasoned, “it‘s only an outcome of prolonged oppression and abuse.”

Literary Criticism edit

Links to Online Copies of texts edit

Miscellaneous Links edit

Syllabi edit

Bibliography of secondary Sources edit

  • “Introduction.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg, Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 163. Gale Cengage 2005. 30Jun, 2014.
  • “A MELUS Interview: Estela Portillo-Trambley.” Faye Nell Vowell and Estela Portillo-Trambley. MELUS, Vol. 9, No. 4, Varieties of Ethnic Criticism (Winter, 1982). pp. 59-66. Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for the study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS). Article Stable URL:
  • “Chicana Ways: Conversations with Ten Chicana Writers.” Ed. Karin Ikas. pp. 205-208. University of Nevada Press, 2001.

references edit


  1. "Introduction:" Twentieth-Century Literay Cricism. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg, Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 163. Gale Cengage 2005. 30jun, 2014.
  2. "A MELUS Interview: Estela Portillo-Trambley." Faye Nell Vowell and Estela Portillo-Trambley. MELUS, Vol. 9, No. 4, Varieties of Ethnic Criticism (Winter, 1982). pp. 59-66. Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS). Article Stable URL:
  3. "Chicana Ways: Conversations with Ten Chicana Writers." Ed. Karin Ikas. pp. 205-208. University of Nevada Press, 2001.