Den Mother

Poet Angela de Hoyos died on Sept. 24 at her home in San Antonio at the age of 85. De Hoyos was a Chicano poet even before the term existed, publishing award-winning political poems in the 1960s. In the mid-1970s, when the movement was in full bloom, she rose to prominence with the publication of her most famous work, “Arise, Chicano!” She went on to found M&A Press, which published a new generation of Chicano writers from a printing press in her garage.

About four-and-a-half feet tall, Angela de Hoyos was, as Rudolfo Anaya put it, “one of our giants.” She was a walking contradiction in many ways. Older than even the oldest of the activists who created the Chicano movement in the 1960s—and older by more than a decade than writers like Anaya and Tomás Rivera—Angela always seemed part of a younger generation. Such was her passion.

Angela de HoyosThat impression came partly from the fact that she surrounded herself with younger writers, especially when her micropress, M&A Editions, was turning out groundbreaking books by young Chicanas like Carmen Tafolla, Evangelina Vigil and Inés Hernández. Angela had enormous respect for other people’s talent. If you were a writer in the same room with her, she made you feel like you were the best writer in the room.

She was so self-effacing that it could be disorienting. Once she asked me to help oversee a creative-writing thesis for Vermont College. A poet had chosen her to be the designated mentor. “I don’t know why she picked me,” Angela said. “I’m nobody.”

“Right,” I said, “just like Emily Dickinson. Perhaps she picked you because you’re one of the best-known Chicana poets in the world.”

Angela shook her head dismissively. “I’m not Emily,” she said. “I really am nobody.”

Arise, Chicano!In your migrant’s world of hand-to-mouth days,your children go smileless to a cold bed;the bare walls rockaby the same wry song,a ragged dirge, thin as the air…I have seen you go downunder the shrewd heel of exploit—your long suns of brutal sweatwith ignoble pittance crowned.Trapped in the never-ending fieldswhere you stoop, dreaming of sweeter dawns,while the mocking whip of slavehoodconfiscates your moment of reverie.Or beneath the stars—offendedby your rude songs of rebellion—when, at last, you shroud your dreamsand with them, your hymn of hope.Thus a bitterness in your life:wherever you turn for solacethere is an embargo.How to express your anguishwhen not even your burning wordsare yours, they are borrowedfrom the festering barrios of poverty,and the sadness in your eyesonly reflects the mute pain of your people.Arise Chicano!—that divine spark within yousurely says—Wash your woundsand swathe your agonies.There is no one to succor you.You must be your own messiah.

Angela isn’t a household name like Dickinson, but her influence was felt by a generation of Latino writers. The late poet Raúl Salinas famously called Angela the “den mother of the Chicano movement.” He was referring not to Cub Scouts, but to wolves. It was a perfect description. Angela was fierce in her advocacy, yet the gentlest of guiding spirits to many young writers. A creator of community, she loved celebrating and commemorating things. When a new book was published or a play debuted at the Guadalupe Theater, she’d throw a party. Around her house (to this day) are cement stepping-stones signed, decorated and hand-printed by writers, playwrights and actors. Not many people think of mixing cement when they host a party. At her funeral, I mentioned the stones, and half the room grinned.

A pithier poet than most, she had a delicious wit as well. When I mentioned that she had named one of the calves on her ranchito for my daughter Brigid, the young poet Sheila Sánchez Hatch told how Angela had named a cow after her, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same cow.

My best memories of Angela seem to be set mostly in the middle of the night. She and her husband Moises kept late hours. When I was editing Vortex: A Critical Review, we set the type on Moises’ Photocomp machine. It had so many light leaks that it was practically wrapped in duct tape, so working at night made an odd kind of sense. Angela was always there with cookies, a new drawing, a new poem, encouraging words and a keen editorial eye. We often ended those evenings with a midnight cup of Angela’s hot chocolate, mixing poetry and science, politics and stories.

Like the rest of humanity, writers with international reputations are a mixed bag of horse’s asses, cactus egos and occasional saints. I’ve rarely known one who came so close to being just plain human.

Bryce Milligan is an author and the publisher-editor of Wings Press in San Antonio. He worked closely with de Hoyos for many years.

The Final LaughOn an empty stomach,with the pang of mendicant yesterdays,I greet my reflectionin the dark mirror of dusk.What do the entrails knowabout the necessity of being white—the advisability of mail-order parents?Or this wearing in mock defiancethe thin rag of ethnic pride,saying to shivering flesh and grumbling belly:Patience, O companions of my dignity?Perhaps someday I shall accustom myselfto this: my hand held outin eternal supplication, being contentwith the left-overs of a greedy establishment.Or—who knows?—perhaps tomorrowI shall burst these shacklesand rising to my natural full heightfling the final parting laughO gluttonous omnipotent alien white world.(This poem received the Diploma Di Benemerenza from the Accademia L. Da Vinci, Rome, in 1972) The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio will host an evening tribute to Angela de Hoyos on Saturday, January 9, starting at 6:30 p.m. This free event will feature an exhibit of de Hoyos’ artwork, books and magazines she wrote or published, an altar de palabras, and an evening of readings and tributes. There will also be a video booth to record memories and stories about de Hoyos. The Center is located at 1300 Guadalupe Street, San Antonio.

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Published at 12:00 am CST