Associate Professor Anna Nogar of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at The University of New Mexico and A. Gabriel Meléndez, Distinguished Professor of American Studies at UNM, now retired, recently collaborated on a book of poetry translated from a volume by poet Felipe Maximiliano Chacón.
El feliz ingenio neomexicano: Felipe Chacón and Prosa y Poesía, published by UNM Press, is a bilingual recovery edition of Obras de Felipe Maximiliano Chacón, el Cantor Neomexicano: Poesía y prosa, the first collection of poetry published by the Mexican American author.
El feliz ingenio neomexicano is bilingual, with two introductory essays – one historical essay by Meléndez, one literary essay by Nogar – in English. It also provides the transcription of the original 1924 book and a complete translation to English.
“We collaborated throughout the process of translation and editing, suggesting and catching colloquial expressions to produce as faithful an interpretation as possible, while preserving the original texts’ aesthetic sense,” Nogar said. “We also included the Spanish poetic forms (soneto, romance, lira, quintilla) in the English to ensure that readers can appreciate Chacón’s rigorously adherence to form in his writing. He was following well-established aesthetic rules of Hispanophone literature as he wrote in Territorial-era New Mexico.”
Chacón (1873-1949) was a writer and Spanish-language newspaper editor who published the first book of poetry by a Mexican American, El cantor neomexicano, Felipe M. Chacón: Poesía y prosa, in 1924, on the presses of the Albuquerque newspaper La Bandera Americana. He was from a prominent literary and political family: His uncle was author Rafael Chacón, his cousin writer Eusebio Chacón, and his father, Urbano Chacón, was the superintendent of schools in Santa Fe as well as the editor of several Spanish-language newspapers.
Chacón started writing poetry as a youth – he wrote his earliest published poem when he was 13 or 14 – and continued throughout his adult life. He was the editor of several different Spanish-language newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he wrote news and editorial articles as well as creative works, which included short stories as well as poetry.
“Chacón was of a generation of New Mexicans – or neomexicanos, as some called themselves – who lived with the tension of inhabiting a territory whose transition to a state was presented as contingent upon sacrificing the predominant public and home language – Spanish – as well as other aspects of nuevomexicano cultural life. Chacón addressed these tensions directly in his writing, but also manifests them through his profound and perfectly symmetrical Spanish-English bilingualism, which emerges in interesting ways in his writing,” Nogar said.
Meléndez, a specialist in 19th and early 20th century New Mexican writing and newspapers, had identified Chacón as far back as 1997 in his ground breaking book So All is Not Lost. Through years of continued research Meléndez had long sought to recover Chacón and the work of others of his generation.
“The opportunity collaborate with Professor Nogar on El feliz ingenio neomexicano has been especially fortuitous, not only as a way to bring to full light an early and highly significant work by a Mexican American journalist but it also as a way to repay the trust Chacón’s daughter Herminia Chacón Gonzales placed in Meléndez when she gifted me with one of the last original copies of her father’s book, at the end of interview with Doña Herminia in El Paso, Texas when she was 85 years of age,” Meléndez said.
“This book is so important for understanding Spanish-speaking New Mexico during a period of great change that often resulted in the disenfranchisement of that population and other populations. In the 19th century and later, nuevomexicanos were frequently cast by outsiders as a people whose culture, language, and religion somehow disqualified them from positions of governance and business,” Nogar said. “Chacón’s political poetry seeks to set the record straight, recognizing New Mexico’s statehood – and the xenophobia that had delayed it; lauding its native political candidates, such as Octaviano Larrazolo and Nina Otero Warren; and decrying opportunistic politicians such as William ‘Bull’ Andrews who came to the New Mexico to enrich themselves rather than the Territory.”
Finally, the poetry is a lovely read, Nogar remarked.
“Chacón writes to his family and his community, and the tenderness and intimacy of that communication is a major feature of his writing. Stylistically, Chacón synthesizes several different poetic styles from across the Spanish speaking world, to write something beautiful and impactful about his home. Chacón’s sharp wit and humor emerge in several poems that can’t help but elicit a chuckle.”
Since 2013 the UNM Press book series Pasó por Aquí that Meléndez co-edits with Genaro Padilla (U.C. Berkeley) has made its mission to research and recover the literary legacy of native Hispanic New Mexicans in both Spanish and English translation and to make the finding of this research available to contemporary readers. The addition of Felipe M. Chacón and Poesía y prosa marks the publication of the 21st book in the series.