About the Author: Helena Maria Viramontes

Viramontes is a Chicana writer who was born in 1954 in East Los Angeles, California. Her father was a construction worker and her mother a homemaker. She attended school at the Immaculate Heart College and University of California at Irvine. She is co-founder of the Southern California Latino Writers and Film Makers group. Her first published book of short stories, entitled The Moth and Other Stories (1985), focuses upon everyday occurrences of oppression in the daily lives of ordinary women, mostly Chicana women. She wrote Paris Rats in E.L.A. (1993), which she also rewrote into a screenplay. Her most famous work to date is a 1995 novel, Under the Feet of Jesus, which portrays the life of Estrella, a young migrant worker, coming of age, who must cope with the many difficult situations in which she finds herself along with her family. The author's most recent novel is Their Dogs Came with Them (1996), a tale concerning the brutality of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. She is a co-editor, with Maria Herrera-Sebek, of two collections, Chicana (W) rites: On Word and Film (1995), and Chicana Creativity and Criticism (1996).Viramontes currently works as a Professor of English at Cornell University.

Viramontes is known as a Chicana writer whose work tends to address social issues. She believes that writing can bring about social change. In one interview, the author states about her novel, Under the Feet of Jesus, "If they read the book, and if they think about the piscadores when they eat their salad, that would bring me great satisfaction as a writer." This author also combines social issues with themes of feminism in her work. Sonia Saldivar-Hull says of Viramontes, "Her groundbreaking narrative strategies, combined with her sociopolitical focus, situate her at the forefront of an emerging Chicana literary tradition that redefines Chicano literature and feminist theory" (Dictionary of Literary Biography). Saldivar-Hull, in Feminism on the Border, notices that many of Viramontes' works are not typical Latina "quest for origins" stories but rather they seek to transform and rework concepts of the Chicano family. They tend to disrupt the notion of the monolithic Latino/Latina family as a refuge from outside racism and class exploitation, rather relocating ". . . chicano families from secretive, barricaded sites of male rule to contested terrains where girls and women perform valued rituals that do not necessarily adhere to androcentric familial traditions . . ." (Saldivar-Hull 132). Her work, according to Saldivar-Hull, permits both Chicanas and Chicanos to exist as unique gendered and racialized subjects in a United States Latino/Latina America.

Viramontes' powerful style is descriptive and sweepingly realistic in scope, while still incorporating a strong dose of natural and religious symbolism. It hovers close to magical realism but does not cross over into that realm totally. For example, in the closing scene of Under the Feet of Jesus, the reader experiences on one level an uncertainty about Estella's immediate future but on another level there is symbolic evidence of freedom, hope and ascent.

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