The author and professor of creative writing at Cornell was born in East Los Angeles, graduated from Garfield High and Immaculate Heart College, and worked as a bottler at the old Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery. She left the Graduate Writing program at UC Irvine in 1981 and began placing short stories in numerous magazines, journals and anthologies. Her new novel, Their Dogs Came With Them, is set amid the social and political turbulence of East Los Angeles in the 1960s. Viramontes spoke with Daniel Olivas at La Bloga:
Daniel Olivas: Why did you set your novel in East Los Angeles circa 1960 to 1970?
Helena María Viramontes: I set the novel in this decade because of the radical changes happening within the nation and within the community. The discontent with the Vietnam war, the rising power of the disenfranchised and the growing political consciousness planted by Civil rights, Chicano, and feminist movements all contributed to a chaotic questioning, a disruption of thinking and living. Business was no longer “as usual.” Though these were violent and exciting times, there were many who weren’t touched by these movements, left out. As the Grandmother Zumaya said of her daughter “whose dreams would be as big as revolutions that did not include you,” this is how I felt about several characters....
I also thought it interesting to begin the novel with the coming of the freeways. I do remember a time when there weren’t any freeways, and then I do remember the neighborhood, whole city blocks abandoned, then chewed up, our neighbors disappeared. It devastated, amputated East L.A. from the rest of the city. The bulldozers resembled the conqueror’s ships coming to colonize a second time and I felt a real desire to portray the lives of those who disappeared.
More at La Bloga, the Chicano group literary effort that has blogueras and blogueros spread from here to Denver and Chicago.