University of Rochester

Book Examines Popular Mexican Genre of Chronicle Writing

August 27, 2002

In Mexico and throughout Latin America, the chronicle is a popular literary genre that bridges fiction and nonfiction, literature and journalism. But though the "crónica" boasts a 500-year history, it's gotten little critical review.

A University of Rochester professor has co-edited a book that offers the first study of the chronicle in 20th-century Mexico. The Contemporary Mexican Chronicle: Theoretical Perspectives on the Liminal Genre, co-edited by Beth E. Jörgensen, associate professor of Spanish at Rochester, and Ignacio Corona, assistant professor of Spanish at Ohio State University, examines the chronicle both as a literary genre and as a cultural and social practice.

Like news stories, crónicas document contemporary events and issues. But unlike journalism, which strives for concise objective reporting of facts, chronicles are longer, more meticulously written, and offer analysis and interpretation from the writer's perspective on politics, social issues like workers' and women's rights, and cultural phenomena.

"Chronicles have always expressed a critical view of society, of the government, the army, or the Church," says Jörgensen. "The 'crónistas'-the chronicle writers-could evade censorship and express criticism that other writers couldn't publish in other media."

The roots of the chronicle reach back to the Spanish conquest of the Americas, when explorers recorded their actions in letters and diaries. After gaining their independence, the new governments used those accounts along with other documents of the colonial period to reconstruct their countries' histories.

The Mexican crónicas of the past hundred years, Jörgensen says, will themselves be considered historical documents. Throughout the 20th century, crónistas documented urban growth, the impact of modernization, natural disasters, government corruption, uprisings, protest movements, crimes, and scenes from everyday life to press for social and political change.

In the United States, the "New Journalism" of the 1960s mirrored the intent of chronicle writing in Latin America, says Jörgensen, as does the oral history work of Studs Terkel and the personal commentaries of Joan Didion.

The Contemporary Mexican Chronicle includes reflective essays on chronicle writing by some of its most famous current practitioners, like Carlos Monsiváis, Mexico's leading crónista, and Elena Poniatowska, a pioneering woman journalist and novelist. The second half of the book consists of analysis of chronicle texts by scholars working in the United States.

The Contemporary Mexican Chronicle (288 pages; $23.95 paperback, $71.50 hardcover) is published by the State University of New York Press as part of its series in Latin American and Iberian Thought and Culture.