Bless Me, Ultima: Kenya Kinski-Jones

Bless Me, Ultima is a story that is strongly driven by the theme of identity. Within the theme of identity we see the clash between Chicana/o heritage and gothic culture. Antonio works as the subject from which the readers/audience observe his path among Chicana/o and gothic influence. Antonio’s Chicano identity is demanded through his mother’s Christian faith as she wants him to become a priest. This Christian presence sort of  counter acts against the gothic presence of Ultima’s witch-like persona as she becomes as strong influence for Antonio. Seeing as there is an occurance of opposition between his Chicano heritage and gothic-like curiosity, a light is shed on Antonio’s struggle to solidify his identity as well as his fate. Perhaps it is these two conflicting cultures that create an urgency within Antonio to find a concluding sense of identity.

With this quest to solidify his identity, Antonio takes on a mature nature as he learns about the good and the bad in life. This works as a form of a loss of innocence as when the reader first meets Antonio he seems to be an innocent boy. Ultima’s teachings have much to do with this new wisdom that is beyond Antonio’s years. In addition, some events spark Antonio to wonder about the realities of sin and consequence which is highly connected to Christianity. For example, Lupito’s muder as well as the murder of Narciso acts as events that slowly rob Antonio of his innocence. These events also force Antonio to consider lessons from his Chicano heritage as well as from his supernatural experiences alongside Ultima.

I would say the theme of identity is the most vital theme to recognize from the story as it is centralized by the opposition between Chicana/o and Christian traditions and Ultima’s supernatural nature. Perhaps Antonio’s loss of innocence is a form of solidifying his identity in the sense that he is gaining enough maturity to find a balance between Ultima’s spiritual lessons and his Chicano heritage. Or to choose one over the other. This makes me question if the presence of witchery can coexist with one of Chicano/a heritage or one of Christian religion.

Rudolfo Anaya Responds to Book Ban

C-Span Interview with Rudolfo Anaya

I discovered this interview with the author of Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya. Anaya was born and grew up in Alburquerque, New Mexico and wrote the book in the 1960s when he was teaching. This was of importance because of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s taking shape. A fact that I found intriguing is that the book is required reading in public schools across New Mexico but is banned in some education systems in Arizona and Colorado because of the subject matter.

Firstly, I found this video important because Anaya addresses a lot of positive and negative reactions to his book. Some people objected to the book’s vernacular or the issues regarding witchcraft. A lot of times, many people didn’t even read the book but they picked apart a small portion that they disagreed with and blew it out of proportion. These ignorant reactions are destructive and remind Anaya of “totalitarian” ideas especially considering the universal acclaim of the Harry Potter series, books ensconced in witchcraft.

I almost see this as a real-life representation of the reaction of varying characters throughout the book itself. Ultima has had mixed interpretations from people surrounding her both in the fictitious pages of the book and in the realities of life. Anaya comes from New Mexico, where the common folklore of witches, or shaman as Anaya likes to say, is that they have the spiritual powers to perform both good or evil. These healers who Anaya brilliantly described as “warriors who helped restore harmony to the fragmented soul” (Anaya xi). That viewpoint is not shared by the masses.

Another point Anaya makes is how he grounds his book on the strength of building relationships. Many other movies are solely entertainment for audiences and provide ample action but not a development of relationships. He mentions that one of the most important relationships in the novel was between Antonio and Ultima, where the latter provided guidance and education as tools for self-discovery.

A large portion of the novel, and linked to the character of Antonio, were his mystical dreams which often provided him with symbolic representations of his past, present and possible future. Anaya, in this interview, provides the knowledge that the character of Ultima came to him in a dream to guide him in her creation and role in his story, stating to him: “You’ll never get it right until you put me in it.” The story of the origin of Ultima further connected Anaya to the character of Antonio and his journey.

Works Cited

“Book Discussion on Bless Me, Ultima“. Online Video Clip. C-Span. C-Span, 6 Feb. 2013. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

Anaya, Rudolfo. Bless Me, Ultima. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1972. Print.

“Knowledge is Power” or “Ignorance is Bliss”?

In Bless Me, Ultima, we find Antonio constantly seeking answers throughout the story. He wants to know anything and everything, which is common for young boys his age. He yearns to know about Ultima’s powers, and how she cures the sick. He also seeks to gain more knowledge about the Golden Carp, his indigenous religion. However, the more knowledge Antonio gains, the more he begins to question and battle between his indigenous religion and his Catholic one. It begins with him questioning if it was a sin to even believe in the golden carp, as it can be seen as worshipping a false idol according to the Ten Commandments. But in the later chapters, after witnessing yet another murder, he begins to doubt God himself. He questions why Tenorio continues to go unpunished after the crime he committed and why Narciso, who was a good man, had to die. He even prayed to the Virgin for answers, and in his mind, he envisioned god saying that he was “not ready to understand”.

This theme of seeking truths sheds light on one of the many gothic elements of the book. As we saw in The Vine Leaf and The Birthmark, many gothic stories surround the battle of science and nature. It sometimes shows how man is constantly seeking answers to what shouldn’t be tampered with in the first place. Aside from the previously mentioned short stories, an example of this is also found in the famous Goth tale Frankenstein, where a scientist attempted to “play God” and create life himself. As we see through these stories, the acquirement of knowledge does not always promise a happy ending. In The Birthmark, we see the main character pay the ultimate price for allowing her husband to tamper with what was naturally given to her.

Given this background knowledge of gothic tales, it safe for one to assume that this story will not end well. This was foreshadowed in chapter 17, when the old women of the town were speaking of the new atomic bomb invented to end the war. They state, “…they seek to know more than God himself. In the end, that knowledge they seek will destroy us all”. I took this as a very ominous sign. We commonly hear of the saying “knowledge is power” and “ignorance is bliss”, but which is it? Will Antonio’s quest for answers lead to his loss of innocence? Or has he already lost it?

The Tension of Culture, Religion and Landscape in Bless Me Ultima

Jemez River

Image courtesy of:  Adventure Insider Worldwide.

Jemez River East Fork.


In many ways, Bless me Ultima represents a rupture for Antonio from a safe, nurtured life with his family (especially his mother) to an outside world full of uncertainty and danger. He must go to school, where he forges a new identity-quite literally, when he is renamed Tony. He encounters bigger kids who use bad language and fight. He must contend with witnessing violence and murder and takes on his mother’s concern with remaining “innocent.” He is burdened with giving confession to a dying Narcisco. He inhabits the world of betwixt and between in other ways as well. He is caught between his mother’s Catholicism and her wishes for him to become a priest and his father’s wish that he become a vaquero. Though Antonio is conflicted, he most resembles and identifies with Ultima in that he senses the underlying supernatural elements of his world. He sees the golden carp and he senses the presence of the river, like Ultima does. It is Antonio that Ultima chooses to accompany her to heal Lucas. The golden carp sighting and Lucas’ healing underscored Antonio’s conflict best: if the golden carp is a new god, as Samuel believes, Antonio worries that his mother is praying to the wrong god. His faith comes into question again when both the doctor and the priest fail to cure Lucas, but Ultima succeeds. So while he witnesses these phenomena as an eyewitness, he can’t reconcile them with the idea of God as omnipotent. He also worries about Ultima’s powers, in that she uses them only for good or if it is possible that she could also be a bruja, as some of the townspeople believe.

This conflict not only plays out in spiritual terms, but culturally. In “Silence of the Liano,” Anaya discusses the same type of clash between the ranchers and the farmers from his own cultural history on the plains of New Mexico: ‘There was the obvious shock and turmoil which is always present when two different cultures meet; sometimes there was a sharing, many times bloodshed’ (Martin 134). This violence which ensues from cultural conflict is present in Bless Me, Ultima, but through acknowledging and contemplating the hybridity of the land, both characters learn to live within the land and within their own hybrid identities (Martin). This split is obvious to Antonio, even at his young age, which plays out in the tension between the Lunas and Marezs, primarily through his parents.

The landscape is a stand in for this dichotomy. Besides representing the tension between the Marezs and the Lunas, it represents the internal conflict that Antonio feels. When he begins school, a bridge separates him from the refuge of his home and the town. The river divides the llano and the village, both physically and culturally. It serves as both a source of comfort and of terror. It has presence, a soul and a magical quality but it also threatens to swallow the land because of the land’s sinners. Martin writes that, “the land acts as a catalyst to lead the character through a process that results in a reconciliation of the fragmented parts of his identity. Through contemplating the culturally hybrid nature of the land, the character develops a heightened awareness of the incongruity of the two cultures (Martin 147).

In some ways, for all of Antonio’s maturity, his view of the world is childlike. It is a world of absolutes without shades of grey, which is how children see the world, so his challenge is to reconcile these incongruities. In this way, Bless Me Ultima is a coming of age story.  By the end of the novel, though, Antonio is able to imagine a third alternative that blends the two cultures. As Antonio is riding in the truck with his father, his father muses that everybody carries part of their past with them but that he can make something new, too. Antonio concludes, “Take the llano and the river valley, the moon and the sea, God and the golden carp-and make something new. That is what Ultima meant by building strength from life” (Anaya). Antonio forges his own identity and navigates his way between the two cultures much like the river navigates between Guadalupe and Las Pasturas.



Works Cited

Anaya, Rudolpho. Bless Me, Ultima. New York: Warner Books, 1972.

Martin, Holly E. “Hybrid Landscapes as Catalysts for Cultural Reconciliation in Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Ceremony” and Rudolpho Anaya’s “Bless Me Ultima”.” Atenea 26.1 (2006): 134.



Bless Me, Ultima Tweets

Gothic Projects Class Brainstorm


Thank you so much for entering into the spirit of this. A reminder: you always have the option of doing the 12-15 page paper for the course. However, based on your work so far, I’m interested in any projects you come up with that open your work to the wider world. I started out our discussion today with the following brainstorm ideas:

• Wikipedia entry on Calligraphy of the Witch
• Watching / collecting La Llorona stories / films
• Screenplay / short film on La Llorona
• Reading / writing review of Rechy’s The Vampires
• Exploring Chicana/o goth music / fashion (does it exist?)
• Connections with Dia de Los Muertos
• Gothic images in Chicana/o art

As individuals and groups you added the following ideas:

  • Compare and contrast Bless Me Ultima with its film. Examine both for magical real and gothic elements.
  • Explore La Llorona and other legends similar to it, ex: La Andalona.
  • Creating a poetry portfolio with poems inspired by the works we’ve read, either by characters or scenes.  Add short essay explaining the poems, their connections to the literature we’ve read and other significant elements.
  • Tying the Dia de Los Muertos with the concept of fashion statement (i.e. the facepaint) and how this is (or isn’t?) universal. Likewise, tie Dia de Los Muertos contemporary traditions and art with the ancient legends and origins. Incorporate Pre-Columbian, MesoAmerican artistic pieces.
  • Watch and collect La Llorona stories / films (interviews across cultures).
  • Connection with Dia de Los Muertos – research, values, how it’s become Americanized, Movie Night.
  • Guest speaker(s)
  • Modern aesthetics of gothic representations with Chicana/o undertones
  • Dia de Los Muertos
  • Gothic Chicana/o art throughout LA
  • Visit a museum that exhibits Chicano art, analyze gothic elements in particular art pieces / artists; write a reflection paper about analysis of the gothic in Chicana/o art.
  • Write a historical novel where the protagonist is 1st generation Chicano or Latino immigrant.
  • Collection of La Llorona stories (write a reflection paper).
  • Connections of Gothic with Chicana/o child horror stories and parables / superstitions within Mexican literature.
  • Chicana/o rock
  • The Chicana gothic implications of the film Selena.
  • Make a Tumblr reviewing and analyzing several of the books and readings, including sources on Chicana/o gothic, incorporating images related to them.
  • Read Sor Juana’s Second Dream. Blog about the book and connections to Calligraphy of the Witch.  Or write a paper connecting the two.

Add more ideas to these in the comments.  We’ll take 15 minutes or so on Monday to discuss.


(Image credit:

Bless Me, Ultima


For Monday, read Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya and “The Rise of the American Gothic” by Eric Savoy.  (on Readings page)

In the comments below, discuss elements of gothicness and Chicana/o-ness that you see in the text.  Would you add it to our list of Chicana/o gothic texts?  Why and why not?

Calligraphy of the Witch for Monday, Jan. 27

I hope you’re enjoying the book. Please finish reading it by Monday, January 27. The author, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, will be part of our class discussion on Wednesday, January 29.

For Monday, write a response to the novel. Look at historical elements of it, doing basic web research to determine whether a character or location is drawn from history or whether it’s fiction. Consider what the power of folding history into fiction can be. Also, find a moment / character or other element that you identify as gothic and explain why it fits in with the definition of Chicana/o gothic that we’re developing for the course.

You should respond to other people’s comments when they touch on the same topics as your own, but you should not duplicate material. Likewise, when you do research, cite your source using MLA style.

(Image credit: Tim Bouwer)