This dissertation responds to a lacuna in both ecocriticism and Chicana/o literary history. The former lacks input from ethnic American literatures, while the latter offers very little commentary on environmental aspects of Chicana/o writing. Why have these two fields remained separate despite often overlapping institutional histories? My study points to their common roots in activist movements, and how this early period critically preconditioned a disengagement with Chicanas/os as environmentalists. I engage these two fields to get at a literary history that is only weakly understood at the moment. What emerges is a greater understanding of the ways that the social construction of nature has operated to reinforce the oppression of people of color, as well as the ways that Chicana/o writing has transcended this subjugation.
Environmental literary study has privileged introspective nature writing and individual exploration of nature. While this perspective is understood in certain Anglo American contexts, it is becoming increasingly obvious that it is insufficient as a paradigm for the study of other environmental literatures. More particularly, it cannot account for non-Anglo American mediations of nature. Chicana and Chicano writers, with their concern for social justice and community, nonetheless take up their pens to reflect on the natural environment, albeit differently than conventional ecocriticism expects. Curiously, Chicana/o literary study has been complicit with overlooking Chicana/o writers' environmental insights, largely because the environment has been perceived to be a lesser priority than the seemingly more immediate needs of social equity. However, broadening the category of nature writing to environmental writing, and considering the close ties between social justice and environmental issues reveals the ways that Chicana/o writers demonstrate how human interaction with the environment differs along lines of ethnicity and class. This study investigates what's behind these differences. Specifically, I explore the writings of four Chicana/o environmental writers: Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Jovita Gonzalez, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Cherrie Moraga. Their environmental writing provides valuable insights about how Chicanas/os maintain a sustainable relationship with the environment.