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Burciaga, Jose Antonio

Born: 1940  Died: 1997
From: Latino Writers and Journalists, A to Z of Latino Americans.

Jose Antonio Burciaga was a humorist whose successful use of personal issues as a means to explore serious universal matters earned him widespread recognition and respect. Best known as a poet, Burciaga was also an accomplished journalist, muralist, and artist.

Jose Antonio Burciaga was born in the border town of El Chuco, Texas, on August 23, 1940. Some references report he was born in El Paso; however, all sources agree his family lived in the basement apartment of a synagogue where his father, Jose Cruz Burciaga, worked as a caretaker. Exposure to another culture and religion opened the young boy's eyes to a different perspective on life. He grew up enjoying the fluidity of border culture in El Paso, Texas. His mother, Maria Guadalupe Fernandez Burciaga, who worked as a teacher in Mexico, often read to her son and regaled him with oral stories. As a child, Jose loved to read. He enjoyed newspapers, popular magazines, and biographies.

After high school graduation, Burciaga served from 1960 to 1964 with the U.S. Air Force and wrote extensively as part of his duties. After one year in Iceland, he was transferred to Spain, where he discovered the writings of Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, who greatly influenced and inspired him. After being discharged, Burciaga enrolled in the University of Texas–El Paso to pursue his artistic talents. He graduated in 1968 with a B.A. in fine arts. Upon graduation, he worked as an illustrator in a civil service job in Mineral Wells, a cow town near Fort Worth, Texas. Away from a bicultural environment, Burciaga encountered prejudice and racism. He channeled his frustration into poetry and prose. He moved to Washington D.C., where he attended the Corcoran School of Art. While in the country's capital, Burciaga became involved in the Chicano movement. Through his political activism he met Cecilia Preciado, whom he married in 1972. The couple had five children: Lupita, Efrain, Conchita, Margarita, and Raul. Burciaga further developed his art at the Juarez-Lincoln Center of Antioch University and the San Francisco Art Institute. Burciaga wrote reviews and columns for local journals and newspapers in California. Eventually he published fiction, articles, and poetry in Texas Monthly, Maize, Mango, Revista Chicano-Riqueña, Christian Science Monitor, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

Burciaga met fellow poets Alurista, Ron Arias, and Bernice Zamora in the mid-1970s. Zamora often hosted gatherings for her fellow writers to read their works and lend support and energy to one another. Burciaga and Zamora combined their work in Restless Serpents (1976), published by Diseños Literarios, a publishing company he founded. The majority of the 29 poems address social and political issues with a satirical tone. The other poems, most of which are written in Spanish, have romantic or philosophical themes. Burciaga released a collection of poems and drawings entitled Drink cultura refrescante in 1979.

In 1985, Burciaga accepted a teaching position at Stanford University. While at the institution he was a founding member of the comedy group Culture Clash and coordinated the painting of the murals in the student dorm Casa Zapata. The best known of the murals he painted himself is Last Supper of Chicano Heroes. Weedee Peepo: A Collection of Essays appeared in 1988. This bilingual collection, cowritten with Emy Lopez, gets its tongue-in-cheek title from the Spanglish pronunciation of the first words from the U.S. Constitution preamble "We the People." Burciaga reveals his insight as well as wit in satirical commentaries on American ethnocentricism and the Chicano plight. He explored his writing skills through the publication of Undocumented Love: A Personal Anthology of Poetry (1992), Drink cultura: Chicanismo (1993), Spilling the Beans: Loteria Chicana (1995), and In Few Words (en pocas parabolas): A Compendium of Latin Folk Wit and Wisdom (1997). Burciaga's work is collected in several anthologies.

He died of cancer on October 7, 1997. His imprint on Chicano letters is best summarized by Carlos G. Velez-Ibañez, who noted in Aztlan, "Those viewing [Burciaga's] art or reading his writings willingly suspend disbelief and become involved with their own beliefs about beliefs. He brings together interlinking cultural, spiritual and intellectual templates, and encourages people to learn how to learn. He offers a moral center that provides everyone with an insight into their potential selves and gives hope and optimism."


Heide, Rick, ed. Under the Fifth Sun: Latino Literature from California. Santa Clara and Berkeley, Calif.: Santa Clara University/Heyday Books, 2002.

Lomelí, Francisco A., and Carl R. Shirley. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 82. Chicano Writers, First Series. Detroit: The Gale Group, 1989, pp. 59–64.

Rangel, Jesús. "Heirs of José Posada: Revolution Lives in Chicano Art." San Diego Union, February 24, 1980: no. D4.

Velez-Ibañez, Carlos G. "The Humanity and the Literature of José Antonio Burciaga." Aztlán 22, no. 2 (1997): 207–227.

Text Citation (Chicago Manual of Style format):

Martinez Wood, Jamie. "Burciaga, Jose Antonio." Latino Writers and Journalists. A to Z of Latino Americans. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2007. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc.
ItemID=WE52&iPin=LWJ018&SingleRecord=True (accessed May 2, 2016).

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