Bless Me, Ultima is an example of Chicano literature, and one of Anaya's primary goal in writing it was to fashion a cultural identity for himself and his community. Much of Antonio's experience is based on a meeting of cultures and a search for identity among the Spanish, Native American, and English-American societies. Ultima is a symbol of indigenous influences and the supernatural, pre-Christian world, while Antonio's school represents the English-speaking society. The Luna and Márez sides of his family are also a meeting of cultures – Antonio's father is a restless vaquero of the llano, while the Lunas are quiet farmers and Catholics. Tony's religious struggle is also connected to his culture, as he vacillates between Spanish Catholicism and the golden carp of the indigenous people.
The format of the novel echoes this clash of cultures as well, as it is written in English with many Spanish words interspersed, and some characters (especially Antonio/Tony) are referred to by both Spanish and English names. When Antonio resolves at the end of the novel to create a new set of beliefs and dreams, it is clear that Bless Me, Ultima itself represents a fulfillment of that intention. The reading experience mirrors Anaya's own cultural experience, and the novel becomes a tale of Chicano identity.
Language and Culture ThemeTracker
Language and Culture Quotes in Bless Me, Ultima
"It is the blood of the Lunas to be quiet, for only a quiet man can learn the secrets of the earth that are necessary for planting – They are quiet like the moon – And it is the blood of the Márez to be wild, like the ocean from which they take their name, and the spaces of the llano that have become their home."
I yearned for my mother, and at the same time I understood that she had sent me to this place where I was an outcast. I had tried hard to learn and they had laughed at me; I had opened my lunch to eat and again they had laughed and pointed at me. The pain and sadness seemed to spread to my soul, and I felt for the first time what the grown-ups call, la tristesa de la vida.
"And, they still have Tony," Gene said and looked at me. "Tony will be her priest," he laughed.
"Tony will be her farmer," León added.
"And her dream will be complete and we will be free!" Gene shouted.
"The golden carp," I said to myself, "a new god?" I could not believe this strange story, and yet I could not disbelieve Samuel. "Is the golden carp still here?"
"Yes," Samuel answered. His voice was strong with faith. It made me shiver, not because it was cold but because the roots of everything I had ever believed in seemed shaken. If the golden carp was a god, who was the man on the cross? The Virgin? Was my mother praying to the wrong God?
"Antonio," she said calmly and placed her hand on my shoulder, "I cannot tell you what to believe. Your father and your mother can tell you, because you are their blood, but I cannot. As you grow into manhood you must find your own truths -- "
Ultima and I continued to search for plants and roots in the hills. I felt more attached to Ultima than to my own mother. Ultima told me the stories and legends of my ancestors. From her I learned the glory and tragedy of the history of my people, and I came to understand how that history stirred in my blood.
We drove past Rosie's house and I thought about the sins of the town and how the golden carp would punish the sinners. He would drown them in clear, blue water. Then we passed the church and I thought about God's punishment for sinners. He casts them in the burning pit of hell where they burn for eternity… Drowning or burning, the punishment was all the same. The soul was lost, unsafe, unsure, suffering – why couldn't there be a god who would never punish his people, a god who would be forgiving all of the time? Perhaps the Virgin Mary was such a god?
"The atomic bomb," they whispered, "a ball of white heat beyond the imagination, beyond hell - " And they pointed south, beyond the green valley of El Puerto. "Man was not made to know so much," the old ladies cried in hushed, hoarse voices. "They compete with God, they disturb the seasons, they seek to know more than God Himself. In the end, that knowledge they seek will destroy us all - "
There seemed to be so many pitfalls in the questions we asked. I wanted answers to the questions, but would the knowledge of the answers make me share in the original sin of Adam and Eve?
"And if we didn't have any knowledge?" I asked.
"Then we would be like the dumb animals of the fields," Florence replied.
Animals, I thought. Were the fish of the golden carp happier than we were? Was the golden carp a better God?
I closed my eyes and concentrated. I had just swallowed Him, He must be in there! For a moment, on the altar railing, I thought I had felt His warmth, but then everything moved so fast. There wasn't time just to sit and discover Him, like I could do when I sat on the creek bank and watched the golden carp swim in the sun-filtered waters.
God! Why did Lupito die?
Why do you allow the evil of the Trementinas?
Why did you allow Narciso to be murdered when he was doing good?
Why do you punish Florence? Why doesn't he believe?
Will the golden carp rule - ?
A thousand questions pushed through my mind, but the Voice within me did not answer.
"Ah, there is no freedom like the freedom of the llano!" my father said and breathed in the fresh, clean air.
"And there is no beauty like this earth," Ultima said. They looked at each other and smiled, and I realized that from these two people I had learned to love the magical beauty of the wide, free earth.
"Ay, every generation, every man is a part of his past. He cannot escape it, but he may reform the old materials, make something new --"
"Take the llano and the river valley, the moon and the sea, God and the golden carp – and make something new," I said to myself. That is what Ultima meant by building strength from life. "Papá," I asked, "can a new religion be made?"
Would I ever race like a kid again, a wild cabrito rattling the pebbles on the goat path; and would I ever wrestle the crazy Horse and wild Bones again? And what dream would form to guide my life as a man?
"Bless me, Ultima --"
Her hand touched my forehead and her last words were, "I bless you in the name of all that is good and strong and beautiful, Antonio. Always have the strength to live. Love life, and if despair enters your heart, look for me in the evening when the wind is gentle and the owls sing in the hills. I shall be with you --"