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Luis Leal: 1907—: Scholar, Literary Critic Biography

Need For Education Sparked Self-motivation, Began To Study Mexican Literature, Moved From University To University

On the same day Charles Lindbergh completed his historic crossing of the Atlantic Ocean—May 21, 1927—Luis Leal stepped off the train at Union Station in Chicago. As with Lindbergh, this Mexican native would become known as a pioneer in his field. Professor Leal helped develop the study of Latin American literature and is considered one of the founders of the field of Chicano/Chicana (Mexican American) literary studies. His extensive works include books, bibliographies, anthologies, and hundreds of journal and newspaper articles and essays, published for both U.S. and Latin American audiences. Much of Leal's works put Mexican, Chicano, and Latino literature and writers in historical context. They reflect his view that research is part of a dialogue on how to advance community or social issues. Affectionately called Don Luis, Leal also helped develop scholarship by working with students who wrote the first dissertations on world-renown Mexican and Chicano writers.

Just three years before the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution, Leal was born into a wealthy family of cattle ranchers that lived in the town of Linares, Mexico, on September 17, 1907. He, two brothers, two sisters, five aunts, and his parents inhabited a large house taken care of by servants. His father supported the uprising against dictator Porfino Díaz, but when the fighting drew near their home in 1915, he moved his family to Mexico City for three years before returning to Linares in 1918. During the Revolution, Leal witnessed some executions and his family had cattle stolen. Mario T. García remarked in Luis Leal: An Auto/Biography, that the exposure gave "Don Luis a humanistic worldview and a sympathy for social justice." The idea of revolution would become an important research theme for Leal.

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