- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

SILVER CITY, N.M. (AP) - “By and large, American Latinos are a mixed group of people,” is how Felipe Ortego opens his 22-paragraph entry into what is expected to become the most comprehensive encyclopedia on Latino issues. A seemingly simple sentence, it is the lead into a detailed and informative piece on the impact Latinos have had in American literature through the last four centuries.

“There is a theme in my writings,” Ortego explains. “And it came to me now, it is that I am a literary inquirer.” Ortego has been questioning the status quo for 50 years, in academia, in politics, and in what most consider the accepted history of the Latino in America.

Now, Ortego, often referred to as the father of the Chicano Renaissance, is set to rock the boat with an exhaustive encyclopedic effort that will provide opinion and thought from leading experts across the country on Latino issues.

“Four years ago I saw an announcement looking for an editor and I responded,” Ortego said. He has asked several colleagues at WNMU, where he teaches and serves as the institution’s Scholar-In-Residence, to be co-editors, creating a team of local experts who will help bring together the more than 100 pieces that will eventually be included in the publication.

Ortego expects the published work to be controversial and thought provoking.

“Every single entry has the author’s point of view,” Ortego explained. “We do not want it to be just a thesaurus of information.”

The Renaissance man is known for not shying away from an intellectual challenge. Considered the founder of Chicano literary history, he conducted the first study in the field of Mexican-American Literature. His essay on The Chicano Renaissance is known as a landmark text in the Chicano literary movement.

When Ortego was asked to organize a course on Mexican American Literature for the University of New Mexico in 1969, he faced a blank slate.

“There was nothing extant in print at the time available for a class in Mexican American Literature,” Ortego recalls. The world was his canvas and he was ready to open its eyes to the colorful history of the Latino American.

The consummate writer, in the last half-century Ortego has authored numerous books, monographs and studies, an addition to hundreds of scholarly and creative pieces that have appeared in national and international publications. He has even acted in a movie or two.

The upcoming publication of the encyclopedia brings Ortego full circle. His career in higher education is seeing its 50th year in 2014 and somehow the “Encyclopedia of Latino Issues Today” brings him back to the beginning.

“If the reader has a preconceived notion of who Latinos are, we want to support or dispel those misconceptions,” Ortego said. “I want my readers to know that everything which is written is not gospel.”

The encyclopedia will be published by Greenwood/ABC-CLIO, a national publisher, and it will cover Latino issues on themes such as arts, media, civil rights, culture, demography, health, gender and religion.

Ortego and his team where not the first choice by Greenwood. They are the third group of editors who have been tasked to complete the project.

“I have learned a lot,” Ortego adds about his editing of the writers’ submissions. “Every article will provide readers with information about Latinos.”

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