For me, Chicano and Mexican American are interchangeable, although some scholars would argue, not without justification, that the terms are distinct, the former connoting a certain degree of cultural awareness and political activism about which the latter is relatively neutral.
The literary culture of the Spanish-speaking Southwest developed spasmodically in a harsh frontier environment marked by episodes of intense cultural conflict, first largely with native Americans and later with Anglo-Americans.
Literary forms commonly produced in frontier cultures predominate: personal and historical narratives which sought to capture the epic experiences of conquest and settlement; and, of course, poetry of various types, frequently religious and occasional.
But the cultural forces that gave rise to Chicano literature date from the late sixteenth century when the Spanish conquistadores began their exploration and colonization of what is now the southwestern United States.
The Spaniards were remarkably courageous, audacious, and, inevitably, brutal, as the narratives of Cabeza de Vaca, de Niza and Castañeda excerpted in The Heath Anthology amply demonstrate; and they planted their institutions, particularly language and religion, throughout this vast region.