His mother, Rafaelita Máres Anaya, came from a family of farmers; his father, Martín, came from a family of vaqueros, who herded cattle and sheep around the Llano Estacado, the tablelands encompassing parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas.
“We were all poor, and had the curanderas — the healers — that helped,” Mr. Anaya said in a 2016 interview with The Las Cruces Sun-News. “We had the vaqueros, the cowboys, who came in and out of the village. On Saturday evenings, my dad would take out a guitar, and somebody would bring beer, and my dad would sing some of the old New Mexico songs.”
“All of that,” he added, “crawled into my DNA.”
When Mr. Anaya was 14, his family moved to Albuquerque, part of the postwar migration boom from rural New Mexico to the state’s largest city. They settled in the barrio of Barelas, not far from downtown. At 16, he suffered a spinal cord injury after diving into an irrigation canal, a harrowing experience that left him temporarily paralyzed and served as inspiration for a later novel.
After graduating from the University of New Mexico with a degree in English, Mr. Anaya taught in Albuquerque’s public schools while writing and accumulating rejections from publishers. After “Bless Me, Ultima” was published by Quinto Sol, an independent Chicano publishing house founded at the University of California, Berkeley, it went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide.
Mr. Anaya followed “Bless Me, Ultima” with “Heart of Aztlán” (1976) and “Tortuga” (1979), completing a trilogy about Chicano identity and empowerment.
He also wrote a mystery series featuring the Chicano detective Sonny Baca; children’s books including “Farolitos for Abuelo” (1998); travel chronicles like “A Chicano in China” (1986); and story collections including “The Silence of the Llano” (1982).