Eminent Mexicanist scholar don Luis Leal passed away yesterday, 25 January, a the age of 102. While I never had the opportunity to meet him personally, I have been instructed by his writing and his students. In tribute, I share an encyclopedia article that I wrote about don Luis for María Sobek-Herrera’s forthcoming Encyclopedia of Latino Folklore.
Luis Leal is a prolific literary scholar and academic whose work in disseminating Mexican, Latin American, and Chicano literature has paved the way for generations of scholars.
Leal was born on September 17, 1907, in Linares, Nuevo León, México, to a ranching family that supported the Mexican Revolution. Upon completing high school in his hometown, and realizing that Linares offered no further educational opportunities, he applied to Northwestern University, was accepted, and studied math for two years before switching to Spanish. While at Northwestern he met and married Gladys Clemens in 1936. In 1939, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He later pursued a Master’s degree in Spanish at the University of Chicago, and would have proceeded directly to doctoral work had he not been drafted into military service. Due to his colorblindness, Leal was placed in an Army infantry regiment and fought in the Philippines. When the war concluded, he returned to the United States and to his studies, earning his doctoral degree in 1950.