Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics

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As both an idea and an institution, the family has been at the heart of Chicano/a cultural politics since the Mexican American civil rights movement emerged in the late 1960s. In Next of Kin, Richard T. Rodríguez explores the competing notions of la familia found in movement-inspired literature, film, video, music, painting, and other forms of cultural expression created by Chicano men. Drawing on cultural studies and feminist and queer theory, he examines representations of the family that reflect and support a patriarchal, heteronormative nationalism as well as those that reconfigure kinship to encompass alternative forms of belonging.

Describing how la familia came to be adopted as an organizing strategy for communitarian politics, Rodríguez looks at foundational texts including Rodolfo Gonzales's well-known poem "I Am Joaquín," the Chicano Liberation Youth Conference's manifesto El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, and José Armas's La Familia de La Raza. Rodríguez analyzes representations of the family in the films I Am Joaquín, Yo Soy Chicano, and Chicana; the Los Angeles public affairs television series; Ahora!; the experimental videos of the artist-activist Harry Gamboa Jr.; and the work of hip-hop artists such as Kid Frost and Chicano Brotherhood. He reflects on homophobia in Chicano nationalist thought and examines how Chicano any men have responded to it in works including Al Lujan's video S&M in the Hood, the paintings of Eugene Rodríguez, and a poem by the late activist Rodrigo Reyes. Next of Kin is both a wide-ranging assessment of la familia's symbolic power and a hopeful call for a more inclusive cultural politics.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Next of Kin and would recommend it highly. I plan to include it the next time I teach a gender and migration course. I think it would work well for upper-division undergraduate as well as graduate students.”
- Leah Schmalzbauer, International Journal of Sociology of the Family

“[T]he publication of Rodríguez’s book is exceptionally timely given widespread prejudices many Chicanos–Chicanas are still facing. The book is engagingly written and will certainly be of great value for specialists in the Americas, queer and feminist theory, cultural studies, popular culture, kinship, and migration.” - Julia Pauli, American Anthropologist

“The centrality of the family to Chicano culture is indisputable. One of Next of Kin’s merits lies in its push to expand the notion of exactly who makes up this family. The cultural studies approach, which allows for the analysis of various modes of cultural expression, explains the general absence of canonical literary texts, many of which prominently feature both biological and fictive representations of family. Rodríguez counters this by critically engaging a rich variety of cultural practices, all of great relevance to the reconfiguration of la familia Chicana.”
- José Pablo Villalobos, Camino Real

“By studying the works of writers, filmmakers, painters, and musicians, Rodríguez assembles a rich cultural study and illustrates how ‘alternative’ family configurations (as opposed to the husband-dominated model) have existed in Chicano culture longer than previously thought. . . .” - Charlie Vázquez

Next of Kin offers one of the most cogent articulations of Chicana/o cultural critique to date. Through elegant readings of a dynamic archive of Chicano literary and popular culture, Richard T. Rodríguez scrutinizes the cultural authority of the biological Chicana/o family, critiquing its exclusionary impulses and championing transformative reconfigurations of la familia. Along the way, he provides a nuanced consideration of Chicana/o political and cultural history.”—José Esteban Muñoz, author of Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics

“A gorgeous tapestry of cultural forms and interpretive brilliance, Next of Kin reopens the debate over our conflicted understandings of la familia in light of the challenges produced by feminism and queer studies. A must read for all those interested in Chicana and Chicano politics, fiction, film, photography, performance, and painting. Richard T. Rodríguez has given us a map with which to negotiate the twenty-first century uses of the family.”—George Mariscal, author of Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement, 1965-1975

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822345435
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 6/16/2009
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard T. Rodríguez is Associate Professor of English and Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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Read an Excerpt

Next of Kin

The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics
By Richard T. Rodríguez


Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4543-5

Chapter One

Reappraising the Archive

It is impossible to understand the Chicano without understanding the importance of the family.

* * * José Armas, "Chicano Writing: The New Mexico Narrative" (1986) The vision of la familia continues to be a form of discourse that provides Mexican Americans with identity, support, and comfort in an often hostile environment.

* * * Margarita Gangotena, "The Rhetoric of La Familia among Mexican Americans" (1994) We must move beyond a celebration of la familia to address questions of power and patriarchy.

* * * Vicki L. Ruíz, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America (1998)

This chapter undertakes three main tasks. First, it makes a critical inventory of an archive containing manifestos, essays, poems, and artistic images from the late 1960s to the early 1990s that invoke a genealogy of la familia in Chicano/a cultural politics. Second, it unravels and rereads the complex discourses that posit family as an exemplary symbolic figure that must ultimately match silhouettes with a politically charged community and extended kinship network identified as la raza. Finally, it seeks to understand patriarchy as a system dependent upon paternal governance and heterosexual presumption in relation to Chicano/a community formations as reflected in cultural productions embracing the "militant ethos" known as Chicanismo (I. García 1997). The upshot is to illustrate how critical discourse on gender and sexuality allows us to critique the ways that Chicano/a cultural nationalism and notions of la familia continue to be codified by dominant articulations of masculinity.

Considering how la familia is never defined in neutral terms, the protean complexities derived from its wide-ranging communitarian import demand the attention of those with vested interest in Chicano/a cultural politics. Indeed, to reanimate la familia in the name of egalitarianism requires an unpacking of its conventional signification. In this chapter I will illustrate the ways in which la familia, as an organizing principle and symbol for cultural empowerment stemming from movement contexts, often rested upon a heteropatriarchal order. Yet because the contexts that give rise to la familia are nothing less than a series of sociohistorical starts and detours, exposing its emergence within a more complex genealogical narrative allows for comprehension of how resistance within contributes to its reconfigured political import in light of feminist and queer critique.


Begin with the now-classic manifesto El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, known by many as "The Chicano Movement Manifesto" (Pesquera and Segura 1993, 98). El Plan was the seminal stratagem for empowerment drawn up at the historic Chicano Youth Liberation Conference of 1969 in Denver, Colorado whose authors included activist Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, poet Alurista, and historian and poet Juan Gómez-Quiñones. El Plan's rallying cry for political deliverance is crystallized in a four-point plan. The first point, or "Punto Primero," is an urgent call for nationalism, "the common denominator that all members of La Raza can agree upon" (Chicano Liberation Youth Conference 1972, 405). "Punto Segundo" is comprised of seven "Organizational Goals." Goal number six insists that:

Cultural values of our people strengthen our identity and the moral backbone of the movement. Our culture unites and educates the family of La Raza towards liberation with one heart and one mind. We must insure [sic] that our writers, poets, musicians, and artists produce literature and art that is appealing to our people and relates to our revolutionary culture. Our cultural values of life, family, and home will serve as a powerful weapon to defeat the gringo dollar value system and encourage the process of love and brotherhood. (405)

Furthermore, goal number seven builds upon number six's call for family as community, which would entail a call for a family politics within the realm of social movement:

Political liberation can only come through an independent action on our part, since the two party system is the same animal with two heads that feeds from the same trough. Where we are a majority we will control; where we are a minority we will represent a pressure group. Nationally, we will represent one party, La Familia de La Raza. (405)

It comes as no surprise that Chicano movement struggles should wish to enlist the family as a point of departure and return. After all, the rampant despair of disenfranchised Chicano/a communities was the motivating force behind the movements of the 1960s and 1970s. On the one hand, the families from which many Chicano student activists emerged were of poor or working-class backgrounds, a fact that jump-started in many an activist the sense of struggle. On the other hand, as Ignacio M. García (1989, 12) explains, young Chicano activists "believed that their own parents and grandparents had been passive and accommodating to discrimination and exploitation." In this view, these activists must render their given families apathetic to in turn recast biological kin as a social collective that took to heart their self-awareness as a political constituency. Within other contexts, one's commitment to the biological family demanded extension into the public sphere to orchestrate kinship networks with one's community in the name of carnalismo (brotherhood). In either case la familia necessarily became a constellation of forces inspiring those battles waged for political and economic justice in the name of la raza.

While the Chicano movement cannot be classified as a monolithic entity, requiring instead comprehension as a social force emerging from distinct regions and multiple social justice trajectories, the deployment of the family principle nonetheless figured prominently in various organizational practices and discursive strategies put forth by movement leaders. For example, Reies López Tijerina, one of the movement's earliest leaders chiefly known for mobilizing the movement to restore land grants to pre-Anglo settlement owners, maintains that the family is the fundamental source of nourishment as well as protection from the external damage of the dominant culture. For Tijerina:

The heart of human dignity is the family. The family is the source of values, virtues, and the love that nurtures harmony and fraternity. Our mothers are the first teachers and then, the nation. Our homes are where the human plants are born. The parents are the gardeners that water these human plants with love water. There is no better school for a child than the home and the family. (Tijerina 2000, 165-66)


I came to realize that the family is the root of society. The institution of the family has outlived governments. And, regardless of government ideology, the family remains the same institution. In certain times, government protects the family. In other times, government casts the family aside. In the United States and white European countries, the family has been abandoned. The family has outlived all kinds of governments, in spite of their ideology, including "democracy." In fact, the family has lost ground because "democracy" has robbed the family of its sovereignty. (166)

The gendered contours of Tijerina's critique of "democracy"-shades of which appear in other movement texts that will soon be discussed-are clear when he insists: "The son cannot take the place of the father until he leaves and forms his own family. Even then, the son remains indebted to his father. The home and the family cannot be governed by democratic practices. The father is the head and king of the family; the mother is the heart and queen of the family. Together they make a perfect government" (Tijerina 2001, 166). In a speech delivered in Austin, Texas in 1971, César E. Chávez, the widely recognized labor leader and cofounder of the United Farm Workers (originally named the National Farm Workers Association) made clear the crucial connections between la familia and la raza. Making a plea that we "really begin to look out for our raza," Chávez insists:

Charity begins at home. For instance, who'd ever have dreamed that one would even consider sending Mama or Papa to a nursing home because they're old? Never! Shameful! Because we have family unity and love as Mexicans. A person who claims love for his raza but does not love his father can't convince me he loves his people. A woman who can't take in and take care of her mother because she has to work because she wants a color TV or a new car can't tell me she'll be able to love her raza. Because if we have no love for our mother how can we love anyone else?" (C. Chávez 2002, 62)

While Tijerina and Chávez uniquely invoke the biological family to crystallize the need for collective cohesion, it was the Denver-based Crusade for Justice and its key organizer Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales that would extend the signifying force of la familia from its manifestation in domestic settings into the arena of public mobilization. While I will soon discuss in more detail his effort to create la familia de la raza (the family of the people) through speeches and his famous poem, "I am Joaquín," a viewing of Jesús Salvador Treviño's film La Raza Unida (1972)-on the first National Convention of La Raza Unida Party, an alternative political party whose leader José Angel Gutiérrez is also one of the movement's major figures-enables one to witness Gonzales's rhetorical desire to conflate la raza with la familia.

Claiming la familia in such politicized ways made sense given the racist terms in which Mexican and Mexican American communities were pathologically rendered. As it were, the Chicano family had been subjected to stereotyping tendencies for decades. For instance, academic inquiry that by and large reflected popular beliefs in the United States often found Mexican American families "dysfunctional" as a result of remaining mired in ignorance and prescribed traditions. Numerous anthropological and sociological studies by scholars of "the Mexican family" in both Mexico and the United States unveiled undesirable renderings that many Chicano and Chicana intellectuals and activists aimed to refute. The writings of William Madsen (1964) and Arthur J. Rubel (1966), Norma Williams (1990, 2) reminds us, "adopted the stereotypical definitions of the majority society in describing Mexican Americans." In the scholarship of Madsen and Rubel, "Wives and daughters were perceived as passive and totally accepting of the husband's or father's authority" and "The man was characterized by his 'machismo,' or dominance over women" (2). This work wielded influential power on studies of Chicano families that succeeded theirs, studies that tended to "generalize about the Mexican American family" (2). Chicano studies emerging at the height of movement activism-studies in which, according to anthropologist Renato Rosaldo (1986), "the natives began to talk back"-indeed took issue with the assumptions made by these social scientists and their authoritative claims to objectivity.

Movement-era Chicano scholars were intent on wresting the family away from the possession of Western academic studies-especially those that uncritically adopted acculturation and functionalism paradigms. In turn, their hope was to charge la familia with currents fueled by resistance. This act would also entail casting affirmative light on one's own biological family as well as fashioning a sociosymbolic kinship network consisting of the Chicano community at large, that is, the people became the family. Thus the idea of "La Familia de La Raza" proposed in El Plan calls for the categories la familia and la raza to complement and service one another. It was widely believed that "new" formations of the family-la familia de la raza-provided the impetus to create social and cultural change. This gesture of "political familism," as sociologist Maxine Baca Zinn defined it in her foundational essay of the same name, sought to promote "a phenomenon in which the continuity of family groups and the adherence to family ideology [would] provide the basis for struggle" (Baca Zinn 1975, 16). And, for Baca Zinn, "family activism" can in effect "challenge women's and men's traditional positions; it changes women's relationship to the family, and it generates conditions for the emergence of women's consciousness" (19).

Baca Zinn ends her essay insisting, "Political familism itself does not transcend sex role subordination" (24). This position is crucial given how gestures of political familism advocated by men inevitably reproduced a Chicano communitarian paradigm in which the heterosexual male, father, and husband were placed at the center of movement discourse. Yet this position was not exclusively proposed and sustained by men. Despite the resistance to this position by many women activist-writers in an emergent print culture of the era (see, for instance, the work of Bernice Rincón [1971], Mirta Vidal [1971], Adaljiza Sosa Riddell [1974], Anna Nieto Gómez [1976], Marta Cotera [1977], and the periodicals El Grito del Norte and Hijas de Cuahtemoc), some Chicana feminists advocated the conflation of la familia with la raza without challenging male-dominant conceptions of family arrangement. In her landmark essay "The Role of the Chicana within the Student Movement," Sonia A. López (1977, 23) writes that "as early as the Spring of 1969, at the Chicano Youth Conference held in Denver, Colorado, a few vocal Chicana activists raised the issue of the traditional role of the Chicana and how it limited her capabilities and her development." Although it served as a forum for debate, the conference workshop devoted to Chicana issues proposed that such limitations were unimportant given women's assigned role within la familia de la raza. One Chicana observed that, "when the time came for the workshop to report to the full conference, the only thing that the representative had to say was this-'It was the consensus of the group that the Chicana woman does not want to be liberated'" (23-24). To desire liberation meant breaking from what López calls "a socialization process which asserts that men are 'naturally' superior to women," a process that ascertains that the "family structure in the traditional Chicano household is headed by the husband, who exercises authority" while "the role of Chicana abuelitas, mothers, and tías, with few exceptions, has been to bear children, rear them, and be good wives" (23). Consider as well Sandra Ugarte's report from the Chicana Regional Conference held at California State University, Los Angeles on May 8, 1971. Documenting a number of women's opinions on "the relationship to the familia y el movimiento," Ugarte (1997, 154) details that some Chicanas at the conference felt that "the family often had to compete with the movement" and "in the absence of the man from la familia, the woman is to make decisions concerning the family herself." However, the resolutions to such concerns appear under the heading "Achieve New Family Concepts." They state: "the family relationship and involvement with the movement should not be separate" and it is "the man's responsibility to keep the house organized" (154). In this view, political familism was only conceivable in paternalistic-nationalist terms, reverting to the domestic sphere in which women's roles were delegated in particularly narrow ways. Although women's issues were undoubtedly on the minds of many Chicanas given the workshops offered and concerns raised at these conferences, such issues ultimately took a backseat to family normativity. As Beatriz Pesquera and Denise Segura (1993, 99) remind us, "Although Chicanas recognized the need to struggle against male privilege in the Chicano community, they were reluctant to embrace a feminist position that appeared anti-family."


Excerpted from Next of Kin by Richard T. Rodríguez Copyright © 2009 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

About the Series v

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction Staking Family Claims 1

Reappraising the Archive 19

Shooting the Patriarch 55

The Verse of the Godfather 95

Carnal Knowledge 135

Afterword Making Queer Familia 167

Notes 177

Bibliography 211

Discography 235

Filmography 237

Index 239

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  • Posted May 15, 2010

    Next of Kin

    I'll start by stating that B&N always comes through!! Everything I wish for is available online and I couldn't ask for a more efficient ordering and delivery service.

    Next of Kin is valuable for its content regarding ethnic and family life -- an academic textbook for college/university studies, which brings to light important issues regarding family and social issues. The author's insight gives students and families/society a source of information which is timely - not only for university studies, but for family awareness. We all benefit from writings of this nature.

    When I became aware that my son is mentioned (w/photo) in this book, I immediately placed an order for two - one for myself; the other for extended family. The books were received 3 days after I placed the order.

    This book is on my "wish list" for gifts to additional family members and friends. I highly recommend this beautifully written and informational book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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