Chicana/o and Latina/o Fiction: The New Memory of Latinidad

Chicana/o and Latina/o Fiction: The New Memory of Latinidad

by Ylce Irizarry


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Chicana/o and Latina/o Fiction: The New Memory of Latinidad by Ylce Irizarry

In this new study, Ylce Irizarry moves beyond literature that prioritizes assimilation to examine how contemporary fiction depicts being Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, or Puerto Rican within Chicana/o and Latina/o America. Irizarry establishes four dominant categories of narrative--loss, reclamation, fracture, and new memory--that address immigration, gender and sexuality, cultural nationalisms, and neocolonialism. As she shows, narrative concerns have moved away from the weathered notions of arrival and assimilation. Contemporary Chicana/o and Latina/o literatures instead tell stories that have little, if anything, to do with integration into the Anglo-American world. The result is the creation of new memory. This reformulation of cultural membership unmasks the neocolonial story and charts the conscious engagement of cultural memory. It outlines the ways contemporary Chicana/o and Latina/o communities create belonging and memory of their ethnic origins.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252039911
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 03/15/2016
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Ylce Irizarry is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Florida.

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Chicana/o and Latina/o Fiction

The New Memory of Latinidad

By Ylce Irizarry


Copyright © 2016 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-252-09807-9


Narratives of Loss

Tracing Migrations

That year was lost to him. At times he tried to remember and, just about when he thought everything was clearing up some, he would be at a loss for words. — Tomás rivera, ... And the Earth Did Not Devour Him

our money is always welcome in santo Domingo, but not our intellectual or cultural ideas. ... i don't want to say this, but sometimes you have to get recognized from outsiders before your own culture values what you are. — Junot Díaz, "Diaspora and redemption"

The opening chapter of Tomás Rivera's ... And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, "The Lost Year," establishes the novella's dominant theme: loss. Arte Público published a bilingual version of the text, originally written in Spanish, in 1987. The novella's structure and content emphasize loss as an unidentified narrator recounts the experiences of frequently nameless characters, moving through unnamed towns, seeking work. The young narrator and the voices in conversation with him describe tangible losses of family, health, possessions, rights, and opportunities. Accompanying these are the narrator's intangible but visceral losses of self-esteem, religious faith, and economic aspiration.

The novella's events occur within the narrator's extended dream state. Sleep, or the disassociation of one's body from one's mind, is a way to survive events outside one's control. Rivera uses sleep to explain the narrator's inability to articulate the losses he witnesses and experiences. As the epigraph illustrates, the boy describes a circular process in which he cannot orient himself to time or place. He cannot distinguish between calling himself and someone calling his name; he cannot grasp temporal or physical reality: "It almost always began with a dream in which he would suddenly awaken and then realize he was really asleep. Then he wouldn't know whether what he was thinking had happened or not" (Rivera 83). The dream state parallels the novella's events, which are unbelievable in that the narrator cannot fully articulate the exploitation, racism, brutality, and illness migrant workers endure. "The Lost Year" culminates in the loss of the narrator's epistemological and ontological certainty.

"The Lost Year" becomes a nightmare reality, one for which the author tries to prepare the reader: "But before falling asleep he saw and heard many things" (Rivera 83). In his essay "Contemporary Mexican American Literature: 1960s–Present," Raymund A. Paredes asserts an optimistic interpretation of the novella. He contrasts Rivera's 1973 novella with José Antonio Villareal's 1959 novel, Pocho, arguing, "whereas an earlier Mexican-American writer, José Antonio Villarreal, had depicted a Mexican-American family that was all but blown apart by assimilationist pressures, Rivera's work proclaims a people's vitality despite almost unspeakable hardships" ("Contemporary Mexican American Literature" 1105). When communities immigrate en masse because their lives are drastically altered by war, political oppression, or economic chaos, they see and hear many things — most prevalent among them, loss.

Even when their vitality facilitates their survival, their losses are no less felt and remembered. Because loss is a principal motif in literature fore-grounding colonization and migration, it makes sense to frame the origins of Chicana/o and Latina/o literary histories as narratives of loss. The narrative of loss delineates territorial dispossession, changes in geographic location, disruptions in families, and the unequal syncretism of cultures wrought by US neocolonialism. This chapter begins with an overview of neocolonialism and Chicana/o literature and then discusses ... And the Earth Did Not Devour Him (1987), a germinal text that exemplifies the narrative of loss. The chapter then examines the very similar development of US neocolonialism in the Caribbean to set up a discussion of the short story collection Drown (1996) by Dominican American Junot Díaz.

Neocolonialism as We Have Known it: Chicana/o America

US foreign policy in regard to the Caribbean, Central America, and Latin America in general is one of intervention. The United States has a neocolonial relationship with Mexico. The United States developed this policy as Spain's colonial power declined in the nineteenth century. In the years following Mexico's independence, the United States engaged in several interrelated legislative, financial, and military actions that helped it gain control of the territory now known as the US Southwest. In August 1821, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise; this legislation had great importance for the south-western territories bordering the midwestern region of land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase (1803). The Missouri Compromise determined how new territories would enter the Union: as slave or nonslave states.

In December 1821, shortly after this legislation passed, Stephen F. Austin began the first settlement of Americans in Mexican territory. Two years later, President James Monroe issued the Monroe Doctrine (1823) as an Executive Declaration. The doctrine had two purposes; first, it was intended to reject any European interference in North and South American affairs, especially any efforts by Spain to regain its former territories. It simultaneously asserted the United States' right to intervene in Central and South American affairs: "In the war between those new Governments and Spain we declared our neutrality at the time of their recognition, and to this we have adhered, and shall continue to adhere, provided no change shall occur which, in the judgment of the competent authorities of this Government, shall make a corresponding change on the part of the United States indispensable to their security." Thus, the Monroe Doctrine sanctioned US intervention whenever national security or territorial control was perceived to be at risk.

Approximately ten years after Texas declared its independence from Mexico (1836), the United States annexed it (1845), reopening the "slave-state" question addressed by the Missouri Compromise (1821). Since Texas had been under Mexican control at the time of the Compromise, the new territory's statehood — slave or nonslave — had to be determined before it could join the Union. On December 29, 1845, when Texas entered the Union, it had the option for its citizens to own slaves, because it lay south of the 36°30°N Missouri state boundary. The next year, continuing land disputes between Texans and Mexicans erupted in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848).

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) ended the war, creating the United States–Mexico border. Mexico ceded extensive territories comprising presentday Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and half of Colorado. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had many provisions; the principal geographic one has directly shaped the United States' past and current relationship with Mexico. The United States promised to honor the land grants distributed to Mexicans by the Spanish monarchy beginning in the sixteenth century. Differences in conceptions of landownership and the United States' failure to honor those grants in Texas and New Mexico have had lasting effects. What had been free-range cattle land used by Mexican Tejanos became fenced-in cultivated farmland used by Anglo-Texans. The agricultural production by Nuevo Mexicanos also changed when their lands when the government did not stop squatters from seizing lands from the local owners. In both states, people known as reclamantes, descendants of those compelled to give up their land, continue to petition for the return of their ancestral lands. Popular literature addressed these issues immediately, and this part of the treaty remains a source of legal battles.

The treaty marks the formal beginning of the United States' neocolonial relationship with Mexico; it radically changed the geographic, economic, and cultural landscapes of both nations. A large population of Mexicans was subsumed within the US populace by the treaty. In his groundbreaking study of Chicana/o literature, When We Arrive: A New Literary History of Mexican America (2003), José F. Aranda explores "the interrelationships between Chicana/o and literature and mainstream literary discourses" (x). His foreword reviews Chicana/o literary history, and his succinct assertion supports my claim: "Chicano/a studies has been in the business of recovering the ruptured, alienated culture and history of people of Mexican descent since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848" (Aranda xiii–xiv). This "movement" of thousands of Mexicans into US territory — not US settlers moving into another nation's territory — set the United States on a new path, the path of neocolonialism. The United States' neocolonial web is intricate and the impetus for much of Chicana/o and Latina/o literature.

Scholars have consistently addressed the significance of the Mexican-American War to Chicana/o literature. Similarly, especially in the years immediately before and after the centennial of the Cuban-Spanish-American War, scholars revisited literary engagement of the war. In 2000, José David Saldívar called for a more nuanced consideration of it in "Looking Awry at 1898: Roosevelt, Montejo, Paredes, and Mariscal." A year later, Manuel Martín-Rodríguez examined dates significant to Chicano literary history — 1598, 1848, 1898, and 1998 — in the essay "'A Net Made of Holes': Toward a Cultural History of Chicano Literature" (2001). He describes the relationship between 1898 and 1998 as creating "a sense of conclusion" because "1898 signaled the end of the Spanish empire in the Americas" (Martín-Rodríguez 12). For Chicana/o and Latina/o literatures, 1898 more significantly marks a shift in the physical direction of the United States' neocolonial path. To understand Chicana/o literature, one must recognize the losses the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo catalyzed — geographic, economic, and cultural. To understand Latina/o literature, one must consider how the Cuban-Spanish-American War compounded the losses initiated by the Mexican-American War.

Until the mid-1990s, most literature scholars dated Mexican American literature to El Movimiento. Some scholarship dates the literature back to the nineteenth century; most recently, others have argued for a colonial origin, dating the literature's origins to the Spanish Conquest. In my view, the origins of Chicana/o literature are best located in the eighteenth century, at the first appearance of literary accounts of contact and conflict with Anglo-American settlers from the United States, written from the perspective of those born in the New World. Paredes explains, "Although a distinctive Mexican-American literary sensibility was not to emerge for several generations, the signing of [the Treaty of] Guadalupe Hidalgo, more than any other event, required that the southwestern Mexicans begin to rethink their relationships to the old country and to the United States" ("Early Mexican American Literature" 1081). Chicana/o narratives of loss illustrate continued navigations of these relationships through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.

Since 1993, the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Recovery Project has been instrumental in identifying and publishing texts explicitly depicting the losses catalyzed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. María Amparo Ruiz de Burton's novel The Squatter and the Don (1885) and The Collected Stories of María Cristina Mena (written from 1913 to 1931; published in 1997) complete our understanding of social problems developing from the new relationship between Mexico and the United States: class conflict, intermarriage, social mobility, and the racist subordination of dark-skinned or Native American southwestern populations. Nineteenth-century texts span the narrative of loss: from decrying geographical losses to portraying cultural losses. Mid-twentieth-century narratives of loss focus on fading cultural identity, as in Fabiola Cabeza de Baca's We Fed Them Cactus (1954) and José Antonio Villareal's Pocho (1959). Both novels portray devastating social losses such as communal and familial disintegration.

Until the recovery projects began, scholars often located the origins of Chicana/o writing with Rudolfo "Corky" Gonzales' poetic, epic biography of Mexican America, Yo Soy Joaquín (1967). Literary production of the 1960s and 1970s reflected the direct political response to US neocolonialism: Mexican American nationalism. Nationalism simultaneously constructed and affirmed the ethnopolitical subjectivity of the Chicana/o during El Movimiento. Whereas periodical nonfiction and serialized fiction dominated nineteenth-century literary response, the production of drama and performance poetry characterized the literature of El Movimiento. Luis Valdez's Teatro Campesino, founded in 1965, helped support the development of the United Farm Workers and university-student-led protests in California, linking the two movements. The early 1970s saw a waning of the politics of El Movimiento in the literary production of this decade, but the narrative of loss still predominates. Texts such as Rivera's ... And the Earth Did Not Devour Him (1971) and Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima (1974) reflect severe economic and sociological problems within Texas and New Mexico, respectively.

Part of the legacy of various specific civil rights movements — the Black Power movement, the American Indian Movement, El Movimiento, and the Young Lords' movement — is the dissemination and validation of these communities' aesthetic productions. After the decline of El Movimiento, scholars might not have been able to imagine the success of ethnic American literatures. Indeed, some critics argue that multicultural literatures remain at the margins of the US literary canon. Over the last thirty years, however, ethnic writers have garnered the most prestigious literary awards available: the Pulitzer Prize (N. Scott Momaday, 1969; Oscar Hijuelos, 1990; and Junot Díaz, 2008); the American Book Award (Charles Johnson, 1990, and Denise Chávez, 1994); the National Book Critic's Circle Award (Maxine Hong Kingston, 1981, and Louise Erdrich, 1984); MacArthur Awards (Leslie Marmon Silko, 1983; Sandra Cisneros, 1995; and Junot Díaz, 2011); and of course, the Nobel Prize for Literature (Toni Morrison, 1993). These awards signal consistent evolution in what is perceived as important American literature.

Critical and popular interest in Chicana/o and Latina/o literature is also evident in major publishers' nearly concurrent releases of literary anthologies within the last decade: The Prentice Hall Anthology of Latino Literature (2001), Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature of the United States (2002), US Latino Literature Today (Pearson 2005), Latino Boom: An Anthology of US Latino Literature (Pearson 2006), and The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2011). Following the anthologies, The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature (2013) offers a wide range of historical, ethnonational, and topical discussions relevant to the study of the literatures.

For over four hundred years, African, Asian, Native, and Hispanic peoples have been writing within the "New World"; however, the last four decades represent the most critically and popularly significant period of their production. An ethnic writers' canon — a cadre of writers from underrepresented ethnic groups — is visible within the broader US American literature canon. Some scholars have chosen to call the proliferation of this writing from underrepresented ethnic communities a "boom." Others have rejected this idea, citing historical, economic, and political factors in the suppression of writing by various ethnic minorities since the Spanish Conquest. The ethnic literatures discussed above share narrative concerns and qualities with Chicana/o and Latina/o literatures, but the latter literatures tell the first of the four stories, the narrative of loss, in distinct ways from the other ethnic literatures.


Excerpted from Chicana/o and Latina/o Fiction by Ylce Irizarry. Copyright © 2016 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments, ix,
Introduction. Neocolonialism's Bounty: From Arrival to New Memory, 1,
1 Narratives of Loss: Tracing Migrations, 35,
2 Narratives of Reclamation: Embodying Ritual and Allegory, 74,
3 Narratives of Fracture: Defining Latinidades, 111,
4 Narratives of New Memory: Ending the Neocolonial Story, 158,
Conclusion. Belonging in Chicana/o and Latina/o Fiction, 195,
Notes, 201,
Works Cited, 231,
Index, 251,

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