Latin American Research Review 40.2 (2005) 166-177
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Recent Chicana/O Cultural Criticism
David William Foster
One can now speak of over three decades of Chicana/o studies, in the realm of culture defined on the basis of literature, as well as culture defined on the basis of history, sociology, and anthropology (obviously, excluding the important Chicana/o studies work in the natural and health sciences). Chicana/o studies, undoubtedly, has become an academic discipline, and it would be inconceivable for a major university—or any college in an area of significant demographic concentration of Chicanas/os—not to have a formal department or, at least, an interdisciplinary studies unit. Indeed, faculty members often have to make a choice as to whether to stay in their original disciplinary department, or to base themselves primarily in the Chicana/o studies program.
But such a decision is characteristically intertwined with issues of language. The simple fact is now that Chicana/o studies research and [End Page 166] teaching is mostly conducted in English (a necessary part of its mainstreaming into the U.S. academic marketplace). Scholars who prefer to emphasize Spanish-language Chicana/o literature must remain primarily within the Spanish program. It is not always an easy division of labor, since, while Chicana/o writing in English may be studied in a Spanish course along with the writing in Spanish (after all, Spanish programs have always studied a certain amount of literature written in other languages: Borges's few texts in English, for example, or Spanish-language translations of Latin American indigenous composition), an English course does not include original writing in Spanish, which is why it has been necessary to translate important founding documents into English.
Moreover, as part of the emergence of a national Latino consciousness in the United States, Chicana/o literature can no longer "stand alone," as it did in much of the 1970s and 1980s, but rather is interfaced with Nuyorican and Cuban-American writing, not to mention individuals of other Latin American origins who give evidence of being part of a continuum with Latino society (e.g., the performance work and narrative prose, respectively, of the Colombian-Americans John Leguizamo and Jaime Manrique or the theater of Chilean-American Guillermo Reyes). Preponderantly—usually for lamentable market reasons—Latino writing is in English (except for Nuyorican poetry in caló, it is difficult to come up with names of writers in Spanish), which has brought Chicana/o writing more and more into the orbit of the English language. It is an English that is often heavily inflected with Spanish and raza cultural referents, often with little concession to the Anglo reader, giving it a significant parallel to African-American writing.
Essentialism continues to play a strong role in Chicana/o scholarship, although I would venture to say that it is often significantly attenuated: few scholars of raza origin would now insist that only scholars of such origin should be engaged in teaching and researching Chicana/o literature, and the concept of Aztlán has become more of a symbolic icon than a compelling foundational myth.
But Chicana scholarship has affirmed itself in splendid...