- Reviewed by
Chicana/o politics—from the early Chicano Movement to more recent interventions into queer activism—has utilized mythohistorical paradigms to legitimize and frame its radical vision for social justice. This is the subject of Lee Bebout's new and exciting monograph on the legacy of the Chicano Movement. Bebout contends that the mythohistorical encompasses a complex set of narratives, stories, histories, and myths that can be empowering in certain instances and oppressive in others. Bebout, for example, cites the concept of Aztlán, the ancient homeland of the Aztecs that many Chicana/o activists in the 1960s and 1970s identified as the US Southwest. While Aztlán validated Chicana/o presence in US soil and countered dominant narratives such as Manifest Destiny and the "Mexican problem" (4) it also overlooked, Bebout explains, "gendered forms of oppression" (5). Throughout his text, Bebout skillfully deconstructs and unpacks the diverse ways the mythohistorical has been deployed by Chicana/o [End Page 397] activists and cultural producers and thus provides a clear genealogy of Chicana/o political thought over four decades. This clear genealogy, however, should not be mistaken for a linear and static treatment of Chicana/o history. Bebout makes it clear that the phenomenon we call the Chicano Movement was indeed "a complex, diverse collection of struggles" and that the mythohistorical by no means implied a stable and fixed set of signifiers (4).
Mythohistorical Interventions is organized in a thematic manner, allowing the history of Chicana/o political thought to unravel in an episodic fashion. Employing a mostly cultural studies theoretical framework and qualitative research methods, Bebout focuses on key and select moments of Chicana/o political and intellectual history. In the introduction, the author grounds the project theoretically by situating his work within the intellectual traditions Chicana/o studies, the myth-symbol school and cultural studies. While Western cultures conceptualize history and myth as diametric opposites—the former stands for truth and objectivity while the latter entails the world of imagination and superstition—the two often operate in function of one another. In chapter 1, Bebout continues fine-tuning the concept of the mythohistorical by focusing on three examples of Chicana/o activist initiatives from the late 1960s, namely the activities of UFW cofounder César Chávez, the epic poem I am Joaquín by Rodolfy "Corky" González, and the institutionalization of Chicana/o studies in the US academy. What these three somewhat disparate examples have in common, Bebout insists, is that they all deploy the mythohistorical as a "crucial component of a counterhegemonic struggle" (69).
Chapter 2 turns to the iconic figure of Reies López Tijerina, founder of the Alianza Federal de Merecedes, who utilized the mythohistorical to rally the cause of New Mexican land grants. Further, Bebout shows how Tijerina became the subject of mythohistorical imagination when Chicano activists in the 1970s began to regard him as the quintessential revolutionary/bandido. It is also in chapter 2 that Bebout turns decisively to the challenges that gender and sexuality posed for the mythohistorical tropes of early Chicano nationalism with an insightful analysis into the exclusion of Reies's wife, Patsy Tijerina, from the revolutionary/bandido status. Even though Patsy was actively involved in the land grant movement and took radical approaches to her activism, Bebout observes, she instead became an allegory for the "rape of la raza" and the emasculation of Chicanos after being raped and assaulted while Reies was in prison (102).
It is with this critical gender analysis of Patsy's figure that the author transitions into the next two chapters of the book, which deal with gender and sexuality. Chapter 3 documents the early Chicana [End Page 398] feminist movement that emerged simultaneously with the Chicano Movement. Chicana activists from this era, Bebout argues, had to contend with a nationalist discourse that was patriarchal at its core. In reaction to this patriarchal discourse, Chicanas refashioned the mythohistorical pantheon by redefining figures like La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Malinche to fit their model of the liberated Chicana. Likewise, in chapter...