restricted access Conversations with Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Writers ed. by Hector A. Torres (review)
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Conversations with Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Writers. By Hector A. Torres (ed.). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007. 359 pages. Softbound, $29.95.

For Hector A. Torres, writing is a social act with powers both to construct and deconstruct identities. Conversations with Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Writers presents Torres's interviews with influential Chicano/a literary icons and theorists; Torres engages with a range of themes, from alterity, class, identity, and gender to psychology, empowerment through words, and the career milestones that have shaped Chicano/a authors' lives. Building on Juan Bruce-Novoa's early work, Chicano Authors: Inquiry by Interview (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980) and its "interview-as-survey" technique, and his later Retrospace: Collected Essays on Chicano Literature (Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, 1990), and setting Chicano writing upon the plane of modernity, Torres begins each chapter with an introduction, then presents his interview or set of interviews with a Chicano/a writer, and concludes with a list of the writer's accumulated awards and published pieces. Torres's background as a native of the borderlands region in Tijuana and his adoption in 1965 and upbringing in El Paso by a set of Mexican American parents effected his own journey of Americanization. The influence of what Torres terms "the Mexican American generation" on his own life, as transmitted through his adoptive parents, created for the young author a climate in which English was seen as a tool of mobility, allowing him to acquire his intellectual positioning and participate in the Anglo academy.

Chicano writing is charted as a component of American literature, with interviews set against a backdrop of modern American history, while Chicano literary space is set upon a broader terrain of American liberal discourse. The difficulty of the term Chicano as a totalizing category and its association with the Chicano movement is set against Torres's imagination of the Mexican American generation as a more conservative cultural force demanding progress through assimilation. The articulation of difference, cultural pride, negotiation, and solidarity were instead traits intrinsic to the Chicano renaissance. These and other complexities are teased out over the course of the author's conversations, which are concerned with Chicano/a authorship as a function of diverse cultural positionings. Institutional support was needed to help consolidate the canon of Chicano writing, a canon that was both revolutionary and born of democratic impulses, while its aesthetic aspects met a more universal challenge of attaining literary excellence. Chicanismo's separatist or nationalist tenets rail against efforts toward integration with American culture; radicalism here meets reformism and its possibilities. Chicano ethnic nationalism is presented here as one piece in the larger puzzle of American liberalism, yet at the same time, Chicano/a writing [End Page 395] retains its own literary value, unique positioning, and niche, linked to particular historical and cultural specificities.

In a 1990 interview with the late Gloria Anzaldúa, her body of work is reviewed for its role in relating a mestiza consciousness. Details from Anzaldú life, including formative experiences as an oppressed farm worker, are unearthed. In the interview she describes her own peculiar prospects and challenges as a figure in American academia, and how, through writing and teaching, she could disturb the gender binaries set by her own family and culture. For Anzaldú school and spirituality offered ways to cope with oppressive realities, while her work, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 1999), served as a bridge to relate the fluidity and spectrum of identities embodied in the mestiza subject, a subject whose ability to adapt threatened a dominant Anglo world. In his interview with Sandra Cisneros, Torres draws out stories relating to her childhood in the Puerto Rican barrio of Chicago, her education at public school, at Catholic school—where she could be free from the "riff-raff"—and at Loyola University of Chicago, and her eventual entry into the Iowa Writers' Workshop at age twenty-one. The interview sessions took place in 1990 and 1991 in San Antonio and Albuquerque, lending them an irreplaceably archival quality. More recently, Cisneros appeared in an interview on the radio/podcast program Bookworm to...