Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicana/o Identity
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University of Texas Press
I miss Jimmy Smits and Esai Morales on the television series NYPD.
So there. At the outset, let me confess that as an academic, I commit the unpardonable sin-for academics-of watching television other than PBS. I suppose I could say that I watch it sparingly (that part would be true), but perhaps only as a function of the many professional and...
Unlike the celebrated private eye who often goes it alone against seemingly insurmountable odds, I have benefited greatly from the support of friends, colleagues, family members, and various institutions in the writing of this book. I am delighted to have the opportunity to thank them.
Introduction: Alienated Eye/I: The Emergence of the Chicana/o Detective Novel
Jim Carroll’s song ‘‘Three Sisters’’ makes explicit the truism that popular culture provides pleasure. Miranda does not want to trifle with the needs of the boys who pursue her. Rather she wants to kick back, relax, and cuddle up with Mr. Chandler, a bedtime pursuit much more appealing than the tough, lonely, urban world outside her door. According to John G. Cawelti, literary escapism...
Chapter 1: Rolando Hinojosa’s KCDT Series: Instrumental Rationality and the Advance of Late Capitalism in Belken County
Rolando Hinojosa’s writing has been dedicated to creating a fictional microcosm of social relations in the South Texas Rio Grande Valley and along the U.S.-Mexico border. He has developed a fictional county, Belken, with all the insight and inspiration with which Faulkner brought his Yoknapatawpha to life.While antebellum and postbellum race relations between blacks and whites absorbed Faulkner’s imagination, it is the transborder class, cultural, and social relations between Mexico and South Texas that occupy Hinojosa.
Chapter 2: Michael Nava’s Henry Rios Series: You Can't Step in the Same Río Twice
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s aphorism that one cannot step in the same river twice captures the fluid nature of history and identity. A body of water can, of course, be mapped and thereby identified. It is, after all, an ultimately finite, describable whole, but because it is always in motion no particular place in the water is ever the same.
Chapter 3: Lucha Corpi’s Gloria Damasco Series: Detecting Cultural Memory and Chicanidad
In her Gloria Damasco series, Lucha Corpi investigates the various historical shifts and constructions of Chicanidad since the Chicana/o Movement (roughly 1965–1975) even more systematically than her Chicano counterparts writing in the detective genre. Comprising Eulogy for a Brown Angel (1992), Cactus Blood (1995), and Black Widow’s Wardrobe (1999), Corpi’s series seeks to better understand how history and memory shape identity and to gauge their corresponding impact on political movements.
Chapter 4: Manuel Ramos’s Luis Montez Series: ¿Quién Soy Yo? Crises of Identity and Culture
Notwithstanding the havoc metaphysical detective fiction has wreaked on the tidy world of pat resolutions, readers have grown comfortable with the traditional way the detective formula unfolds. The experienced reader of detective novels may not be able to identify the criminal before novel’s end, but s/he knows the general outline of the formula and the expected plot patterns. Given that readers know these patterns in advance, language, setting, and character development carry an especially heavy burden.
Chapter 5: Rudolfo Anaya’s Sonny Baca Series: Governing the Self in a Sea of Change
While other mystery writers like Manuel Ramos and Lucha Corpi participated in the Chicana/o Movement as activists, Rudolfo Anaya took on special significance for la causa Chicana. Along with other cultural workers such as Alurista, Corky Gonzales, and Luis Valdez, he was one of the heralds and scribes of cultural nationalism. His writing in general...
Conclusion: Looking Back, Pointing Forward
Detective novels typically end with the mystery solved and a conclusion reached. At the end of my study of the Chicana/o detective novel, I find myself wanting a similar resolution, a conclusion that ties matters up. Yet, if Brown Gumshoes has taught anything, it is that these novels and the identities therein are as much about openness as about conclusion.