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Ethnoqueer Rearchitexturing of Metropolitan Space
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Nepantla: Views from South 1.3 (2000) 581-604

In La Mollie and the King of Tears (1996) and Days of Obligation (1992) respectively, novelist Arturo Islas and journalist Richard Rodriguez pen homographic texts that queer the contemporary Chicano/a and mainstream U.S. textual landscape. Islas and Rodriguez create first-person narrating subjects—a smooth-talking pachuco straight man, Louie Mendoza, for Islas, and a hesitantantly vulnerable yet penetratingly bold gay self-as-narrator for Rodriguez—who journey through world cityscapes to destabilize zones of hegemonic control, then reinhabit and reinscribe such zones without a north-versus-south, straight-versus-bent oppositionality. The authors thus invent “autoethnographic” texts (cf. Pratt 1989 and José David Saldívar 1997) that sidestep old-school us/them models for understanding the formation of the subaltern self, re-placing their protagonists within a metrotextual space that allows for a panoply of selves to coexist within one self. To this end, Rodriguez and Islas soften time and disemplot character to shift their ga(y)ze to subjectivity as informed by its various spatializations. Their multispatialized texts spin Chicano/a literature into, as Ramón Saldívar (1990, 65) writes, the “heterotopian social spaces of the imaginary… within the real conditions of existence.”

This move to locate Chicano/a subaltern subjectivities in the contemporary U.S. metroplex doesn’t originate with Islas and Rodriguez. Speaking to the rise of urban Chicano novels generally, critic Juan Bruce-Novoa (1986, 105) claimed, “If the novel gives us an accurate reading of the Chicano community… we can say that our community is less sexually repressive than we might expect…. This makes the Chicano [urban] novel a progressive space for dialogue, an appropriate space in and through which a more androgynous and humane Chicano identity may be forged.” Since the early 1970s, Chicano/a textscapes have looked increasingly to the formation of the Chicano/a in the city. Nonetheless, these early cityscape texts turned to urban centers mostly to foreground an us/them struggle between the brown characters and the Euro-Anglo powers that be. Chicano writers like Rudolfo Anaya and Ron Arias painted cities heavily scratched with the grit and grime of racial oppression, while thickening the sepia-toned layers that describe Chicanos in the Aztlánified countryside—a space that sanctions the hardened Chicano phallus while denigrating the Chicana panocha. And when writers complicated the characters’ sense of self/other in the city—as with Oscar Zeta Acosta’s massively ingestive narrator-as-self, who metastasizes all of mainstream and marginal culture—they often reproduced restrictive heteronormative paradigms: Chicanas are either virgins or whores (chingadalupes/malinchistes); queers are either invisible or hypergenitalized half-men. As more Chicana-authored texts made it to print—in the works of Isabella Rios, Lucha Corpi, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Alma Luz Villanueva, to name a few—the cityscaped text (depicting Tijuana, San Francisco, Los Angeles, for example) was radically revised and constructed as a space to disrupt age-old heteronormative, masculinist master narratives.

Arturo Islas in La Mollie and the King of Tears and Rodriguez in Days of Obligation turn to the metropolis to invent coexisting subjects that multiply inhabit palimpsestic city-spaces that enfold race, sexuality, class, and gender. For example, while Rodriguez-as-narrator comes out in the telling of his life in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, he inhabits a simultaneously soft/hard queerness that destabilizes heteronormative constructions of the masculine and feminine. And while Islas invents a straight protagonist to narrate La Mollie, narrator Louie comes into a bent re-visioning of straight/queer self and city. Both authors rearchitexture queer and straight spaces, constructing selves that float somewhere in a tangible in-between space that dedifferentiates Chicano subjectivity.

Not surprisingly, the texts that Arturo Islas and Richard Rodriguez build to house their multiple coexisting metroplexed subjects destabilize conventional genre and storytelling technique. For example, in La Mollie Islas shifts gears from his other mythopoetically narrated, pastorally set dynastic novels—The Rain God (1984) and its sequel Migrant Souls (1990)—and uses the narrative technique and fast-paced tempo readers associate with noir; there’s a mystery to solve, and Islas&#8217...

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