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Reviewed by:
  • I am Aztlán: The Personal Essay in Chicano Studies
  • Carlos Gallego (bio)
Chon A. Noriega and Wendy Belcher, eds. I am Aztlán: The Personal Essay in Chicano Studies. Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, 2004. 265 pp. ISBN 0-8955-1099-5, $19.95.

This collection of essays represents an important and worthwhile contribution to the growing field of Chicano/a autobiographical and non-fiction writing. The volume brings together Chicano/a, as well as Puerto Rican and Cuban American, writers and artists who demonstrate a common interest in exploring the intersections of personal and social history. Instead of reifying Chicano/a identity into recognizable traits for the purposes of definition, this collection explodes stereotypes of a "typical" Chicano/a experience by highlighting the internal tensions surrounding the ideological struggle to define an authentic Chicano/a experience. The essays, collected from various contributions to Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, range in topic from personal reflections concerning the act of "coming home" to the politics surrounding contemporary Chicano/a art and film, thereby exemplifying the growth and diversity of the discipline over the last thirty years.

The essays are grouped by theme into five respective sections, each representing an aspect of the Chicano/a experience, both personally and professionally. The opening section, entitled "Exile and Going Home," examines the nature of "exile and the process of going home as an integral aspect of the creative process" (viii). Max Benavidez tells of his childhood growing up in Los Angeles, and the difficulties involved in being a Mexican Angeleno. He recalls learning English and reading his great-grandmother's copy of Don Quixote, as well as the pain of simulating whiteness and the necessity of returning home. Harry Gamboa, the artist, examines the multidimensionality of contemporary society, from freeways to call in-shows. Santa C. Barraza's essay examines the complex process of returning home after a twenty-five year absence. She explains the influence that her homeland has had on her art, specifically the maguey.

The second section, "Home/Work," explores the ways in which the notion of "home" informs the professional work of two scholars. Chon A. Noriega examines the ways in which his father has influenced his intellectual growth as a scholar. He explains how his investigative skills as a historian and critic have helped him understand his father in a more sympathetic and compassionate way. He focuses on his father's collection of Mexican LPs, and how understanding the logic underlying this collection has helped him gain better insight into his father's past. The writer and filmmaker Frances Negrón-Muntaner explores the conflicted and problematic nature of the concept "home," explaining how film can serve as a privileged medium in its capacity to give witness. [End Page 360]

The largest section of the volume is section three, "Entre Familia," which examines the tradition of silence surrounding the Chicano community's treatment of such issues as sexism and homosexuality. Jerry Garcia's wordplay on "cock" serves to introduce the homo-social bonding that takes place during traditional Mexican cockfights. He recalls his father's passion for the pastime, and explains how ideas of machismo and masculinity inform this cultural practice, as well as family relations. Vincent Pérez examines the complicated history surrounding his family and its "secret." He shows how testimonial memory functions to both deny truth and insure its continuance in the form of history. The secret rape that haunts his family history provides the fulcrum of his investigation, but the conclusions he draws have implications for how we understand biographical studies.

The fourth section, "Testifying," offers the thoughts and reflections of three Chicano/a artists and writers on the struggles facing contemporary art and politics. Alma Lopez, the visual and public artist, writes about the difficulties she has faced in New Mexico concerning one of her pieces. She gives an account of how the Catholic Church has insisted on censorship of her work, thus reinforcing traditional sexist opinions over what is dignified and what is shameful. The essay by tatiana de la tierra examines the history of two Latina lesbian journals that she co-founded and co-edited...


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pp. 360-362
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