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  • Chicano Studies and the Need to Not Know
  • Ralph E. Rodriguez (bio)
Because I Don't Have Wings: Stories of Mexican Immigrant Life, Philip Garrison. University of Arizona Press, 2006.
raúlrsalinas and the Jail Machine: My Weapon is My Pen: Selected Writings, Edited by Louis G. Mendoza. University of Texas Press, 2006.
The Emergence of Mexican America: Recovering Stories of Mexican Peoplehood in U.S. Culture, John-Michael Rivera. New York University Press, 2006.
The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary, Ramón Saldívar. Duke University Press, 2006.

In 1958 Américo Paredes published his now classic study of the corrido (ballad), "With His Pistol in His Hand": A Border Ballad and Its Hero.1 Little could Paredes have known that he was setting the tone and intellectual trajectory for the next half-century of Mexican-American studies. His inquiry into the vernacular culture of Mexicans and Mexican Americans living in the borderlands of south Texas and into warrior heroes, like Gregorio Cortez, depicted in the corrido, established a pattern for celebrating figures of resistance in Mexican-American cultural production. This pattern was nurtured by the subsequent generation of scholars, many of whom had participated in the Chicana/o movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and which continues to this day in Chicana/o studies. In a range of texts from the 1960s to the present (including at least three of the four books under review in this essay), scholars of Mexican-American culture have located, analyzed, and lionized the figure with his or her pistol (sometimes figurative, sometimes literal) in hand. The tendency to locate such a hero emerges from a desire to rectify a long history of racism, patriarchy, economic exploitation, and cultural neglect and derision. While this project has contributed significantly to our understanding of Mexican-American culture in particular and American culture in general over the last half century, could it now be time to move away from the propensity to analyze the oppositional quality of Mexican-American cultural production? If this model is inadequate, it is not because the warrior hero has disappeared from Mexican-American culture, but precisely the opposite. When a figure of opposition is well represented and firmly entrenched in contemporary novels, films, music, do we really need an act of exegesis to explain its presence, or even its necessity? [End Page 180]

What made Paredes's approach to Gregorio Cortez and the corrido significant was the timeliness of his intervention. The urgency of revealing the oppositional qualities of a resistance fighter and her connections to Mexican-American vernacular culture, however, is arguably no longer so pressing. In the late 1950s, Paredes blazed trails into forests that sorely needed exploring. Fifty years later, the trails have all been adequately marked, indeed, are so well trodden that they run the risk of soil erosion. We need an intellectual charge that will lead us in directions adequate to our own political, social, economic, and cultural moment. While Ramón Saldívar invests in the contemporary theoretical language of transnationalism and globalization studies and John-Michael Rivera in critical race studies, a model of oppositionality, not far removed from that of Paredes, undergirds their inquiries. It is perhaps unfair to charge any one book with the responsibility of breaking a field out of its critical comfort zone; and as I come closer to appraising the four volumes under review, I want to understand them on their own merits. But each of the four also, in different ways, crystallizes for me a set of questions that I will return to at the end of this essay: How are we going to continue producing work that does more than analyze the agonistic battles between what critics position as mainstream culture on the one hand and minority or subaltern culture on the other? How can we do justice to the nuances, complexities, and subtleties of contemporary culture and life? How can we prevent the search for resistant cultural practices becoming a formula, leading us to conclusions that have been determined in advance? How can we continue to learn from the works that we study and, even more crucially, from the scholarship we...


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