- Rethinking Chicana/o and Latina/o Popular Culture
Daniel Enrique Pérez's ambitious Rethinking Chicana/o and Latina/o Popular Culture is a publication in the Future of Minority Studies series, which has so far published studies on sexuality, identity politics, and education. Pérez begins with the premise that Chicana/o and Latina/o cultural forms have always engaged with and represented queer identities. Early on he defines and defends his use of the term queer as "a term that allows ambiguities, contradictions, and fluctuations to coexist" (1). Broadly speaking, Pérez "proposes a paradigm shift in the way some have typically viewed Chicana/o and Latina/o cultural production" (3), showing how queerness is an integral, if not always readily visible, part of such productions.
The chapter "Queer Machos: Gender, Sexuality, Beauty, and Chicano/ Latino Men" opens Part One, "Chicano/Latino Aesthetics," in which Pérez augments the macho and maricón stereotypes with what he calls the figure of the "queer macho." Lifting these figures from a "historically abject state," Pérez asserts their ability to "challenge hegemonic structures [of] patriarchy and heteronormativity" (13). The texts under examination in this chapter include works by gay Chicano writers John Rechy and Michael Nava, performance artist Luis Alfaro, playwright Guillermo Reyes, and visual artists Alex Donis and Héctor Silva—writers and artists who embody the "queer macho," who crosses borders "both literal and figurative [and] can be examined in an array of social, historical, and cultural contexts" (36). The second chapter, "(Re)Examining the Latin Lover: Screening Chicano/Latino Sexualities," follows with an analysis of the other side of the macho/maricón debate: the stereotype of the Latin lover. Examining celebrities such as Ramón Novarro, Desi Arnaz, and Mario López, Pérez traces "a new standard . . . where the Chicano/Latino male body replaces the white male body as the paragon of male beauty" (60). "The Latin lover," he concludes, "is not Latin or a lover, but a product of the hidden desires of the people who have consumed him for almost a century" (60).
Pérez revisits Chicano literature and Chicana/o and Latina/o screen identities in Part Two, "(In)Visible Queer Identities," beginning once [End Page 219] again by queering three canonical Chicano texts that have been historically read as heteronormative: Pocho (1959) by José Antonio Villarreal, . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra (1971) by Tomás Rivera, and Bless Me, Ultima (1972) by Rudolfo Anaya. Pérez distinguishes between queer and gay elements and reminds us that he is tracing the former in these rereadings. This chapter is perhaps the most effective because of its depth of focus on three exemplary texts rather than the more cursory treatments of a breadth of material in the first and second chapters. In his analysis of each of the three books, Pérez demonstrates how the protagonists "are not 'straight'; instead their identities are shaped by a multiplicity of queer acts in which they engage and queer traits they possess" (91). In the next chapter, "La Movie Rara: Viewing Queer Chicana/o and Latina/o Identities," Pérez shifts his critical lens to female figures in Chicana/o cinema, which he sees as having "its roots in several forms of oppression: economic, social, and political" (93). In the three films he examines, Gregory Nava's My Family/Mi Familia (1995) and Selena (1997) and Josefina López's Real Women Have Curves (1988), in which the children consistently defy their parents' attempts to impose Mexican traditional values, Pérez traces how the younger generation "[draws] on cultural signifiers from Anglo, Mexican, Chicano, Latino, and other cultures . . . to subvert the oppression they experience from one parent (sometimes both) attempting to impose hetero-normativity" (140). Here I begin to see a problematic aspect of Pérez's argument; it is unclear if he is simply equating all "tradition" with hetero-normativity—a discursive move that, while perhaps valid in many cases, could be read as facile essentialism. This...