- Critical Cartography
For Latinos, the current historical moment is aptly described by a critical tension playing out in the public sphere. On the one hand, immigrants, and by extension Latinos, are vilified in order to justify the imposition of severe anti-immigrant legislation enacted in states like Arizona, Colorado, Alabama, and Georgia. Recent viral videos, for example, have shown state representatives like Virgil Peck from Kansas suggesting that the solution to our federal immigration problem might be to hunt "illegals" from helicopters the way one might hunt the feral swine that populate the region. Or Tennessee State Representative Curry Todd who, during an inquiry panel as to the services provided for the unborn fetus of undocumented migrants, came to the stark realization that the current laws had given undocumented migrants the right, in his words, to "breed like rats." On the other side of the rhetorical chasm about Latinos is the growing interest in Latinos as an important "block" of people. Seen in these more positive terms, politicians seeking to capitalize on what they describe as "the Latino vote" hire media agencies to help them craft their Latino message. These same media companies help corporations like Ram Trucks produce advertising campaigns aimed directly at the growing, and potentially lucrative, "Latino market."
In response to the social dynamic of being alternately reveled and reviled, autochthonous Latino cultural production, which seeks to elaborate an identity distinct from the two polarized views of Latinidad offered by the general public, remains an essential aspect of understanding the experiences of Latino communities throughout the US. It is this need to understand the recent and historic arc of Latino cultural product that makes David J. Vázquez's book Triangulations: Narrative Strategies for Navigating Latino Identity both timely and topical. Vázquez, who is an associate professor at the University of Oregon, suggests that, like early cartographers, Latinos are forced to constantly triangulate their identities to accommodate socially competing pressures. These pressures, each roughly equating to a point on the cartographic triangle, stem from three primary sources: popular conceptualizations of an African American racial identity largely categorized by an obsession over hypodescent (the one-drop rule), the larger and hegemonic white racial identity, and the Latino subject's own, often-conflicted internal sense of self.
Vázquez's book is a critical, academic inquiry which will likely be of most interest to scholars in the field of Latino studies; however, the subtle line that runs throughout this very smart and accessible book is the question of cultural autonomy. For those with a broader and perhaps less academic interest in Latinos, their cultural production, and their interaction with the larger US society, Vázquez's book offers an important look at the stakes of Latino civil participation.
Vázquez's book, which looks closely at several of the most widely read Latino writers from the last several decades, covers a wide range of Latino nationalisms narrated by Latino writers from a range of backgrounds. He reads the experiences of Puerto Rican writers like Piri Thomas and Judith Ortiz Cofer alongside Chicano writers like Ernesto Galarza and [End Page 9] Sandra Cisneros, while simultaneously opening up the discussion to include the Dominican writer Julia Alvarez and the queer Chicano writer John Rechy. In this way, Triangulations offers a carefully mapped critical cartography that covers an expansive range of Latino experiences while detailing the multiple strategies that Latino writers, and by extension Latino communities, utilize in order to, as Vázquez puts it, "navigate the troubled racial waters of the United States."
Triangulations argues for the primacy of the first-person personal narratives among post-sixties writers to address contemporary and pressing issues of Latino identity and subjectivity in the largely hostile context of the US. He further argues that Latino first-person narratives offer two important interventions into our understanding of autobiographical writings. The first has to do with their ability to manifest the process of triangulation by which Latinos examine and configure their social identities. The...