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Reviewed by:
  • Chicano Nations: The Hemispheric Origins of Mexican American Literature
  • Beth Hernandez-Jason (bio)
Chicano Nations: The Hemispheric Origins of Mexican American Literature. Marissa K. López. New York: New York University Press, 2011. x + 269 pages. $75.00 cloth; $24.00 paper.

Continuing in the footsteps of other hemispheric scholars of US and US Latina/o literature, Chicano Nations: The Hemispheric Origins of Mexican American Literature works from the premise that “since its inception . . . Chicana/o literature’s national imaginary has been inseparable from a global and hemispheric perspective” (205). Rather than focusing solely on movimiento-era texts and nationalism, Marissa K. López takes the long view, reading “Chicana/o nationalism as an unsuccessful attempt to resolve contradictions in Mexican American identity . . . focusing on nationalism as a function of a narrative relation to the past” (12). Complicating this approach, she traces this genealogy back to nineteenth-century Latin American theories on race and nation. This transamerican genealogy has strengths and weaknesses; while it illustrates how Chicana/o identity and literature are imbricated in a broader context, two requirements must be met for this approach to be completely convincing: demonstrating meaningful connections between the selected Chicana/o and Latin American texts and explaining why the hemispheric should be privileged over a transnational approach. Nevertheless, Chicano Nations succeeds in a multitude of other ways, boldly addressing contemporary politics and Chicana/o novels while imaginatively pairing texts.

In the introduction, López provides an illuminating overview and brief analysis of Chicano nationalism and the evolution of hemispheric studies in the US. Using examples of contemporary plays by the Argentine-born Canadian Guillermo Verdecchia, López illustrates how concepts of race and nation within the Americas are necessarily transnational and anything but binary, arguing that “Chicana/o literature has always been actively engaged in undermining philosophies of race and nation through its gestures toward hemispheric alliance” (21).

Chapter One has two explicit goals: “to make the hemispherism of [Latin American] early nineteenth-century writers available to contemporary Chicana/o cultural workers as the grounds for a progressive politics” and “to illuminate the historicity of race” (26). Beginning with Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s description of the US in Viajes por Europa, África, [End Page 225] y América, 1845–1847 (1849), López examines how the travel writing of Sarmiento, Lorenzo de Zavala, and Vicente Pérez Rosales “trace an almost linear chronology” of “the formation of the United States as a neo-colonial force in the Americas” (58). She argues that in spite of their limitations, these texts contain the “theoretical foundations for a progressive politics of global humanism, which is . . . the value and potential of Chicana/o literature” (12). While many of López’s arguments here are persuasive, her call in the conclusion to “transgress the mental borders that might keep us from appreciating [these writers] as part of Chicana/o literary history” is not entirely convincing. The case would be stronger if there were an analysis or documentation of a direct Mexican American or Chicana/o engagement with these texts.

López transitions to Chapter Two by counterposing the “statecraft” of these three writers with Mariano Vallejo’s “state critique” (59). The strength in this chapter comes from the comparison of the historiographic approaches of Vallejo and Hubert H. Bancroft, drawing on a plethora of archival documents, including materials from Vallejo’s personal archive in Sonoma. This meticulously researched chapter includes a close reading of Vallejo’s Recuerdos and deft analysis of the reception of Vallejo’s work by Bancroft and later Chicana/o critics.

In Chapter Three, María Cristina Mena and Daniel Venegas are paired in order to examine “disparate factions of the Mexican revolutionary diaspora” who “become part of a Chicana/o collectivity” (94). After contextualizing Mena’s and Venegas’s work in “the struggle to define revolutionary Mexico,” López examines the reception of Mena’s work by Chicana/o critics and provides a close reading of race, gender, and the nation within two of Mena’s plays (96). Shifting to Venegas’s The Adventures of Don Chipote (1928), López argues that the novel “contain[s] indigeneity by advocating against immigration” and promotes...


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