- Identity Complex: Making the Case for Multiplicity by Michael Hames-García, and: Triangulations: Narrative Strategies for Navigating Latino Identity by David J. Vázquez
Two new books from the prominent University of Minnesota Press, known for its TLH (theory/literature/history) series and its current profile in queer, new media, and other forward-edge topics, address the complexities of contemporary identity with a (non-exclusive) emphasis on Latino/a identity. They do so with different analytical tools and to different ends. Identities are proximate, there is kinship, there is complementarity, but there is crucial difference, too; a difference-within-solidarity that the authors and their respective projects celebrate implicitly. Together, the works enact a sound one-two counter-assault on the current backlash against ethnic studies and intellectual labor on the part of and behalf of the disenfranchised.
Michael Hames-García’s Identity Complex: Making the Case for Multiplicity joins the growing canon of queer-of-color scholarship, which seeks to displace white male heterosexual universalism as the normative subjectivity from which all subsequent ethics and epistemology are deduced. This volume is a thoughtful, philosophically inflected investigation into a range of identity-rich scenarios. Using feminist standpoint theory and intersectionality as his guiding analytical structures, Hames-García explores a series of (as promised) complex scenarios telegraphed by his chapter titles, which are all, appropriately, posed in the form of questions: “Who Are Our Own People?” “How Real Is Race?” “Are Sexual Identities Desirable?” “Do Prisons Make Better Men?” before concluding with a descriptor, “Reflections on Identity in the Obama Era.” The interrogative mode fits this searching, conversational, deliberative book, which elegantly blends personal and journalistic anecdote, analytic acumen, and on-the-ground inquiries into what matters and how it matters when one tries to understand a densely significant social phenomenon.
The first question/chapter sets out the author’s own identity(ies) within the first paragraph—professor, gay man, Latino, “activist-scholar” (1)—in the context of an anecdote about being asked to join a senior, white male professor in teaching in a prison that results in a conversation with the prisoners about gay and lesbian sexuality. Hames-García uses his conflicting feelings of anxiety, anticipation, and engagement as an opportunity to ask how he is and is not like his students that evening, how they are and are not like each other, and how they—or anyone who embodies multiple axes of identification—identify or not with a host of cross-cutting identities that interact within and among each member [End Page 424] of a group. Also taken up is Michael Nava’s 1994 novel Hidden Law. Finally, Hames-García turns to the House of Color, a 1990s video collective of queers of color, as an example of talking back to the institutional disempowerment of fragmenting these multiple identities (sexuality, gender, class, ethnicity, etc.) by developing means of communicating and making art—notably a project titled I Object that plays on resistance, subjectivity, and objectification—that challenge attempts to simplify group experience and undermine potential solidarity. Subsequent chapters likewise play out complex scenes of identification and disidentification using powerfully condensed moments of focus: one especially affective such moment is the dynamic opening of “Are Sexual Identities Desirable?” which tells of the murder of an Iraqi private by a Mexican American private in the US Army around a possible queer encounter and the fraught investigation that followed.
An impressively wide range of materials—media productions such as television shows (“Do Prisons Make Better Men?” juxtaposes a close reading of an HBO fiction series on life in a men’s prison with grim and still-astonishing statistics about the growing number of incarcerated men of color in the United States), literary works, personal observation and anecdote—are considered with an equally impressive sense of genuine interlocution with contemporary philosophical conversations. Throughout, Hames-García conscientiously cites his intellectual...