- Mythohistorical Interventions: The Chicano Movement and Its Legacies by Lee Bebout
Lee Bebout's book is a welcome addition to the literature on the Chicano movement. This interdisciplinary study addresses readers in both American Studies and Chicano Studies and will interest anyone looking for a historically grounded consideration of the relationship between cultural production and political life. Bebout offers a compelling reminder that political contestation draws energy from more than ballots and boycotts. Political action also often gains its shape and momentum from storytelling, as constructed narratives become tools for political mobilization. To illustrate, Bebout explores the Chicano movement by looking beyond familiar resistance efforts to the stories used to fire the imaginations of those on the front lines of struggles for social justice.
The heart of this work is devoted to tracing the mythical and historical stories woven into the resistance narratives of different chapters of the Chicano movement. The mytho-historical elements examined range from Aztec mythology and the mythic homeland of Aztlán to the lost and reimagined letters of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. These interventions are discussed in chapters on each of four major aspects of the Chicano movement: the Crusade for Justice, the Farmworkers Movement, and student activism regarding El Plan de Santa Barbara (Chicano Coordinating Council on Higher Education, 1969); Reies López Tijerina and the land grant movement in New Mexico; early Chicana feminism; and Chicana lesbian feminism, including its current legacy of scholar-activism.
Each of the four chapters presents the mytho-historical interventions of the Chicano movement as a form of "popular intellectual history." These histories frequently reveal the interplay between nationalism, imagined community, and citizenship—an interplay in which "community" can be both liberating and oppressive, as demonstrated by a Chicano nationalism that sought social justice while oppressing feminist and queer Chicanas and Chicanos. As Bebout stresses, in every political terrain the hegemonic order is made up of discourses, practices, and ideologies expressed in enumerable forms: speeches, plays, poems, icons and so on. Methodologically, Bebout looks at these diverse cultural forms as part of a network, a tapestry of interventions that challenge the hegemonic order in some ways, even as they may intentionally or unintentionally stabilize it in others.
On the whole, Bebout's project is a valuable re-reading of the Chicano movement that builds on diverse theoretical underpinnings, from Fanon and the Frankfurt School to [End Page 420] postcolonial theory and Chicana feminist thought. Ironically, the minor drawbacks of this book derive from its major asset—its interdisciplinarity. One weakness is the significant use of jargon drawn from various theoretical traditions. Readers, particularly students unfamiliar with these vocabularies, will potentially struggle or be put off by the barrage of verbiage, especially in the introduction.
A second potential drawback is the unavoidably brief discussion of some aspects of the movement. Bebout's method of analyzing by considering a network of mytho-historical expressions works well in most cases. The discussion of Alicia Gaspar de Alba's interventions in chapter 4, for example, is excellent and especially effective. However, this method necessarily leaves some elements untouched in the more complex cases. The brief discussion of the farmworkers movement, for example, left me feeling that examination of its many unaddressed aspects might challenge Bebout's analysis, or at least foster a lively debate. Yet, this is exactly where interdisciplinary work succeeds, even as it "fails" to satisfy disciplinary norms. Historians, literary scholars, and mythologists might all feel that their domains have been given short shrift in this work. But the virtue of interdisciplinary scholarship is to bring a variety of lenses to a question in order to create new vantage points that we could not otherwise have gained. In this sense, Bebout has succeeded admirably, shedding new light on a pivotal juncture in American politics and culture. In so doing, he also highlights the advantages to be obtained by challenging the hegemony of disciplinary expectations.
Santa Barbara, California