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CR: The New Centennial Review 1.1 (2001) 313-331
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Chicana/o Literature and Voices of a New Chicana/o History
University of Northern Colorado
Voices of a New Chicana/o History Edited by Refugio I. Rochín and Dennis N. Valdéz. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000
IN THE COLLECTION OF ESSAYS TITLED VOICES OF A NEW CHICANA/O HISTORY, the reader finds an honest presentation and appraisal of the ostensible generation gap among Chicana/o historians. Specifically, essays by Rodolfo Acuña and Luis Leal foreground the other essays both in sequence and in substance. Acuña focuses on the responsibilities of the Chicana/o historian, and he clearly believes that those responsibilities include moral obligations that challenge the traditional boundaries of the historian: "The aim of Chicano studies history is not to reinvent reality, but to seek facts that challenge Eurocentric interests. By its very nature, Chicana/o studies history is oppositional" (26). Leal presents us with an overview of Chicana/o literary historiography by focusing on literature and new literary historical narratives for both Chicana/os and the United States in general made available by the recovery of pre-1960s Chicana/o literature. Acuña and Leal are foundational voices of Chicano Studies, and many other voices in the collection, such as Ramón Gutiérrez, are equally preeminent. As a collection, the essays [End Page 313] provide useful information and insights into Chicana/o history, and the editors have included some essays that disagree with Acuña to the point of suggesting that the time of Chicano history has ended and can now be replaced with broader notions of Latina/o history. This is the disagreement that the editors of the collection imply is a generation gap. Overall, the collection gives the impression that the immediate future of Chicana/o history is at the point of reinvention or absorption into the greater whole of Latinidad; at the end of the twentieth century the political imperatives of the sixties seem undermined by the identity politics and changing cultural geography of the late nineties.
Chicana/o literature is facing similar growing pains; at the end of the twentieth century there are more Chicana/o books than ever before, but serious questions face those of us who teach the literature. Voices of a New Chicana/o History is very useful in thinking through contemporary literary issues. On one hand, many of my colleagues from around the nation who teach Chicana/o literature have mentioned that we must start somehow with Tomas Rivera or a "classic" text in order to prepare the groundwork for students to read more contemporary works by, for example, Helena Maria Viramontes or Michelle Serros. 1 On the other hand, I have yet to hear someone comment that we must teach José Yglesias as preparation for Achy Obejas. History, or at least literary history, appears to be more central or foundational to Chicana/o literature than it is to other literatures in Latinidad. And yet, Latina/o literature is also steeped in various histories and plays with the concept of history in many ways, so what is different about Chicana/o literature is not the centrality of history, it is rather the nature or the essence of the history involved. Clearly, the nature of Chicana/o history is deeply political, but when explored in contrast to Latinidad as a larger context, Chicana/o history in Chicana/o literature opens broad discourses that we need to address as we enter into the twenty-first century. From a perspective of a literature professor, Voices of a New Chicana/o History provokes questions about pedagogy, interpretation, and the disciplinary culture. [End Page 314]
As Leal writes in his essay, the "Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage" project has been very successful; the number of texts available to both explore Latinidad and redefine "American Literature" in the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries continues to grow and develop. Indeed, some of the most interesting nineteenth-century Americanist work is being...