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CR: The New Centennial Review 1.1 (2001) 333-343
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Making Sense of the "Hood"
University of Texas-San Antonio
Barrio-Logos: Space and Place in Urban Chicano Literature and Culture By Raúl Homero Villa. Austin: University of Texas Press, CMAS History, Culture, and Society Series, 2000
BOOK-LENGTH STUDIES OF THE CHICANO URBAN EXPERIENCE OFTEN REVOLVE around particular struggles against disenfranchisement 1 or fall within the scope of the geographical lens that provides focus to a regional or organizational history of Mexican Americans. 2 Rooted in discipline-specific frameworks, primarily history, anthropology, sociology, or political science, these studies have contributed to an important counter-discourse regarding the presence and role of mexicanos in the U.S. urban landscape. More importantly, in line with a Chicano studies framework that has sought to link scholarship and community empowerment, these works have consistently set out to illustrate that Mexican Americans have indeed been active participants and contributors in the formation of social and political relations of major cities of the southwestern United States.
The establishment of a counter-narrative is, of course, an important principle of ethnic studies, one that works against the grain of a dominant discourse that has served a delegitimating and often destabilizing function in minority communities. An important thematic in the counter-narratives of Chicano studies is the importance of land and deterritorialization, for it [End Page 333] is a defining aspect of the Chicano experience that rightfully situates this history in a transnational and subaltern framework. The very titles of such works as John Chavez's The Lost Land (1984), Rodolfo Acuna's Occupied America (1980), and David Montejano's Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas (1987) signal the negative dialectic that has shaped Anglo dominant and Mexican subaltern relations since 1848. To the extent that these works have demonstrated Chicano resistance, they have often given primacy to electoral politics and institutional challenges to Anglo-controlled social institutions such as the educational, political, legislative, or juridical systems. These institutional sites of struggle have been sources of ambivalence for the Chicano community, for a politics of exclusion has systematically marginalized them. The barrio, too, has often been a source of ambivalence for Chicanos, because it is both isolating as well as insulating. It signifies Chicanos' social status (economic and political subordination), but it is also their refuge, a safe-house from a harsh world wherein Raza can escape their "minority" status and be surrounded by that which is familiar and comforting.
It is this dynamic process of domination and resistance, assertion of power and counter-power, that is the subject of Raúl Villa's new study of the Chicano urban experience in Barrio-Logos: Space and Place in Urban Chicano Literature and Culture. An Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Villa has written a book (consisting of an introduction, five central chapters, and an epilogue) that focuses on California generally and Los Angeles in particular as a "paradigmatic site of urban Chicano social history," because the Chicano neighborhoods of downtown and East Los Angeles are "exemplary spaces of urban Chicano development" (2). This study is an interesting complement to a 1999 collection of critical and creative works co-edited by Villa, Urban Latino Cultures: La Vida Latina en L.A. Moreover, this work expands the concept of Latino cultural citizenship that has been conceptualized and promoted by the Inter-University Program (IUP) Latino Cultural Studies Working Group. 3 In Barrio-Logos, Villa claims Los Angeles not as a unique site of Chicano urban negotiations, but as, in fact, a representative example of the Chicano urban experience because of the "early and extreme manifestations" of the processes and consequences that shaped that experience. [End Page 334] Villa identifies three primary subordinating factors influencing the Chicano experience: the landscape effect (the physical regulation and constitution of space), the law effect (the social control of space by state legal institutions and police authorities), and the media effect (the ideological justification of the former to citizens via educational and...