- Mexico, Nation in Transit by Christina L. Sisk
Christina Sisk’s study of Mexican cultural production on both sides of the US-Mexican border is an ambitious and relevant project. At a time when the much-discussed decadence of the Mexican state has led to repeated announcements of the advent of a postnational Mexico, in fact, a global postnational age, the attempt to map Mexican cultural production beyond the constraints of the nation-state is certainly a timely endeavor. Sisk’s approach, as the title of her book indicates, however, hinges on the idea that although the reach of the Mexican state may be receding as its citizens continue to migrate north, the Mexican Volksgeist lives on in the supranational community that lives on both sides of the border. This position is not new, but rather reflects on the myriad possible political articulations of the concept of la Raza by Mexican immigrants, Chicanos, and Latinos. Her attempt to study the cultural production of the Mexican nation at large, beyond the Mexican state, is a necessary actualization of Américo Paredes’s studies of the Greater Mexico, or México de afuera. [End Page 186]
Sisk’s analysis is loosely structured around two axes: genre and geography. Her book begins with those genres that are solidly rooted in the Mexican cultural market, gradually moves to those types of cultural production that follow the same migratory routes of the individuals they depict, and concludes with examples of “Mexican” cultural production conceived and articulated north of the border. Sisk concludes that “[t]he second and third immigrant generations are a node within these [migrant] community networks and in Mexico, as a nation” (201). By referring to “Mexico, as a nation,” Sisk seems to imply that, despite no longer being Mexican citizens, second- and third-generation immigrants are still members of the Mexican cultural community. The term nation, however, can also be understood in political terms as a community that seeks self-determination. Certainly, the political agendas within a nation-state as within the cultural community of the Greater Mexico to which Sisk is referring are diverse. A more explicit discussion of the differences between culture nation and political nation in the case of México de afuera would have contributed to adding further analytical depth to Sisk’s study.
Mexico, Nation in Transit begins by providing a critical reading of the border films of the 1990s (Santitos, El jardín del Edén, De ida y vuelta) as a modern version of the nineteenth-century foundational fictions. Her reference to Doris Sommer’s seminal study contends that unlike the national romances of the previous century, border films make use of sentimentality to expand notions of Mexicanness beyond state borders. Chapter 2 explores literatura de la frontera (e.g., Rosario Sanmiguel, Antonio Parra, Luis Humberto Crosthwaite), explaining how these writers have had to position themselves against Mexico’s hegemonic cultural tradition. Sisk’s analysis of how Mexican cultural elites have seemingly overcome their disdain for northern Mexico’s cultural production in the past decades, simultaneously promoting and co-opting the decentralizing drive that characterizes literatura de frontera, is insightful and brave. Sisk is at her best when discussing the politics of Mexican rock and pop culture, a type of cultural production that fits well the transnational dynamics that she aims to explore. Her analysis of Mexican pop and rock in chapter 3 of her book pays special attention to those songs that make explicit reference to Mexican immigrants, to discern whether the bands are actively siding with those who have to cross the border or not. Sisk’s critique of bands like Maná suggests that the more mainstream a rock band becomes, the more it aligns itself with Mexico’s hegemonic, cultural tradition, although she concludes that “national identity can persist within commercial music” (105). Chapter 4 is a detailed analysis of Ramón “Tianguis” Pérez’s Diario de un mojado and Diary of a Guerrilla, testimonials of the strong cultural and socioeconomic bonds that...