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In t r o d u c t io n t o t h e S a l d í v a r P le n a r y , H o u s to n , T e x a s , O c t o b e r 2003: T h e R o le o f Pl a c e in M e x ic a n A m e ric a n C u l t u r e J o s é A r a n d a Buenas dias. Es un placer estar con ustedes. It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today— and an honor to chair a plenary that recognizes the scholarly achievements of three Saldivar siblings: Ramón, José David, and Sonia. Each of them has graciously agreed to speak on the eve of their acceptance of the Western Literature Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award, which is to be presented tonight at the banquet. This morning they will speak toward the title of this plenary: “Family Matters: Critical Regionalism and the Places of Chicano/a Studies.” By way of introduction, I will offer a few general thoughts about the significance of “place” in Mexican American culture and then conclude by suggesting how we might view the collective work of the Saldivars in the context of “place.” The focus of this plenary is to think about the current status of Chicano/a studies vis-à-vis the field’s prolonged fascination, if not obses­ sion, with place. I begin by alerting the audience that “place” in Mexican American culture does not work as it does or might in mainstream cul­ ture, where there is a more transparent relationship to land or at least a fictional transparency to land. By contrast, Mexican American culture often spills over with a sense of insecurity, fraudulence, impermanence with regards to land ownership, as well as collateral issues such as civic identity, labor, and language. To be sure, there is an anxiety over place that harkens back to the colonization of the Americas and the “displace­ ment” of native people from traditional lands. As if this were not enough, recent findings from the fields of archaeology, anthropology, and botany paint a surprising picture of pre-Columbian life in the Americas: where migration, miscegenation, and the trafficking of foodstuffs and goods are of such a scale that it is difficult to imagine by European standards. Nonetheless, while all these qualifications are important, there was a historical moment, a cultural imaginary, however fleeting by collective human history, that supported a territorial basis for Mexican W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e 4 0 .3 (F a l l 2 0 0 5 ) : 3 2 1 -2 3 . 3 2 2 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 5 identity. By 1846, this territorial imaginary stretched from the Yucatan in the South to the Great Plains in the North, from Nacadoches in East Texas to Mission San Francisco in Alta California. In truth, it required an amazing political imaginary to sustain and contain such geographic distances and diverse peoples. 1848, the conclusion of the MexicanAmerican War, thus marks a very curious moment for Western-inspired colonialism: the subjugation of one “settler country” by another “settler country”— the displacement of one set of power structures governing land, race, gender, and labor— in essence the deterritorialization of one colonial matrix in favor of a more dominant re-territorialization of the same geographic space. In short, “place” has been a very confusing and discomforting category of identity for Mexican Americans—painful really. In think­ ing about “place” as it manifests itself in everyday structures of feeling, I was struck by a very common exchange that occurs whenever two Chicanos/as meet for the first time. Typically, names are exchanged and then, soon after, one asks or is asked: “De donde eres?” (Where are you from?) Why is this question so prevalent in Mexican American culture if...


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