- Accessible Citizenships: Disability, Nation, and the Cultural Politics of Greater Mexico by Julie Avril Minich
Julie Avril Minich’s Accessible Citizenships: Disability, Nation, and the Cultural Politics of Greater Mexico is a necessary and refreshing intervention into disability studies and critical race and ethnicity studies. As one of the few monographs focused on disability and race, this book addresses how Chicana/o cultural producers, including Arturo Islas, Cherríe Moraga, Guillermo Arriaga, Ana Castillo, and Cecile Pineda, represent disability and the effects of the ideology of ability within their conceptualizations and critiques of political communities. These representations of disability within political community formations (rather than outside of or in opposition to them), Minich contends, “have the potential to reconfigure how we perceive the body politic and to transform what we imagine when we (to repurpose Benedict Anderson’s canonized phrase) imagine community” (3).
From the start of the book, Minich makes clear that she is not interested in reifying the boundaries of the nation or in promoting the inherent value of citizenship. Instead, she leaves “open the question of whether this ‘new political principle’ might include a reformulated, accessible version of what we presently call citizenship, or whether the institution itself must be eradicated in order to create a more accessible means of guaranteeing human dignity for the whole of humanity” (19). For some readers, this early refusal to provide a firm answer may be frustrating, but what Minich reveals repeatedly throughout the text is how concepts such as nation, citizenship, and identity can be used in both liberatory and oppressive ways. Grounded in literary and film analysis with several extended and astute close readings, Accessible Citizenships repeatedly returns to the realities of its major concepts—race, disability, nation, and [End Page 195] citizenship—and argues for theorizations addressing the material circumstances that inspire the creation of these texts.
The overarching intervention of this book is its joining of Chicana/o and disability studies. Clearly, Minich is deeply immersed and invested in both fields. She translates and connects concepts without assuming the reader is a complete novice in one field or the other. By assuming readers have some fluency in both fields, Minich is able quickly to delve deep into the tangled and difficult issues at hand. As a result, she signals that disability studies and Chicana/o studies are established fields with histories that readers can explore on their own; she does not waste critical space on extended backgrounds. The implications and potential applications of Minich’s theoretical interventions are great, but there are two that I find exceptionally important for the fields in which Minich is most centrally engaged and one intervention that is important for critical theory more broadly, particularly current conversations in feminist and queer theories.
First, Minich’s approach does not focus exclusively on disabled people of color. Rather than taking a simplistic or limited intersectional approach that only views ableism and racism as applicable to the lives of those directly marginalized by those systems, Minich expands her scope to consider the impact of rhetorics of disability and the ideology of ability on people of Mexican origin and people residing in the US-Mexico borderlands. This expanded focus allows Minich to develop arguments about how the ideology of ability colludes with racism, particularly with regard to the construction of the border and representations of the nation. This approach provides a critical intervention into disability studies and critical race and ethnicity studies, which have often focused on identity and marked bodies in ways that occlude the intricate and mutually constitutive nature of racist and ableist systems of oppression. Minich’s repeated use of the phrase “ideology of ability” (96) instead of just disability signals this theoretical shift and effectively models a way to perform such theorization elsewhere.
Second, Accessible Citizenships demonstrates how a close and nuanced engagement with minority and marginalized literature may require different or adapted theoretical approaches from what disability studies literary criticism has used thus far. This is...