- Transnational Field Imaginaries and the Transformation of Chicano/a Literary Studies
With the transnational turn in US cultural studies now close to two decades in the making, these scholarly monographs by Marissa K. López and José David Saldívar represent its current fruition in Chicana/o literary studies. Chicano Nations: The Hemispheric Origins of Mexican American Literature (2011) and Trans-Americanity: Subaltern Modernities, Global Coloniality, and the Cultures of Greater Mexico (2012) are important additions to the growing body of scholarship so influenced, joining key works such as Kirsten Silva Gruesz’s Ambassadors of Culture: The Transamerican Origins of Latino Writing (2001) and Anna Brickhouse’s Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth Century Public Sphere (2004) in the reimagining of American literary studies. As in the studies by Gruesz and Brickhouse, the adjective American loses its provincial appropriation by American exceptionalism and gains a hemispheric purview in these texts. López’s and Saldívar’s greatest contributions lie in rethinking the parameters of Chicana/o studies made necessary by social actors who act beyond the limits of (cultural) nationalist representations and more in terms of an American hemispheric imaginary.
Chicano Nations and Trans-Americanity assert, in quite different ways, that only transnational methodologies can apprehend the complex flows of ideas, materials, and people as they circulate throughout the Americas and coalesce in expressive cultural practices [End Page 592] and productions of Greater Mexico. Such a refurbishing of the methodological optic results in suggestive insights that illuminate transnational connections otherwise obscured by an exclusive focus upon the US context. Simultaneously, these two studies illustrate the difficulties of displacing colonial epistemologies, cultural nationalism in the case of Chicano Nations, and abstraction in the case of Trans-Americanity. Taken together, these works indicate how the transnational turn in Chicano/a literary studies has provided a utopian methodological alternative to cultural nationalist or nationalist frameworks of interpretation while not quite fully displacing the necessity of accounting for the critical contributions of globally relevant but more locally situated, specifically circumscribed analyses. In particular, feminist and queer methodologies, querying the categories of gender and sexuality, have been vital to the critical displacement of nationalist field imaginaries but have yet, for the most part, to be fully instantiated within transnationally oriented approaches. Here, the determination of how other kinds of analyses germane to the examination of power may travel within a transnational framework remains a work in progress, raising the question of why certain methodological concerns translate more readily than others within this emergent field imaginary.
López’s Chicano Nations tries to avoid the Chicano nationalist paradigm of “narratives of resistance,” which assume a transcendence of the very historical conditions which gave it rise, in favor of a much more historically situated “resistant narratives,” a formulation that allows López to examine the cultural productions of those writers exploring the dynamic of race and nation without flattening the complexities of their social interpolations (121). And, as López signals from the start in this first book, her goal is to make “three significant interventions in the study of Chicana/o literature and U.S. literature more broadly: first, it dislodges the United States as the cultural center to which Chicana/o literature responds; second, it puts Chicana/o literature in the context of political and cultural debates in Latin America, a move that shifts the focus of U.S. ethnic studies from an exercise in U.S. exceptionalism toward a global theory of race; and third, it develops a model for reading earlier Chicana/o texts as a meaningful part of Chicana/o literary history, something that has heretofore eluded scholars” (12–13). In part 1, López initiates her discussion of the deep historicity of Chicana/o literature with a trio of writers hitherto seldom considered together, much less as antecedents to a Chicana/o literary tradition. Grouping the [End Page 593] early-nineteenth-century travel narratives...