- A Promising Problem: The New Chicana/o History ed. by Carlos Kevin Blanton
Published on the eve of the half-century mark for Chicana/o history, this intelligent collection of essays takes on the challenge of examining what the field looks like in the twenty-first century with promising analytic frameworks, yet operating in environments, academic and social, fraught with problems. The “promising problem” of the new Chicana/o history is precisely its ability to survive and thrive in a hostile climate by centering its scholarly work on the most salient concerns of the day, whether it be the migration history debates undergirding the plight of Dreamers and others, the struggle for an empowering education via ethnic studies programs increasingly under attack, the politics and power dynamics surrounding identity formation, or the transnational and postmodern defining aspects of Chicana/o experiences. Through it all, the field remains reflective: “Looking in while stepping out.” [End Page 256]
Carlos Kevin Blanton, the volume’s editor, identifies four thematic concepts that animate today’s Chicana/o historical studies: new conceptualizations of identity, the decentering of place, a historiographic turn within the field, and the continued connection between Chicana/o scholarship and social justice projects. The first two reflect the new directions, the looking out, while the last two provide a space for introspection and analysis, a means of looking in.
“Looking in” provides an opportunity for a critical assessment of Chicana/o history in its early stages. While there is an acknowledgment of the “herculean task” facing the first generation of scholars who produced what is known as traditional Chicana/o history, Blanton and other new Chicana/o history scholars highlight the fact that the field has moved away from most of the precepts of the early work. Gone is the momentum that once propelled a developing field obsessed with a male-centered, proletarian, anti-colonialist, universalist, and culturally static standpoint. In its place came a period of transition during the mid-1980s to mid-1990s when Chicana historians challenged patriarchal narratives and histories. Gender and sexuality studies complemented deeper analysis of race and class within decolonizing contexts that presented the human agency of individuals and groups with complex and myriad identities.
The works presented in this volume and elsewhere continue to examine the concerns of the transition period and have added a relational turn to the mix as scholars increasingly examine Chicanas/os in relation to other Latina/o groups and other communities within American society. Also, more studies have decentered the Southwest, examining Chicana/o worlds in the Midwest and the South. A trans-border people by definition, Chicanas/os have transnational identities and experiences that inform much of the evolving historiography.
The community engagement and social justice approaches of the Chicana/o movement and early scholarship of the field continue to be important among today’s scholars. Many are scholar/activists who understand the political nature of their productions in academic settings and beyond where some people question the legitimacy of this work. They also face critics who believe ethnic studies programs for Chicana/o youth are a threat to mainstream society. But while adherents to the new Chicana/o history carry on with the Chicana/o movement tradition of seeking social justice, they have taken the historiography far beyond the more limited concerns of traditional history.
A Promising Problem is cutting-edge work that deserves a wide readership. A quibble is that while this book provides valid criticisms of the early literature, it could have historicized el movimiento and Chicana/o history to a greater degree. As in the case of the contemporary transnational and relational turns, the cultural nationalist turn was a product of its time. [End Page 257]