- A Promising Problem: The New Chicana/o History ed. by Carlos Kevin Blanton
Not always do the edited volumes that emerge out of conferences or symposia actually make you wish you had been in attendance. But A Promising Problem: The New Chicana/o History does exactly that, and it is much to the credit of editor (and symposium co-organizer) Carlos Kevin Blanton. Blanton contends that Chicana/o history can be characterized by its emphasis on "problems and promise"—what he describes as "the persistent connection of academic research to real social concerns and the pursuit of social justice" (p. 1). To explore this dualism, he has assembled a collection of seven essays by emerging scholars that demonstrate some of the new developments in Chicana/o history. Rather than simply reflect on the origins of the field or review its historiographical developments, Blanton has brought participants together to show how their own work incorporates recent changes in the field and pushes it in new directions.
This new Chicana/o history of the twenty-first century, he argues in the volume's preface and in his own essay, pivots around four central themes: "(1) the proliferation of different conceptions of identity; (2) the decentering of traditional notions of place; (3) a heightened reflection over the field of Chicana/o history, or a historiographical turn; and (4) the firm connection of historical investigations to present situations" (p. 15). Each chapter highlights at least one of these themes in practice, and all, in one way or another, can be interpreted as scholarly activism as they make connections between the past and the present. This, Blanton contends, "makes the Chicana/o history of the present as socially relevant as ever" (p. 19).
Essays by Felipe Hinojosa, Michael A. Olivas, and Sonia Hernández best represent the field's embrace of the complexity and multiplicity of identities. Hinojosa, for example, complicates our understanding of Chicana/o religion and ethnic nationalism as he examines Chicana/o and Puerto Rican church takeovers of the late 1960s and 1970s. Hernández's contribution stands out in its attempt to fill gaps in the historiography in terms of periodization and the field's tendency to overlook women and gender. Her essay examines how women in South Texas, Mexico City, and other parts of Latin America "engaged in transborder conversations of feminism, anarchism, and other radical thought" prior to the Chicana/o movement (p. 136). The volume's second theme—the decentering of place—is also featured in Hernández's chapter, as it is in those by Luis Alvarez, Perla M. Guerrero, and Lilia Fernández. The last two extend Chicana/o history beyond the U.S. Southwest, exploring Chicana/o experiences in the U.S. South and Midwest, respectively. Of these, Guerrero's chapter—"Chicana/o History as Southern History: Race, Place, and the US [End Page 489] South"—will be of particular interest to readers of this journal. Guerrero traces the history of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans in northwest Arkansas since the 1990s and offers a relational understanding of race and ethnicity. She finds that Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans in the U.S. South negotiated their identities and social positions not only in relation to one another but also in relation to other Latinas/os, Asian immigrants and Asian Americans, and African Americans. The takeaway here is beneficially symbiotic. Scholars of Chicana/o history must do more to examine the growing presence of Chicanas/os in the U.S. South; so, too, must scholars of the New or Nuevo South engage with Chicana/o history.
Guerrero and Fernández, again, illustrate the third theme that characterizes Chicana/o history: reflection on the meaning of the field. Both historians push for a break from the field's "geographical essentialism" and argue that the field must evolve by studying the historical experiences of Chicanas/os in relation to other Latinas/os (p...