Remediating the Latin@ Sixties
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Remediating the Latin@ Sixties

The Chicano and Puerto Rican movements of the 1960s and 1970s were explicitly antitechnocratic, yet their political and creative energies were deployed across a range of media, often in ways that nuanced or even challenged their cultural nationalist politics. A poem such as Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales's "I am Joaquín" (1967), the watershed epic of the Chicano Movement, can be read not only in its various print, performance, and musical iterations but also in the context of Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino's (Farmworkers' Theater) 1969 film adaptation of it (Noriega). Such a reading would foreground the poem's investment in a cultural politics of remediation, including how the poem itself remediates the popular oral form of the corrido.1

Such a remediation-centered approach poses a challenge to print-centric Latin@ genealogies like the Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2010) as well as to accounts of the alternative 1960s that neglect Latin@ poetics, out of a lack of either familiarity with the corpus or an understanding of the Latin@ Sixties in narrowly culturalist/nationalist terms. The two groups discussed here, the Royal Chicano Air Force (henceforth RCAF) and El Puerto Rican Embassy (henceforth EPRE), were rooted in their respective social movements: the RCAF grew out of the farmworkers' movement and marched and organized alongside César Chávez, while EPRE was conceptualized by a former member of the Young Lords Party. Both stressed irreverent, even radical, intermedial interventions as a necessary complement or alternative to a more purely programmatic "movimiento" politics. Approaching revolution in defiantly virtual (and even spiritual) terms, both collectives leveraged outrage and humor in ways that anticipate today's Latin@ social [End Page 374] media, where identity is negotiated between mobilization and memes, transmission and transformation. Significantly, given the limitations of existing Latin@-specific archives and the paucity of Latin@ Sixties materials in leading institutional archives, such social networking sites as YouTube and Tumblr have become important spaces for archiving and sharing these and other Latin@ Sixties materials.2

I borrow the term "accidental archive" (Sauer; Burgess and Green) to reflect on how the works of these two art collectives paradoxically function as counterarchives in the context of their online circulation, allowing for a critical revision of print-centric genealogies and existing archives, and for a rethinking of 1960s social movement ("movimiento") politics in and against the problematics of remediation. These archives are paradoxically accidental inasmuch as both collectives foregrounded the politics of remediation beyond conventional politics of representation, and defined themselves in opposition to the hegemonic archive: their ambivalent presence in social media highlights the latter's status as both an extension of and an alternative to the hegemonic archive, and allows for a counterarchive of Latin@ social movement remediations that might bridge the 1960s and the age of social media.

1. Remediating the Archive

In Gonzales's "I am Joaquín," the term "Latino" famously appears after the dramatic declaration "we start to MOVE," as the speaker runs through a series of nonequivalent terms (including "Raza," "Hispano," and "Chicano") and concludes that "whatever I call myself, / I look the same" (798–99). By foregrounding the inadequacy of these terms to address the condition of a racialized, othered body, Gonzales upholds a poetics/politics of body materiality, even as he also reveals a virtual supplement that cannot be named.

Significantly, Gonzales's poem politicizes control over the archive in a (patriarchal) cultural nationalist and revolutionary context, as when the speaker becomes one with Benito Juárez, who "protected his archives / as Moses did his sacraments" (Stavans 796, my italics). The poet here is the leader of the people (Moses) who is the nationalist revolutionary (Juárez) who is the keeper of the archive (the constitution, but also the poem). At the same time, the poem can be seen as uneasily performing the musical/poetic form of the corrido, a vernacular ballad-like form, often in octosyllabic quatrains, whose evolution, José E. Limón notes, was partly defined by mass media, especially by what he describes as nostalgic and "historically dubious" B movies (36). Professors of Latin@ literature [End Page 375] may show the Valdez film...