- Southwest Asia: The Transpacific Geographies of Chicana/o Literature by Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue
As comparative, transnational, and transracial approaches become increasingly prevalent in American studies, myriad new insights about racial formations, cultural politics, and national belonging [End Page 223] have been made possible for reading across long-entrenched borders. Scholarship that puts Asian American and Latina/o cultural production and representational politics into such critical conversation, while not quite as prominent as other areas of such comparative studies, offers much promise in this direction. Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue's Southwest Asia: The Transpacific Geographies of Chicana/o Literature contributes in a new and fascinating way to this growing body of work.
Taking up a number of well-known Chicana/o authors—mostly men and many of those writing in one way or another about men's experiences of war—Gonzales Sae-Saue evinces the construction of Asia, Asians, and Asian Americans in this literature, persuasively arguing that the Asian presence provokes and inspires Chicana/o oppositional politics and cultural nationalism by way of a dynamic interplay between local and internationalist identifications. As he demonstrates, the presence of Asia and Asians is a "consistent yet marginal" one in Chicana/o literature:
the regular yet peripheral appearances of Asia and Asians in Chicana/o writings not only highlight a pattern of ethnicity-based forms of political emergence, but also gesture toward extra-literary matters of transnational inspiration across distinct Pacific Rim crises that are hardly recognizable within any given text's representative architecture.(5)
Rather than posing this revelation as the occasion of straightforward (and too easy) subaltern affiliations and solidarity across racial, national, and ethnic difference, however, Gonzales Sae-Saue discerns a consistent conflation of Chicano and Asian spaces, or the production of a "Southwest Asia," that registers much more ambivalent and contradictory impulses on the part of Chicana/o writers and artists. Southwest Asia thus maintains that the Asian presence in Chicana/o literary and cultural production points both to the movement's forceful renunciation of US imperial violence as well as its continual subordination of Asian others to its own racial and national interests.
Gonzales Sae-Saue begins with the well-known 1959 novel by José Antonio Villarreal, Pocho, and ends with Virginia Grise's 2011 [End Page 224] play rasgos asiáticos (Asian Traces) but also returns in his coda to the heyday of Chicana/o nationalist politics with the founding of the first national journal of Chicana/o studies, El Grito, in 1967. He includes readings of works by notable—effectively canonical—writers such as Luis Valdez, Américo Paredes, and Rudolfo Anaya. This particular archive proves essential for bearing out the book's claim that the seemingly marginal Asian presence has been central in the production of the social and political values that distinguish Chicana/o political culture. Southwest Asia also proceeds by way of a gendered analytics, drawing especially on Chicana feminism to elucidate where anti-imperialist politics nevertheless depend upon heteropatriarchal norms to consolidate the resistant subjects of Chicano nationalisms.
The treatment of Asia and Asian racial difference that originates in Chicana/o literary studies is, as I have indicated, a very welcome comparative intervention in borderland studies. But it also incites a wish that Gonzales Sae-Saue had more thoroughly engaged with the scholarship in Asian American literary and cultural studies, which has created much new and rich awareness regarding national culture, especially with respect to the themes of integration, ambivalence, and dissent that preoccupy Southwest Asia. While in the book's coda Gonzales Sae-Saue thoughtfully reflects on the disciplinary and institutional constraints that had until recently led Chicana/o studies "to establish intellectual and ethnic boundaries around its interests in order to validate its demands for an academic space controlled entirely by Chicana/o students and faculty, all to the exclusion of its interracial and trans-national orientations," the preceding chapters do not provide the same kind of sustained conversation with Asian American studies that one might...