- Mestizos Come Home! Making and Claiming Mexican American Identity by Robert Con Davis-Undiano
Reframing the study of Latin American cultural politics to include perspectives of historically neglected groups is a pressing project in the humanities and the social sciences. Robert Con Davis-Undiano contributes to this scholarly project by rewriting the history of Mexican Americans in the United States as part of a larger tradition of mestizo identity across the Americas. The author finds the origins of racism against Afro-Caribbean people, Latinos, Latin Americans, and Mexican Americans in the casta system of the Spanish colonial period. Drawing connections between these groups’ histories, the author retells the story of Mexican Americans in the context of the [End Page 380] Americas and US history. The book presents Mexican American history from the 1960s Chicano Movement, through the 1970s Chicano Renaissance, and on to today’s literary and artistic production, which faces racial backlash by xenophobic groups partial to Donald Trump.
Despite the political and racial challenges that result from a “broken sense of history,” Davis-Undiano foresees a successful future for mestizos based on their having a clear sense of purpose. He argues that the collective purpose of mestizo identity is to preserve collective memory, pursue social justice, and procure a sense of belonging to national and hemispheric culture. The book’s title directly refers to this last goal. For mestizos to “come home” requires an understanding of culture as a fluid, hybrid construct made of the many cultural traditions represented in each nation, the awareness of Mexican Americans’ contribution to the history of a hemispheric mestizo identity, and the recognition of mestizo cultural achievements by mainstream society in the United States.
The book focuses on six areas of cultural affirmation and social change: the development of mestizo identity, the relation of people to land, the celebration of popular culture, the recovery of the mestizo body, the discovery of a Chicano voice, and the establishment of Chicano literature and Chicano studies. Chapter 1 introduces the Spanish colonial notion of race through the casta system and paintings. Chapter 2 provides an overview of hemispheric mestizo identity by connecting theories of mestizaje from an eclectic list of authors that includes José Martí, José Carlos Mariátegui, José Vasconcelos, and Gloria Anzaldúa. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 address mestizo identity as experienced by Mexican Americans. In what is the best section of the book, these chapters focus on the evolving relationship of Chicanos to land as represented in the works of Rudolfo Anaya; the pride of community through popular culture in the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, low-rider car culture, and the Day of the Dead; and the need to recover the mestizo body. Among works representative of the recovery of the mestizo body are the literary works of Chicana writers Sandra Cisneros, Demetria Martínez, and Denise Chávez; the paintings and photographs by artists John Valadez and Alma López; and the sculptures of Luis A. Jimeńez Jr.
Chapter 6 presents a close reading of Tomaś Rivera’s seminal novel “. . .Y no se lo tragó la tierra,” showing how it provides direction and cultural values toward the emergence of a Chicano voice. Chapter 7 summarizes the history of Chicanos beginning with the 1960s migrant labor movement and the emergence in the 1970s of the Chicano literary renaissance and Chicano Studies programs. The book concludes by emphasizing the many cultural contributions made by Chicanos, and by calling on US mainstream society to recognize Mexican Americans as citizens willing to belong and help strengthen this democratic, multicultural, and multiethnic society.
This book is an excellent contribution to the study of Chicano culture today. Through careful research and analysis and an accessible narrative, the author brings together the forgotten fragments of mestizo identity across the Americas. On a slightly less positive [End Page 381] note, the review of the theories of mestizaje presents the views by Vasconcelos and Anzaldúa as being compatible with each other...