- Writing the Goodlife: Mexican American Literature and the Environment by Priscilla Solis Ybarra
Priscilla Solis Ybarra’s study of what she terms “goodlife” writing establishes the means by which Mexican Americans have historically cultivated reciprocal relationships with the natural environment in terms of egalitarian values associated with simplicity, sustenance, dignity, and respect. Drawing from decolonial theory and approaches allows the author to uncover the gaps within an elitist Western history that reifies core values surrounding the split between the mind and body and between human and nature—divisions that do not factor heavily in Mexican American epistemologies. As she explores values of goodlife writing, Solis Ybarra recasts mainstream literary ecocritical traditions that often fail to account for a US legacy of colonization and racism. This results in engaging tensions of modernity, human-to-human power hierarchies, issues of decoloniality, and local ways of knowing, to introduce how literary ecocriticism may be understood via a decolonial lens. Writing the Goodlife begins in the second half of the nineteenth century and moves through examples from contemporary Mexican American and Chicana/o literature and popular culture.
Mexican American and Chicana/o environmental writing, argues Solis Ybarra, is marked by its relation to a history of US imperialism and colonization. The author demonstrates how the naturalization of terms like “land,” “landscape,” and “environment” in mainstream ecocriticism have often blinded scholars to the rich examples of community, [End Page 164] nonpossessiveness, and humility found in goodlife writing. To fully grasp the contributions of goodlife writing, Solis Ybarra argues, ecocritics and literary scholars must look to long-established traditions of knowing and thought with an eye toward what Walter Mignolo calls “delinking” from dominant, often bifurcating, Western epistemologies.
Broadly, Writing the Goodlife attempts to bring ethnic studies and environmental studies into conversation. Just as Emma Pérez, in The Decolonial Imaginary (1999), located the decolonial within those intangible spaces that interrupt Western, linear models of time and space, Solis Ybarra positions goodlife writing within the interstices of mainstream environmental studies, Chicana/o studies, and Mexican American literary texts that emerge out of experiences of dispossession, poverty, and racism. Solis Ybarra’s decolonial stance is defined by engaging values and processes that reject Western epistemologies in order to make space for indigenous practices that have survived colonizing structures. Viewing goodlife writing through a decolonial lens breaks down the mainstream Western dichotomy between humans and nature to “make space for indigenous narratives and practices that have survived colonization and that preserve and adapt traditional environmental knowledge” (15). In this sense, Writing the Goodlife proposes a more nuanced understanding of environmentalism, one invested in building bridges between ethnic studies, Chicana/o studies, and environmental studies to document Mexican American and Chicana/o strands of knowing that posit mutually beneficial relationships between humans and the natural world. Goodlife writing embeds traditions of community, nonpossessiveness, and humility that never succumbed to modernist values.
Chapter 1, “Defining Mexican American Goodlife Writing,” outlines how Mexican Americans and Chicanas/os sought to “transcend possession” by integrating goodlife values into their works. Transcending possession results in disrupting destructive patterns of modernity and coloniality that threaten traditional ways of knowing and local environmental knowledge. Four values comprise what Solis Ybarra calls “goodlife writing”: simplicity, sustenance, dignity, and respect. Mexican American environmental experiences and practices of dignity, respect, and the value of local ecological knowledge have often been sacrificed to conventional environmentalism and ecocriticism due to the United States’ history of Mexican American land dispossession, [End Page 165] which tends to erase the long-standing presence and contributions of Mexican Americans. In this first chapter, Solis Ybarra rereads the novels of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton—Who Would Have Thought It? (1872) and The Squatter and the Don (1885)—within a goodlife lens, illustrating how Ruiz de Burton legitimates local and environmental knowledge that can provide mainstream ecocriticism with insight into traditional methods of Mexican American land management. Such works, she argues, can impart twenty-first-century ecocriticism with a means to better understand “how racism and...