A book takes a cultural studies approach to the question of Mexican-American identity.
In this work, Davis-Undiano (English/Univ. of Oklahoma; Criticism and Culture, 1992, etc.) surveys the field of Chicano studies. He begins with a helpful guide to terminology, since slippery labels like Chicano, mestizo, Hispanic, and Latino can be confusing. His inclusion of casta paintings from the Spanish colonial period is critical, as they display representations of the interactions among people of European, indigenous, and African ancestries: typically, two parents and one or more offspring. Given that the body is the locus of much cultural analysis these days, the author notes that “casta history is also the source for the invention of the brown body,” paradoxically targeted and made invisible by major narratives. Of particular note is a chapter focusing on three cultural practices—el Cinco de Mayo, lowrider car culture, and el Día de los Muertos—in which Davis-Undiano provides the history behind each phenomenon and its evolution within the context of the United States. With regard to the last, he makes a striking connection between sugar-based treats and the economic system of exploited labor that dominated the hemisphere. He asserts: “In the extensive use of sugar to make skulls, skeletons, caskets, and assorted Day of the Dead toys, there is historical trace evidence of a connection between death and sugar ‘hidden’ in plain sight that dates to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.” The author covers an impressive array of Mexican-American literary and artistic output that, in his estimation, should be viewed through four lenses: “individual identity, cultural hybridity, hemispheric scope, and the call to action.” Furthermore, he offers in-depth examinations of particular works by Rudolfo Anaya and Tomás Rivera, arguing that contemporary readers should revisit these foundational texts of Chicano literature. While Davis-Undiano is realistic about the problems facing Mexican-American communities, especially given the current political climate, he also posits that the key to a hopeful future lies in efforts to fight against “cultural amnesia.” In this road map of sorts, he certainly provides an assortment of useful tools, including comprehensive endnotes that suggest areas for future research. The author writes with such clarity that even uninitiated readers should benefit greatly from this academic work.
A wide-ranging, insightful, and convincing analysis of Mexican-American issues.