Rethinking La Familia in Richard T. Rodríguez’s Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics

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Next of Kin

Through the wonders of social media, namely Twitter, I have been sharing and recommending hundreds of Chicana/o books and film titles amongst my “followers” for the last four years in order to promote Chicana/o literacy, encourage students to major or minor in Chicana/o Studies, to dispel the myth that Chicanas/os are not creating scholarly and literary works by and for Chicanas/os, and lastly to facilitate an expansive list of works for people to search out these titles in their local bookstores and libraries for personal reading enjoyment or academic research purposes.

Knowledge is our weapon. Knowledge is power. Specifically, knowledge is Chicano Power.

Chicano Power, then, demands that we work towards dismantling racist and sexist institutional structures that negate our human rights as Indigenous peoples. Knowing our history, also, forces us to challenge false assumptions about Chicanas/os that are falsely spread in academic circles and in social media spaces.

We have been omitted from the historical record, and when we do appear we are depicted as passive, docile, and only participating in the social landscape as a result of outside assistance. We are never allowed to exist as original inhabitants. Nearly every time the Chicana/o-Mexicana/o experience is discussed, especially on social media, it is done thru a racist filter that usually describes some outside ethnic/racial group discovering or influencing us, thus revoking our autonomy, sovereignty, and agency as a people.

And so what I wanted to do for this particular blog space was to highlight several Chicana/o books and film titles that our people might find of interest and meaningful as they search for their own knowledge and self-determination. These reviews and those of other contributors are written from a Chicana/o-Mexicana/o frame of reference.

If you are interested in sharing a written review of your favorite Chicana/o book, film, art exhibit, etc. please feel free to contact via email at clshc@me.com – Resistance Through Knowledge, one book at time.

c/s
cultural sovereignty
by David

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At the 38th Annual National Association for Chicana & Chicano Studies (NACCS), held on March 30-April 2, 2011 in Pasadena, CA, the NACCS Book Award for 2011 was awarded to Richard T. Rodríguez for Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics (2009).

Next of Kin explores the concept of La Familia de la Raza within the political and cultural discourse of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Next of Kin is divided into six sections:

– INTRODUCTION – Staking Family Claims
– Reappraising the Archive
– Shooting the Patriarch
– The Verse of the Godfather
– Carnal Knowledge
– AFTERWORD – Making Queer Famili
a

Drawing upon both a traditional Chicana Feminist and an emerging Chicana/o Cultural Studies critique, Rodríguez argues that notions of kinship and family within the Chicana/o cultural narrative is fundamentally heteropatriarchal as expressed through the aesthetics of Chicana/o literature, film, music, and art.

In perhaps the first systematic review of La Familia within the framework of archived documents that emerged during the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Rodríguez interrogates the symbolic cultural production of La Familia de La Raza.

In particular, Rodríguez focuses attention on the guiding political manifesto of the Chicano Movement, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, which within the context of Chicana Feminist and Queer Theory reveals Chicano Nationalism to be “institutionalized heterosexism” (8).

In early 1969, at the National Chicano Youth Conference, sponsored by the Crusade for Justice, several Chicanas attempted to articulate a gendered position of empowerment by focusing on the question of the “traditional role of the Chicana in the Movement and how it limited her capabilities and her development” (Sonia A. López, 1977).

Chicanas recognized the impending ideological dichotomies embedded in the Chicano Movement. At the conclusion of the conference, however, the Chicana representative reporting to the general conference group declared: “it was the consensus of the group that the Chicana woman does not want to be ‘liberated” (Rodríguez, 25).

Such referendums of gender exclusion explained Chicano kinship and family networks as sites of contestation against imperialism that were informed largely through a heteropatriarchal narrative.

Chicano Movement scholar-activists of the era were compelled to wrestle away La Familia de la Raza from the ideals of Western academic studies (24).

Chicanos were intent on reformulating the family based on resistance that in time would create the catalyst for socio-political change. The romanticized view of the Chicano family, nonetheless, was essentially viewed through a masculine lens at the expense of the larger portrait of what really constituted La Familia.

A closer look at the principles of kinship and family as articulated by Chicano Movement rhetoric and symbolism exposed the limitations of “political familism” (24).

While much is articulated about the concept of nationalism and Aztlán within studies of the Chicano Movement, La Familia was previously seen as an idealized representation of Chicana/o cultural survival.

By critically assessing the portrait of the Chicana/o family within the landscape of literary, artistic, and social mediums, Rodríguez extends the narrative of cultural critique and by extension the narrative of cultural in(ex)clusion of the “Other” within the framework of Chicana/o Studies vis-à-vis the Chicano Movement.

The portrait of the Chicano family has been primarily defined within the ethos of Chicana/o Nationalism as referenced through the work of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales of the Crusade for Justice, whose poem I am Joaquin asserted Chicano nationalism that refuses to be absorbed by the political two-headed monster.

Citing Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands framework, Rodríguez argues for a de-centering of men that, like Anzaldúa, interrogates Chicanos to question their privilege position within La Familia and El Movimiento. It is not about feminizing men, rather its about dismantling the strands of male privilege and authority that create unequal relationships and systems.

In the chapter, The Verse of the Godfather, Rodríguez addresses the “politics of masculinity” within a contemporary popular cultural motif (96). In exploring the so-called “mainstream” Chicano hip-hop, Rodríguez contends that the musical genre of hip-hop internalizes negative notions of masculinity and family.

Rodríguez illustrates the “gendered factionalism” that hip-hop is implicitly supporting especially in the music of Kid Frost, among others (122).

The imagery of Chicana/o representation presently seen and heard in mainstream media is antithetical to the framework of the Chicano Movement. As such, negative masculine representations continue to exclude and silence concepts of gender and sexuality.

The Last Generation: Prose and Poetry

The Last Generation: Prose and Poetry

In The Last Generation: Prose and Poetry, Cherríe Moraga links the nationalism of the Chicano Movement with her concept of a Queer Aztlán. As an extension of Chicana/o Nationalism’s ideology, Moraga acknowledges that a divided house will not stand. Moraga reminds us that the freedom of men, be they gay or straight, is intricately connected to the freedom of women.

Chicano Nationalism is the principle tool that binds us a together as a people, as a family. “Corky” and Moraga are central to understanding that as nationalism evolves so does the notion of family.

La Familia must not be viewed through the prism of Eurocentrism and its notions of what constitutes family and kinship, and Rodríguez’s chapter, Shooting the Patriarch, problematizes Gregory Nava’s film Mi Familia for Americanizing the Chicana/o family and breaking away from Chicana/o empowerment.

The Chicana/o family must be situated within the framework of Chicana/o resistance; for people will never be free if any of its members remain subordinated. It is in this context, then, that Rodríguez exposes the limitations of the symbolism and language attached to the Chicano Movement.

While most Chicana/o Studies scholars would argue that in the larger context the Chicano Movement reflected an anti-hegemonic attempt to dismantle institutionalized racist structures in U.S. society, Rodríguez would argue that it did so within the ethos of a masculine dimension.

Thus, while there was an urgent and necessary call to “arms” among Chicanas/os to change existing structural dynamics, the Chicano struggle of the 1960s and 1970s excluded from its political narrative the question of gender and sexuality from its strategies of self-determination.

Chicana/o cultural and familial politics is an ongoing dynamic that is negotiated and constantly refashioned in the struggle for self-determination, but as Rodríguez argues, La Familia is remade against the backdrop of a romanticized heteronormative framework.

As the recipient of the 2011 NACCS Book Award, Richard Rodríguez’s Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/o Cultural Politics deservingly stands out as one of the better scholarly contributions to the field of Chicana/o Studies. Next of Kin is an excellent addition to any Chicana/o Studies book collection.

 

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