Entrance is not Acceptance in Chon A. Noriega’s Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema

Shot in America

Shot in America

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.

cultural sovereignty

Chon Noriega’s Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema fuses the aesthetic of Chicana/o cinema with the politics of Chicana/o cultural nationalism by asking us to reconsider cultural nationalism, social movements, the telecommunications industry, and the nation-state within the framework of Chicana/o cinematic studies as it militantly “negotiated” its entrance into the media industry en-masse in the late 1960s and early 1970s despite the contradictions inherent in such a demand.

Although the development and rise of Chicana/o cinema is generally regarded as having its roots with the Chicano Moratorium on August 29, 1970, its origins are found in the pre-Columbian theatre.

One can certainly say with confidence that the history of Chicana/o teatro is directly rooted in the Mesoamerican theatrical heritage of the Maya and Mexica. With the arrival of the Spaniards, however, most of the pre-Columbian theatre heritage was eradicated. The Spanish friars eventually would co-opt Indigenous theatrical performance rituals by introducing, some would say indoctrinated, others would be more blunt and say brainwashed, the Mexica to Christianity.

Aztecs on Stage: Religious Theater in Colonial Mexico

Aztecs on Stage: Religious Theater in Colonial Mexico

With the aftermath of the conquest, Indigenous communities began performing religious plays that “educated” communities about “salvation.” In Chicano Teatro: A Background, Jorge Huerta states that “one of the best known of these religious plays is Los Pastores. It was brought from Spain and performed in Mexico City in 1526.”

The best known Chicana/o teatro ensemble, El Teatro Campesino, popularized the Los Pastores play even more in the post-1970s. In New Mexico, as early as the 19th century, ensembles began forming and traveling from town to town performing religious plays. A similar pattern could be found in Los Angeles and in other regions where Mexicans lived.

As urbanization accelerated, the 1920s and 1930s saw the beginnings of the Carpa theatre, which would flourish in México and in the Southwestern region of the United States. The early comedic work of Cantiflas comes to mind.

With the onset of the Chicano Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, a new style of Chicana/o theatre emerged that distinguished it from the past. Through the stylistic use of the acto, Chicana/o teatro encouraged what can almost be considered a reformulation of Brechtian Epic Theatre by politicizing and radicalizing communities through a non-Eurocentric framework.

El Teatro Campesino

El Teatro Campesino

Jorge Huerta describes the emergence of the Chicana/o theatre movement in this way: “Los Teatros de Aztlán are Chicano theatre groups concerned with the education and politicization of the Chicano as well as the enlightenment of all the other groups which compose the American fabric.” In El Teatro Campesino: Theatre in the Chicano Movement, Yolanda Broyles-González acknowledges the role of the theatre groups in depicting the “life, heritage, and problems of Chicanas/os in this country.”

Much of the literary work on early Chicana/o teatro revolves more or less on a static chronological approach, textual examination, and a male-centered analysis focused on the life of Luis Valdez. Broyles-Gonzáles describes this narrative as “a male-dominated hierarchical structure that replicates oppressive dominant tendencies within society.”

The United Farm Worker Grape Strike in 1965 gave birth to El Teatro Campesino founded by Luis Valdez. As such, Chicana/o cinema has its origins in the Chicano Movement and its development as an expression of cultural nationalism can be found in Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles’ epic poem I am Joaquin (1967), which Luis Valdez adapted into a film in 1969.

Although the cultural soul of the Chicano Movement is given life in I am Joaquin and later in the work of El Teatro Campesino, it was in the development and rise of Chicana/o cinema that the soul finds an audience beyond lo Chicanismo. That is to say, through the political militancy represented by Chicana/o cinema, the movement mobilized its visual message of historical struggle to reach not just the internal (i.e. Chicana/o) “imagined community” but, most importantly, a future community who would be in the position, one could only hope, to better understand its present political self through the cultural aesthetic of the past. El Futuro de Nuestra Gente Esta Basado en El Pasado.

"With His Pistol in His Hand": A Border Ballad and Its Hero

“With His Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and Its Hero

It is here, then, that Chon Noriega’s Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema makes perfect sense. Beginning with a textual comparative interrogation of Américo Paredes’ “With His Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and its Hero and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Noriega locates the origins of both Chicana/o Studies and Chicana/o cinema as oppositional discourses that can be interpreted as mythopoetic, which is to say “what is at stake is not so much the truth claims of a myth of origins, but rather the poetics such a myth mobilizes in the present (XXV).

Regardless of the “myth of origins” construct, whether one locates its origins in 1492 or 1942, makes no difference as the Chicana/o is the result of violence and rape. Yet, the act of identifying as a Chicana/o is a political one as much as it is cultural and historical. Nonetheless, since 1848, Chicanas/os have been legally defined as “White” and socially as “Black” and as Noriega makes clear, Chicanas/os are inside the administrative control of the nation-state, yet outside the nation’s social imagination and its legal rights (XXVIII).

Borderlands/La Frontera

Borderlands/La Frontera

It was under this historical climate that the Chicano Movement birthed Chicana/o cinema as a cultural production response to Eurocentric hegemonic forces that have kept the Chicana/o in a colonial relationship.

Once you begin and finish reading Shot in America, questions and more questions abound about what “progress” has been made after nearly 45 years of Chicana/o cinema. In fact, here are some questions that came to mind as I read Shot in America:

What role does Chicana/o cinema play in the resistance of a community against assimilation and commodification? How does Chicana/o cinema balance the struggle for community self-determination while simultaneously trying to access the institution of the media industry? Once inside the media industry, how do Chicanas/os ensure that the struggle and message of the community does not get co-opted by Wall Street market forces ? Can there be a Chicana/o cinema that is not oppositional? How can we distinguish between works that are made for, about, and by Chicanas/os and those that continue to stereotype Chicanas/os by “inclusion” in a television program or film project?

After some initial success in the television and film industry, it is apparent that Chicanas/os have taken so many steps backwards in the industry that one imaginary step forward now looks like progress. Chon Noriega complicates the tenuous relationship between the media industry and the Chicana/o community.

Chon Noriega separates his work into several sections:

– “No Revolutions without Poets”: Chicano Poetic Consciousness
– “The Stereotypes Must Die”: Social Protest and the Frito Bandito
– Regulating Chico: The Irony of Approaching a State-Supported Industry
– Grasping at the Public Airwaves: The FCC and the Discourse of Violence
– Training the Activists to Shoot Straight: A Political Generation in U.S. Cinema

Shot in America begins with the political activism of the Chicano Movement that gave way to Chicana/o cinema. The strategy of early Chicana/o filmmakers was focused on countering the message of the State, especially because of the repressive nature of police agencies towards Chicanas/os.

This counter-hegemonic response was illustrated by the film Requiem 29, which captured the Chicano Moratorium of August 29, 1970 from the point of view of Chicanas/os.

The politics of cultural nationalism intensified during the period of 1968-1973 with the entrance of a group of Chicana/o students into the university system, especially at UCLA and USC.

Through the campus activism of Chicana/o students, film schools at UCLA and USC were pressured into providing university space to aspiring Chicana/o students who upon their admission to the university began merging the struggle of the barrio with the classroom through the creation of both the New Communicators (1968) and the Ethno-Communications Programs (1969-1973), which gave rise to a Chicana/o independent film movement (102-114).

The merging of Chicana/o activist spirit of resistance with the university film schools facilitated the rise of early Chicana/o filmmakers who were also active participants in the Chicano Movement, such as Jesus Salvador Treviño, Sylvia Morales, Esperanza Vasquez, and Moctezuma Esparza.

Frito Bandito

Frito Bandito

Chicanas/os would turn their attention to dismantling racist stereotypes as well, such as Frito Lay’s Frito Bandito. A somewhat unified Chicana/o protest intensified calls for boycotting Frito Lay, and any other medium responsible for carrying these racist ads. After years of protests, Frito Lay dropped the Frito Bandito campaign.

The power of an ambiguous Chicana/o unity challenged American racist institutions and paved the way for connecting the struggles in the barrio with those very institutions that Chicanas/os were suddenly finding themselves in as a result of the movement.

As the early Chicana/o activist filmmakers focused attention on negotiating and resisting the state controlled mass media, early attempts at accessing the institution of mass media turned attention to television, which through the Prime-Time Access Rule (PTAR) was forced to open its doors to excluded voices and images.

In particular, public television provided the grounds for developing a political generation that would produce a Chicana/o discourse based on the goals of the Chicano Movement. The early television shows gave rise to the cultural practices, histories and voices of the Chicana/o community through such programs as ¡Ahora!, Acción Chicano, and Reflecciones (114-118).

With the end of PTAR in the mid-1970s, it is no coincidence that Chicanas/os lost their “access” to the public media domain. The shift from radicalism to professionalism within “Chicano Cinema” emerged with the arrival of the Chicana/o students onto university campuses after 1974 who were less politicized as their predecessors.

Despite the ironies and contradictions inherent in Chicanas/os attempting to enter a state regulated television and film industry, entrance did not necessarily mean acceptance by Euroamerican society. Chicana/o representation in the media industry in 2015 should make that clear by now.

Although it can be argued that Chicanas/os reconfigured the media industry to be more “inclusive” in the immediate post-Chicano Movement era, there is no doubt that this inclusiveness has been whitewashed, commercialized and Latinized, and like, affirmative action, been dismantled.

Chon Noriega ends Shot in America by looking at the cinematic work of Lourdes Portillo and Harry Gamboa. Both Portillo and Gamboa portend a new critical approach towards radicalizing the visual message that communicates within and across communities in age where global media has been consolidated yet the marginalization of Chicanas/os in the industry continues (194, 201).

I return to the initial questions I asked at the outset of this review in order to highlight Harry Gamboa’s observation that radical and professional Chicana/o cinema sought the same thing: access to and success in the television and film industry (200).

Those questions will remain relevant so long as the television and film industry narrative continues to commodify Chicanas/os as a market to be penetrated while marginalizing a people. Self-determination be damned, but it is no accident that there are more Chicanas/os inside the industry than there were in 1970. Yet, it is obvious that we are more powerless than we were 45 years ago.

In retrospect, however, is access to the television and film industry something that is even desirable for our community?

Shot in America: Television, the State, and the Rise of Chicano Cinema is an excellent addition to your Chicana/o Studies collection.

— by D. Cid

This entry was posted in Aztlan, California, Chicana Feminism, Chicana/o, Chicana/o Activism, Chicana/o Book Reviews, Chicana/o Books, Chicana/o Cinema, Chicana/o Community, Chicana/o Documentary, Chicana/o History, Chicana/o Identity, Chicana/o Ideology, Chicana/o Politics, Chicana/o Power, Chicana/o Studies, Chicana/o Theatre, Chicana/o Underground, Chicana/o Youth, Chicano Moratorium, Chicano Movement, Community, Cultura, Decolonization, Documentary, East Los Angeles, Education, History, Indigenous, Knowledge, Land, Language, Los Angeles, Mexica, Mexican, Mexico, Movimiento, MuXer, Nahuatl, Neo-Liberalism, Nepantla, Palabra, Politics, Resistance, Sin Fronteras, Social justice, Solidarity, Student Empowerment, Unity, Xicana, Xicano. Bookmark the permalink.

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