Chicana/o Studies gains strong new resource with Viva la Raza
Francisco Tamayo
volume 29
issue 4
August 2008

Chicano graphic: the Mestizo, synthesis of Native Americans and Spaniards.

For the last two years, I have been teaching Introduction to Chican@ Studies at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, Wash. I have used pieces such as Occupied America and Youth, Identity, and Power as a way to introduce my students to the field of Chican@ Studies. Acuña and Muñoz narrate the Chican@ experience within the American Southwest. The work of Erasmo Gamboa, Mexican Labor and World War II: Braceros in the Pacific Northwest, 1942-1947, explicates the oppressive working conditions imposed on braceros by México and the United States.

However, I wanted to study with my students the intersecting oppressions of Mexican@s and Chican@s of the Pacific Northwest. As a post-movimiento student and instructor, it is important for me to gain a more complex historical understanding of the early Chican@ Movement.

It is no secret that el movimiento primarily concentrated on a cultural nationalist ideology and secondarily on class inequalities. The social conditions of women, gays, and lesbians were not discussed until the demise of el movimiento. The decline of the early Chicano Movement is often attributed to its cultural nationalist, patriarchal, and localized ideologies. It was Chicana feminists, lesbians, and gays who argued that ideological issues of la familia, sexism, heterosexism, religion, and poverty are interrelated within repressive structures, which leads to the inferiorization, exclusion, and marginalization of the "Other."

Still, post-movimiento generations face institutional racism, class inequality, language discrimination, sexism, and heterosexism. These ideological dilemmas continue to thwart the social conditions of post-Chican@ generations entering the contested and contradictory areas of post-secondary learning and civil society organizing.

This past semester, I decided to use the new book, Viva la Raza: A History of Chicano Identity and Resistance [Red Letter Press], by Yolanda Alaniz and Megan Cornish, in my Comparative Ethnic Studies 151, Introduction to Chican@ Studies. Throughout the semester, my students and I tried to critically analyze and reinterpret the use of language as a way to expose and position our self-understanding within Viva la Raza.

In other words, I asked my students to socially locate themselves (gender, sexuality, class) as a way to enter the conversation of Chican@ Historiography, a critical rhetoric. Chican@ Historiography argues to create new meanings for post-movimiento generations by critically analyzing the efforts and limitations of early Chicano Studies. One of my students commented, "Viva la Raza contradicts the 'common sense' beliefs of la familia, and culture." Another student said, "I appreciated the appendixes [on Pacific Northwest history] because I ignored the political presence of Chican@s in my state."

What the book did for me was to provide a critical context to the internal conflict of being of color while being an instructor for WSU, a land-grant institution. I believe that Chicanismo can no longer be theorized as local politics because neoliberalism is making Chicanas/os and Latinas/os disposable both at the local and at the global level.

The book was written for post-movimiento generations who lack a critical understanding of the Chican@ experience in the U.S. It is understood that Chicanismo — the ideology of being Chicano — has lost persuasive power for young post-movimiento generations, who have been socialized to believe in and participate within ideological and repressive structures. While the authors grapple with issues of political economy, racism, and transnationalism, the language is accessible for introductory audiences.

The book takes an interesting turn when Alaniz and Cornish narrate their activist organizing activities in the Pacific Northwest. These narratives are useful to understand how class, culture, gender, and sexuality affect the everyday social positionings of Chican@s. Appendix 1, "Farmworker Organizing in the Yakima Valley," and Appendix 2, "Uproar at the University of Washington," add to the critical examination and reinterpretation of Chican@ Studies Aqui en el Otro Norte (here in the other north).

It is clear that Chicanismo in the Pacific Northwest was about socialist transformation. The chapters on "Mujeres Mobilize" and "Chicana/o Gays Emerge" argue against conventional ways (cultural nationalist, patriarchal, and localized ideologies) of movimiento organizing, strong arguments made by the authors.

I would have liked to see more on how to respond to neoliberalist practices that ideologically and repressively make the local and global folk disposable. However, Viva la Raza is a must read for those who want to understand the complexities of Chican@ life outside the American Southwest experience.

Francisco N. Tamayo is the former retention counselor of the Chican@ Latin@ Student Center at WSU. He is now a new faculty member in the English Department at Skagit Valley College.