Rodrigo's Corrido: Race, Postcolonial Theory, and U.S. Civil Rights

Article excerpt

Richard Delgado enlists his alter ego, Rodrigo, to analyze Latino legal history and civil rights. Encountering "the Professor" after testifying at a hearing on an immigration bill, Rodrigo excitedly tells his old friend and mentor about a new body of writing he has come across. Postcolonial theory, which deals with issues such as cultural survival, resistance, and collaboration, can help move American civil rights scholarship beyond its current impasse.

Over dinner, Rodrigo demonstrates how insights from these writers can enrich U.S. civil rights theory and practice. He also posits a new theory of Latinos' sociolegal construction, based on a triple taboo, that can enable Latino people and litigators to understand and change their condition. Rodrigo shows how dominant society has invested Latinos with a complex stereotype consisting of filth, hypersexuality, and jabber so that Anglos will unconsciously devalue the group and their rights. To progress, therefore, Latino people must understand and contest this social construction, much as their forebears have done through corridos, actos, cantares, and other forms of insurrectionary folk literature and actions.

INTRODUCTION: ENTER RODRIGO, SPORTING A NEW PERSONA

I was proofreading my Civil Procedure examination for the third and final time late one chilly afternoon in early December and trying my best to stay alert. To tell the truth, I was feeling a little weary and may have put my head down for a few minutes, when a polite cough from my office doorway caused me to snap upright.

I looked up to see the familiar smiling face and lanky figure of my young friend. "Rodrigo!"1 I exclaimed, blinking to clear my vision. "It's good to see you. I like your, um, outfit."

"Oh, this," Rodrigo said, removing a wide-brimmed straw hat with a red ribbon in a sweeping gesture and placing it on my office couch. "I just testified at some hearings on the new immigration bill. The invitation came at the last minute, or I would have called you. I'm on my way to a celebration party. I hope this isn't a bad time."

"No, not at all. I'm very happy to see you. Is it a costume party?"

"It's optional. I borrowed this outfit from a musician friend of mine."

I glanced at the shiny black outfit with gold spangles and a bandoleer of realistic looking bullets crossing his chest. "It definitely brings out a new side of you.2 But it's very becoming. I hope you didn't wear it on the plane." Rodrigo smiled and shook his head. "Sit down," I said. "How did the hearings go?"

"Better than we expected. I think we're going to get a compromise bill. The folks who invited me are very relieved. One version would have been a disaster." Gesturing toward the papers on the desk in front of me, he asked: "Is that a final exam?"

"It is," I said. "Every year, I find making them up one of the least pleasant things about teaching. I have nightmares about building in an unintentional ambiguity and having a bright student point it out or, worse yet, go astray. Are you giving a final this term?"

"No, it's my light semester. I teach an open-enrollment legal history class and a seminar, both paper courses. But did I tell you I'm teaching Latinos and the Law next year?"

"No, you didn't. The Latinos here have been after me to teach a class like that, too. We don't have a Latino faculty member, and they probably see me as their best hope. If I teach it, may I borrow your syllabus?"

"Of course. As you'll see, I try to give equal attention to all the groups-Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans, and the rest. It was tough fitting everybody in."

"Sounds like a casebook in the making."

"Actually, that's what I was hoping to talk to you about, although I recall you once warned me against taking one on.3 You said casebooks are black holes that take you away from serious writing. But I have a contract from a major press and think I can turn in the manuscript in eighteen months. …