Editor's Notes

By Rojas, Maythee | Ethnic Studies Review, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Editor's Notes


Rojas, Maythee, Ethnic Studies Review


Since the passing of two high-profile state legislative bills aimed at Arizona's Latino residents this past April, the significance of ethnicity for American citizens has once again surfaced as a topic for national debate. Whether to legitimize, or just as frequently deny, what defines American identity, the question and meaning of one's ethnic roots continues to be a contested matter for many Americans. In particular, HB 2281, a bill targeting the restriction of ethnic studies curricula in Arizona's K- 12 educational system, has prompted accusations that Ethnic Studies scholarship and teachings work against a unified sense of nationhood by encouraging separatism and anti-American sentiment. Yet, as most Ethnic Studies proponents would counter, it is instead the artificial notion of a monolithic American identity, predicated upon a hegemonic rendering of what it is to be an American, that promotes divisions and distrust within a nation. In either case, the ambivalence over how to read the ambiguities of race and ethnicity implicit in U.S. citizenry underscore the ongoing need to address them. As such, the six authors featured in this issue provide fresh and thoughtful examinations of how race and ethnicity complicate understandings of self. Although diverse in content, the articles collectively consider the effects of how the ambivalence of ethnic origins both expand and challenge the meaning of American identity.

In the first three articles, authors explore the possibilities and renewals created through ethnic diversity. Matthew Miller's "Chang-rae Lee's A Gesture Life: The Recuperation of Identity" tracks the introspective journey of Franklin "Doc" Hata, the novel's protagonist, a Japanese-raised Korean living in the U.S. Miller posits that the novel provides a rare look into a character experiencing multiple levels of Otherness and is ripe for examining the interrelated experiences of ethnicity and immigration within transnational and postcolonial contexts. Focusing his analysis around the concept of recuperation, Miller contends that Hata's remembering of past experiences where his sense of identity was compromised by how his ethnicity was perceived within different geographical locations forces Hata to eventually have a personal and cultural reconnection to the body and to memory. This process, in turn, leads to a profound physical and psychological "healing." In "Pachucos, Chicano Homeboys and Gyspy Caló: Transmission of a Speech Style," MaryEllen Garcia traces the linguistic relationship between the argot or caló of the Spanish gypsies to the pachuco gangs of the 1940's whose lifestyles and marginalized status were held in common. Focusing on the two groups' subversive use of language, Garcia suggests that the caló speech style serves the meta-linguistic purpose of indexing a group identity that is ideologically defiant of social and linguistic norms for the Chicano gang member. Words from traditional pachuco caló, she further finds, are still employed by the greater Chicano community today and serve as symbols of its defiant past and ethnicity. Kabria Baumgartner's "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Education and Abolition" argues that Harriet Jacobs's slave narrative should be read alongside her public activities as an abolitionist and educator. …

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