Latin Looks: Images of Latinas and Latinos in the U.S. Media

By Clara E. Rodríguez | Go to book overview
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5 Citizen Chicano: The Trials and Titillations of Ethnicity in the American Cinema, 1935-1962

Chon Noriega

Between 1935 and 1962, at least ten social-problem films addressed the issue of the "place" of the Mexican American in the United States. 1 With the exception of two gang-exploitation films--Boulevard Nights and Walk Proud (both 1979)--these remained the only feature-length films to be "about" Mexican Americans or Chicanos until the emergence of Chicano-produced feature films in the late 1970s.

These films were produced at a significant moment in the development of an American as well as an ethnic-American national identity. In these social-problem films, the political, socioeconomic, and psychological issues related to race and ethnicity operate at the manifest level of the narrative rather than as the "political unconscious." In the end, these films must still resolve these social contradictions and situate the Mexican American within normative gender roles, social spaces, and institutional parameters.

Before I turn to the films themselves, it is necessary to sketch in the contours of the period between the Depression and the election of John F. Kennedy, a period Chicano scholars have identified as the Mexican-American Generation. 2 Within Chicano historiography, the period is framed on either side by the border conflict era ( 1848-1929) and the Chicano Movement ( 1963-75).

It is between 1929 and 1941, as Richard Garcia argues, that the "Mexican- American mind" emerged. By 1930, border conflict had dismantled the remnants of the old Mexican political and economic system. Mexicanos, including a new wave of immigrants, had provided cheap labor for the agricultural and industrial transforma

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