Show and Tell: Identity as Performance in U.S. Latina/o Fiction

Show and Tell: Identity as Performance in U.S. Latina/o Fiction

Show and Tell: Identity as Performance in U.S. Latina/o Fiction

Show and Tell: Identity as Performance in U.S. Latina/o Fiction

Synopsis

What makes John Rechy a Chicano writer? To be Latino, must writing have a touch of 'magical realism'? Can one talk of US Latina/o identity, considering the diversity of the Latina/o experience? Through the analysis of nine recent Latino/a novels, Karen Christian answers these and other questions, thereby adding a fresh, bold voice to the anti-essentialist debate surrounding ethnic and gender identity. Christian melds the theory of 'performativity' with the latest scholarship on ethnicity and ethnic literature to create a framework for viewing identity as a continuous process that cannot be reduced to static categories. Through their narrative 'performances', US Latina/o writers and their characters move among communities and identities in an ongoing challenge to the notion of Latina/o essence. This study is also among the first to examine trends across the spectrum of cultures represented in US Latina/o literature -- from Chicano to Cuban to Puerto Rican to Dominican. This book is essential for any serious student of Latina/o literature and identity.

Excerpt

In the Midwest, where I grew up, a conversation with a person you have just met usually begins with a brief exchange about the weather. In Los Angeles, where I attended graduate school, you "bond" with new acquaintances by commiserating about that day's traffic. In such conversations, these preliminaries are generally followed by a discussion of careers. I say that I'm a teacher; explaining what I teach, however, is a challenge when talking to someone not connected to academia. In some situations I simply add that I'm a Spanish professor at a university. If I'm feeling chatty, I'll mention that my area is Latin American literature, to which most people tend to react with something like, "Ah, García Márquez . . . magical realism . . . Ah, yes." Only when I'm in the mood to go into a long-winded explanation do I describe my work more accurately: I specialize in U.S. Latina/o literature. This statement frequently confounds the person with whom I'm conversing; I've learned to quickly elaborate, "You know, works by Mexican-American writers, U.S. Cubans, that sort of thing." The dialogue often continues with a superficial discussion of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, or moves off in a completely different direction: "Did you see the movie Mi familia? What did you think of it?," or "Do you study graffiti too?"

These exchanges invariably leave me feeling dissatisfied, annoyed with myself for the roundabout, almost apologetic way I talk about my work. Yet I sense that there is something difficult to comprehend about my career choice. Part of the problem has to do with who I am, with the identity that is visibly . . .

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