Academic journal article CineAction

Beyond the Homeland: A Comparative Introduction to Latino Film in Canada and the U.S

Academic journal article CineAction

Beyond the Homeland: A Comparative Introduction to Latino Film in Canada and the U.S

Article excerpt

In comparison to parallel areas of scholarly inquiry into the history and aesthetics of marginalized identity formations--Feminist, Queer, or Black and Native American--Latino Film Studies is a relative newcomer to the North American academic scene. To date practically non-existent in Canada, it began to be constituted as a field of study in the United States only as recent]), as the mid-1980s, largely in conferences and film society meetings. The use of the term "Latino", to designate a culturally, economically, ethnically, racially, and nationally diverse set of people according to (loosely) shared linguistic and cultural traditions, dates back approximately to the ]ate 1960s in the U.S., and is only recently beginning to be used in this sense in this country. (1)

As with other subnational-identity markers defined in opposition to any dominant national-identity formation, "Latino" glosses over the widely-divergent historical trajectories of the people subsumed under the term: differences among Latinos are at least as ample as they are among "Anglos" within and between Canada and the United States or, for that matter, in any other ex-colony of Great Britain or the United States where English remains the predominant language. (2)

As the Ur marker of difference, gender distinctions complicate this picture even further as they affect each and every one of the above categories. Both long-term resistance and adaptation to colonization, as in the case of Chicanos and Nuyoricans (New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent) in the United States, and the mote short-term experience of exile, dislocation, and integration of Latinos in Canada, are lived and articulated differently by the sexes. (3) Their relation to language and translation is also different. Since gender is marked differently in Spanish than in English, I will use the neologism Latino rather than the more common and cumbersome Latino/a. Imported from yet another alphabet, the letter "O" stands here as a marker of a politics and a poetics of deconstruction, both always already underpinned by gender and difference--in the philosophical sense of meanings that are both "different" and "deferred," and in the sense of the multi-faceted social political, economic, historical and cultural contexts that serve difference and deferral as backdrop and ground. (4)

Thus before the umbrella term "Latino-Canadian cinema" can become constituted as an object of knowledge in this country, its mere existence as a specific practice with a singular history and particular conditions of production first needs to be recognized. I hope that this comparative overview of the field on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border will help readers situate the contributions of the Latins-Canadian film and video makers whose work is discussed.

Hispanics, Latines, and the W(r)est

In both the U.S. and Canada, "Hispanic" and "Latino" are widely used to refer to people of Latin American, Caribbean, and Spanish descent. While the socio-economic history of each of these terms is substantially different on the two sides of the forty-ninth parallel, they share many common traits. In both cases, these terms are intended to identify a "minority" group with cultural and racial characteristics different from those of the "majority" and that are implicitly associated with inferior social status and limited political power. Both terms tend to erase the historical, political, and socio-economic histories of the groups concerned, while obscuring their different albeit inter-related realities. The position of Argentinian-born, U.S. sociologist Martha E. Gimenez, both exemplifies and sheds more light or this problem:

   Divisions in terms of national origin, social class, ethnicity, race
   length of stay in the U.S., and so forth make it exceedingly
   problematic to find common cultural denominators in this
   population beyond the language. And even the language itself
   divides, for each Latin American country has its own version of
   Spanish, which is itself divided by region, class, ethnicity, race,
   etc. … 
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